If digital switchover is to go smoothly, we'll need boxes that are the very definition of user-friendly, requiring little or no technical knowledge to use – like this Freeview adapter from TVonics.
Yes, it costs more than your average supermarket cheapie, but it's obvious that a good deal of thought has gone into its construction – not least in the inclusion of copious 'Help Pages' in the menus written in plain English.
Slightly smaller and fatter than a VHS tape, the MDR-250 has an eccentric but likeable design; its mainly black casing is adorned by a TVonics logo in a silver blob on the top. The curving fascia doesn't stretch to a full display, however – just an LED power indicator.
A UHF loopthrough on the rear is supported by a modulator for hooking up the TVonics via co-ax if required and twin Scarts allow for easy recording to a VCR or DVD recorder (but, sadly, only the TV Scart outputs in RGB and S-video as well as composite). There are also optical digital and hi-fi line outputs for audio.
The box design appeals, but it's a shame the accompanying large grey remote is rather ugly, although it does have well-labelled and organised buttons. TVonics has also thrown in a remote eye should you want to keep the adapter out of sight when it's in use.
The clear menus are easy to navigate. Channels are accessed from a main list and, though there are no favourites to speak of, you can re-sort them to your liking.
The EPG supports the full 8-day DVB guide, displayed as a full screen of data for nine channels at once overlaid on the current channel. This can be skipped in 24-hour periods using the coloured buttons and you can also view full-screen programme synopses.
There's a manual timer for scheduling external recordings with once, daily and weekly repeat options and support for MHEG-5 interactive services which are quick to load. There's also compatibility with audio description services and a screen saver for plasma displays.
Picture quality suffers with weak signals where pixellation creeps but, fed with a decent signal the box generates relatively crisp results. Audio is also clean and punchy from both the hi-fi and optical options.
It's not perfect but the MDR-250 has enough quality features to make it worth a place in the living room as well as a second room