Freeview has never been such a strong contender to satellite and cable as it is now. Since the migration of E4 from the subscription-based Top Up TV and the launch of new channels More4, ITV4 and Sky Three there's a very healthy range of over 30 television channels to choose from (depending on your location), plus 24 digital radio stations. And with a Top Up TV subscription you can receive a further ten stations; it's a highly attractive prospect already, without having to wait for the grand switch off.
The equipment to receive these channels has never been more attractive either. Reception boosting technologies, up to 14-day electronic programme guides and digital audio outputs are all to be found on certain boxes, but most impressive is the drop in price of such machines.
The Philips STB retains the company's trademark style that you'll be very familiar with if you own one of its DVD players or recorders; a rounded, bevelled fascia is a suitable match for other equipment from the brand. It doesn't look cheap and nasty like most lesser TV boxes, and would sit nicely on a shelf in the living room.
The rear looks good too, if you're a connection nut, with some intriguing additions. Two RGB Scart outputs are present, for connection to your TV and a recorder, plus stereo audio outs. A coaxial digital audio output is also supplied, which can be switched to stream either PCM or AC3 audio, and, of course, an RF loopthrough. Interestingly, a service-operable RS232 port is included (mainly because, for a £60 box, an engineer would surely be unnecessary), but of most note is a currently unusable LAN port; the manual enticingly labels it 'for future use'.
Initial setup is a doddle. Scanning for channels takes almost no time at all, and even from an indoor aerial the DTR 320 found all the TV and radio stations, displaying excellent signal strength along the way. Nor did it take the 7-day EPG long to update with all the relevant data.
Features are plentiful: there's a timer mode to ensure you never miss your favourite programme, which can be set from the guide, an uninstall service option that can remove Top Up TV channels from your list (as you'll not be able to access them even though it displays their guide listing) and all interactive and text services are available at a touch of a button on the well-spaced and thought-out remote control.
Another plus point is Fast Zapp, a means of changing from one channel to another within one second - a trick not possible on some.
Of most note, though, is something inside the box; an included pulse killer chip neutralises signal interference allowing for a constant, steady signal with little judder or drop out. It works too; not only does it suffer from less signal glitches than I've seen on any STB before, but the picture has less artefacting. Colours are superb, with vivid reds being eye-searing when your screen has been calibrated correctly. And blacks are deeper than a Barry White single.
I did notice blocking noise and some picture break-up over fast-moving scenes, but only on certain channels, suggesting that it's the quality of the broadcast rather than the Philips.