After months shrouded in secrecy, the UK's Freesat service has hit the ground running.
Unlike the bandwidth-limited Freeview service, this free-to-view satellite platform has room to spare. And it arrives in UK high streets promising not only standard digital TV services, but also cutting-edge technologies such as HD and IPTV.
In short, fellow telly-addicts, Freesat is a broadcast technology with legs.
The £150 Humax is the first HD receiver available and it's wonderfully specified. Its back panel crams in two Scarts, one HDMI, an Ethernet port, USB, component video, AV phonos, an optical audio output and a standard F-connector.
Pretty much everything you need for either a simple box and TV combination, or high-end home theatre hook-up. Buyers will also need to factor in the £80 cost of dish installation. For this evaluation, though, I simply swapped it over with an existing Sky box.
As Freesat essentially uses the same Astra-delivered channels as Sky, the dish and relevant satellite location is identical. Of course you can't see any of Sky's programming on a Freesat receiver and the EPG environment is completely different, but if you have an existing Sky Digital dish then that'll work fine with Freesat.
Installation is swift and easy. Fix the F connector; hookup the box to the TV by HDMI, and power up. The Humax then detects the dish and scans for channels. Unlike terrestrial DVB, this is completed very quickly.
The Humax GUI is comprehensive and intuitive. Simple setup menus allow you to customise the display. Whatever the input the box automatically upscales to 1080i through HDMI or component output.
For each channel, there's an i-plate which pops up briefly, giving current and future programme information. This i-plate also displays the format of the broadcast, both video and audio (eg 576i, Dolby Digital) as well as time and channel.
The main Freesat EPG offers a standard genre shortcut on top of the main TV listing. Unlike Sky, Freesat vendors can tailor the EPG to best suit their boxes, so we can expect a variety of implementations in due course.
Image quality is channel- dependant. At launch, the only HD service comes from the BBC, although ITV will launch its Freesat-exclusive HD channel shortly. Thankfully, images from the Beeb are simply gorgeous, with ravishing levels of detail.
SD channels are identical to what's available from Sky, for good or ill, which means that despite bandwidth limitations, the best-looking ITV that you can see remains from Freeview.
Red button MHEG interactivity is lightning fast, improving usability of such services.
A must-have device
Overall, this little Humax is impressive. It's well-built, looks smart and is generously specified.
It's early days for Freesat, but already it's looking like a must-have addition to any HD AV rig. For those put off by Sky's rates it's a no-brainer. It brings genuine HD choice to the market place for the first time. We love' it.