As sold, the Golden Media 990 CR HD PVR SPARK LX uses a proprietary Linux firmware known as Spark (though Enigma2 images for this receiver exist). The downside is that you don't get anywhere near the choice of support and plug-ins.

On the 'up' side, Spark is optimised for the available hardware – a compact box with a DVB-S2 tuner, comprehensive (wired) networking, a powerful multimedia engine, Conax-ready smart-card reader (no CI here) and connectivity that includes a single rear-panel USB port, HDMI and Scart.

Thanks to this, the 990 is a fairly responsive receiver in terms of searching and daily use. An ST40-300 450MHz processor, aided by 128MB of RAM (and over 512MB of flash memory) help here.

The more conventional Spark user interface is much easier to get to grips with than the admittedly more flexible Enigma2, which can be quite intimidating for newcomers. The handset has a pleasant feel, and useful shortcut buttons. It's easy to choose the satellites available to you from a list (using a global map), configure them (all fixed and motorised DiSEqC configurations are catered for) and then search.

Searching options are, alas, limited – basically permutations of free and encrypted channels, with network scanning if required. Adding and editing transponders (frequency/polarity/symbol rate/ FEC/mode) is allowed but manual PID entry isn't. Channel lists can be sorted alphabetically or by satellite, encryption, provider or HD status and 32 favourites lists created.

The EPG, which can set the timer, shows the current or a future programme for up to nine channels or in a more detailed single-channel view. With a USB or NAS drive, the 990 becomes a 'watch one, record another' PVR with timeshifting.

Spark offers a range of handy features such as YouTube (with downloads), Shoutcast Internet radio, Picasa (photos), RSS (Internet news feeds) and an Opera web-browser (basic and slow). Media can also be played from USB/networked storage.

But trying to play some video files from USB would crash the receiver if connected to our network.

Verdict

The Golden Media 990 CR HD PVR SPARK LX is a zippy little receiver with a surprising range of features and fine pictures and sound, HD especially.

Though lacking plug-in support, Spark's sheer ease of use will endear it to users who want the networking flexibility of a Linux box without the hassle.

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