Would you like to record one FTA digital programme while watching another? You can buy twin-tuner PVRs but these might be outside your budget. And what if you already have a DVD recorder?
The DualStream from French company Metronic is, as far as we know, unique; a twin-tuner, free-to-air receiver that - with the appropriate dish configuration - can deliver two channels simultaneously. One channel is available on the TV Scart, while the other - which can be the same channel, or a different one - is fed to the slave VCR Scart.
So you can record a second channel with your off-board equipment without affecting your viewing. As an alternative, that VCR Scart could feed a video sender so that digital TV can be viewed in another room. Sadly, video senders are the only practical route here; the DualStream makes no provision for UHF aerial connections.
Only one remote handset is supplied. If dual-room operation is envisaged, you're advised to program a learning universal remote from the DualStream's handset. The midi-sized DualStream has a four-digit LED channel indicator, plus LEDs for mains power, standby and 'signal good'. Alongside these are buttons for channel selection, volume adjustment, menu access and standby. Finally, we have a card-slot flap that's been glued shut. There's nothing behind it because the DualStream is free-to-air only.
The rear panel sports the two LNB inputs (together with their respective loopthrough outputs) and the VCR and VCR Scarts. The main tuner is also available on composite video, optical digital and stereo analogue audio outputs. The only other connector is a RS232 serial port for service purposes, presumably firmware upgrades. For those wary of standby modes, it also has a mains power switch.
To make the most of the DualStream you'll need a dish with a dual-LNB so that channels of different polarity can simultaneously be viewed and recorded; each LNB section would feed one of the inputs. But up to 16 satellites are possible, thanks to DiSEqC. Such dishes must, of course, be fitted with dual-LNBs. Each LNB input would be fed by a DiSEqC switchbox. The inputs of these two switchboxes would, in turn, be connected to one of the two LNB outputs of each dish. Only DiSEqC 1.0 is supported; you can't use the DualStream with a motorised dish.
If you don't have a dual-LNB a cheaper alternative would be to feed one tuner from the output of the other using a short loopthrough cable - something that's not discussed in the (rather poor) manual. The only downside is that the slave tuner will only be able to receive channels of the same polarity and band as that currently being received by the main tuner. Feeding the tuners independently from two existing dishes aimed at different satellites won't work unless you upgrade to dual-LNBs and DiSEqC switchboxes.
The receiver is configured via a batch of simple menus. In 'antenna setup' you tell the receiver which satellites can be received and specify their DiSEqC switch positions. A nice touch is the 'antenna help' option. Specify the desired satellite, enter your longitude and latitude, and you're given the azimith and elevation angles for your location. As an alternative to the automatic search - which works its way through pre-programmed transponders - is searching of a specific manually configurable transponder (complete with PID entry if required). Blind search isn't an option. Sensibly, the DualStream finds and stores only free-to-air channels.
Video outputs, menu appearance, a 'start-up' channel and audio/menu languages are configured in system setup. Although composite and RGB are options for the main (TV) Scart output, the slave (VCR) output is composite-only. For those with DVD recorders an S-video option would have also been welcome. Another disappointment, certainly if you're driving different TVs, is that aspect ratios are not independently configurable for each output - the slave is 4:3 only. The DualStream is capable of NTSC, PAL or multi-standard operation.
It has to be said that navigation could be improved. Pressing the handset's 'enter' button brings up a channel list that cannot be sorted alphabetically or by satellite. Three favourite lists are provided and it's easy to define these with the 'channels-manager' option. The same is true of the further trio of favourites lists specific to the dedicated radio mode The channels-manager also allows you to delete, move, rename or PIN-protect channels.
So to the receiver's main function - its 'split personality'. Channels intended for the main output are selected in the usual way. Pressing the remote's VCR button forces the 'aux' output to tune into the same channel - useful if you want to record what you're watching. Press the TV/VCR button while watching the 'main' output and you enter the 'slave' mode. A different channel (which could be on another satellite) can now be chosen for the 'aux' output; in this condition 'SLA' appears on the front panel display. Press the TV/VCR button again and the original tuner is restored to the main output.
There are none of the games or 'freeze-frame' functions found on other budget kit, but the unit does have teletext and an EPG which supports now-and-next and seven-day schedules displayed in a three-quarter screen window as a grid where you can bring up additional programme information. Programmable either manually or from the EPG, the VCR timer memorises up to 10 events over a year.
We were very impressed with the vibrant and detailed pictures that the DualStream offers from its main output via RGB Scart. Sadly, the 'aux' output is hampered by its inability to offer anything other than composite 4:3 video - a real problem if you're viewing or recording widescreen.
In all cases sound quality is excellent. The DualStream pulled in all the preset Astra 1x transponder's FTA channels in seven minutes. Switching between channels takes two seconds. Our only performance criticism is that the box gets rather warm in use.
It's an interesting box capable of good AV performance. No current dual-tuner receiver (PVR or otherwise) has the DualStream's ability to watch and record channels from different satellites which, admittedly, is only an option if you're using multiple dishes (or a single multi-feed dish), dual-LNBs and DiSEqC switchboxes. The few who need such functionality will have to pay a lot for all this stuff.