DTT/sat combis aren't exactly thick on the ground, and so a HD-ready one has to be fairly unusual. As it stands, the Globalteq STH700HDCI can receive the unencrypted H.264 BBC HD transmissions.
However, the box boasts a pair of CI slots and can thus be upgraded to receive many European HDTV services; to this end, the tuner also supports the DVB-S2 standard. Naturally, normal standard-def MPEG-2 channels fall within the STH700HDCI's remit.
Then there's the digital terrestrial contribution (which can be upgraded for Top Up TV, thanks to those CI slots). First and foremost, though, it's Freeview. When terrestrial HDTV eventually arrives in the UK, the STH700HDCI is alas unlikely to be compatible. This is because it only supports DVB-T - the technology that will be adopted for terrestrial HDTV is likely to be something more spectrum-efficient.
Appearance and connectivity
The midi-sized STH700HDCI is practical rather than revolutionary. A series of buttons on the front panel not only provide channel-change, standby and volume but also access the menus without recourse to the handset - itself a rather mundane affair. Behind a flap reside the rather fiddly CI slots, plus a USB socket that's currently intended for firmware upgrades. Crowning the front-panel is an informative alpha-numeric fluorescent display.
On the rear panel you'll find the usuals - including LNB input/output and a pair of standard-definition Scarts. The aerial socketry is provided solely for the digital terrestrial tuner - there's no UHF modulator. Interestingly, the tuner in question also covers Band III as well as UHF - DXTV enthusiasts might find this of interest. HDTV (and upscaled SDTV) is simultaneously available on the component and HDMI outputs; 576p (standard-def), 720p and 1080i modes are available but 576i would also have been appreciated.
Perhaps the most intriguing connector, though, is the eSATA high-speed data port - which most of us have hitherto seen only on Sky HD. The sad thing is that, as with Sky HD, the connector doesn't yet have a purpose. Indeed, the manual makes no reference to it. With suitable firmware and an external SATA hard disc, though, PVR operation could in theory be possible in future.
Setup and searching
Once it's been connected up, the STH700HDCI prompts you to specify your language - you're then taken to the main menu. Various submenus here cover CAMs, firmware upgrades, parental-control options, subtitle/audio/display language settings, onscreen appearance tweaks, clock/timer setting and AV parameters. PIN entry is required - sometimes more than once.
At the top of the tree, though, is the installation option. This is divided into two sections - DTT and satellite. DTT setup is theoretically easy - for 'automatic', simply specify the start and end channels. Unfortunately, our sample had the tendency to lock up after finding the first available mux, so we resorted to manual tuning. Here, you can select a specific channel - signal strength/quality bars will identify the ones active in your particular area.
And satellite? From an antenna setup menu you define the available satellites, plus your LNB type and DiSEqC configuration. A transponder of the selected satellite can be chosen when homing in on it with a motorised dish. You can then conduct a satellite scan that works through all of the relevant pre-programmed transponders. Multi-satellite scans are allowed, but dish movement isn't factored in.
Rather more discriminatory scanning can be conducted from the 'advanced' menu - user-definable parameters here include frequency, polarity, symbol rate, PIDs and FEC. FTA-only or all channels can be hunted down, and network searches are also possible. We appreciated the full-screen signal strength/quality indicator, which is invoked from the handset.
Available for both satellite and DTT, it's complemented by a handy audio 'bleeper'.
Navigation and features
Pressing the enter key brings up the channel lists - the cursor keys switch between the satellites and DTT channels (which are grouped as a 'satellite'). Channels can be sorted alphabetically, or according to encryption status. Ten user-definable 'favourites' groups - five for TV, five for radio - are provided. Defining favourites involves the setup menu, as does the deletion or renaming of channels.
The remote has some interesting short-cut keys. Favourites and signal-meter apart, dedicated buttons jump to the selection of component/HDMI video output mode, teletext mode, seven-day EPG, multi-picture mosaic (not currently available), subtitles/audio soundtrack selection and freeze-frame. The latter, sadly, only works with standard-def MPEG-2 channels.
Rather odd is the 'time' button. A convenient springboard for the eight-event timer which cannot be set from the otherwise worthwhile EPG, perhaps? Er, no. It's solely for setting the clock. Now, how often would you need that? In contrast, timer setting involves PIN-protected menu-access. It's close to useless, not least because it can only be programmed for the current day unless 'daily' switching is envisaged!
We plugged in a USB memory device containing some MP3 tracks. Although they're listed, they wouldn't play. What a pity; the hardware can almost certainly take this audio codec in its stride. An external SATA hard drive we had at our disposal wasn't even recognised by the STH700HDCI. Let's make no bones about it. The hardware may be finished, but the software clearly isn't.
Via RGB Scart, pictures from decent standard-def sources are good. Ominously, the HDMI port of our sample didn't work; we tried two HD-Ready displays (a projector and a LCD TV), and in both cases got a blank screen. The component output, which can be toggled between the various output modes, was also sorely disappointing.
With hi-def TV channels like the Astra test and BBC HD, pictures lacked definition. Compared with another hi-def receiver, what we witnessed was more akin to 'upscaled' standard-definition. On which subject, the use of upscaling (720p/1080i) for standard-def channels results in a noticeable reduction in detail. Sticking with 576p is currently the best option.
Sound quality, fortunately, proved much better - regardless of whether the analogue or digital output was chosen. The caveat? Lip-sync inconsistencies put in an occasional unwanted appearance. Searches were relatively speedy, all of the DVB-S and DVB-S2 channels on Astra being found within five minutes. Switching between channels is also acceptably responsive.
Sensitivity-wise, the DTT tuner proved to be good. For most of the time, at any rate. It refused point-blank to yield the channels of one mux despite finding them (with good signal strength). The satellite tuner was found to be acceptably sensitive. For some reason the high band - and thus potentially half your channels - was occasionally lost, only to magically reappear later.
The idea behind this receiver cannot be faulted - unlike the product itself, which is just too buggy to recommend. Hopefully, new firmware will address these criticisms - soon.