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Humax Foxsat HDR Review

The Foxsat HDR is Humax's award winning Freesat+ HD PVR - now available with a choice of 500GB or 1TB hard disk. It is widely considered to be the best Freesat recorder on the market.

This Humax Foxsat HDR review takes a detailed look at the functionality available on the UK's best selling Freesat set top box, including a useful comparison to Sky+ HD, its arch rival.

freesat+ logo

Overview and Benefits

Freesat is a subscription-free satellite TV service which shares the same satellite network as Sky (at 28.2 and 28.5E), so a Freesat box can make use of a previously installed Sky dish with no need for realignment.

Humax set top boxes have come a long way since the launch of single tuner PVR's back in 2004 and the Foxsat HDR Freesat+ digital TV recorder (also known as a "Freesat DTR") now comes equipped with a massive 500GB hard disk capable up to 150 hours of HD recording (or 300 hours of SD programming). Prices for the Humax Foxsat HDR start at around £220, if you shop around online.

The Foxsat's superb performance, value added features and functionality now seriously rival that of the SKY+ HD box, but without the burden of an ever-increasing monthly subscription. This alongside Freesat's 150+ free to air (FTA) TV and radio channels makes a compelling reason to cancel your Sky subscription.

Humax Foxsat Handset

Humax Handset Improvements

The handset (pictured left) is now much improved over earlier poor handsets supplied with Humax set to boxes like the PVR9200T. The new model has an attractive gloss black finish and fairly intuitive layout as well as the capability to control up to four different devices (TV, DVD and Audio Amplifier) with remote codes provided for most models. The only downside are the buttons used for the main PVR recording and playback controls, which are very small and hard to use for people with poor eyesight.

Freesat HD Channels

Whilst the UK still has a limited lineup of Free to Air HD TV channels the amount of simulcast HD programming is increasing all the time, helped by the launch of BBC1 HD. Watching any one of the BBC's exceptional natural history documentaries makes buying a Freesat HD set top box worthwhile. HDTV offers around 5 times the picture detail than Standard definition broadcasts, so the difference in picture quality is huge.

In common with other Freesat+ HD boxes the Humax Foxsat HDR currently has 5 HD channels in its EPG - BBC1 HD, BBC2 HD, ITV1 HD, Channel 4 HD and NHK World HD, with Channel Five HD notably absent from the current Freesat channel list.

Taking this into consideration Sky+ HD still offers the widest choice of HD channels - but viewing them comes at a hefty price with the cheapest monthly subscriptions being around £30.25 per month, making the Foxsat HDR in its 500GB form a great alternative for viewing and recording quality, subscription free HD TV without denting your bank balance.

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Foxsat Installation and Ease of Use

Humax Installation Menu

The Humax Foxsat HDR is extremely easy to install and use. At installation you will need a minidish correctly aligned at 28.2E (an existing Sky dish can be used) ideally with two feeds - so you could disconnect your Sky+ box and plug the cables straight into the box with no need to realign the dish.

Incidentally the set top box does work with just one dish feed but the recording functionality is limited as is the ability to watch one FTA channel whilst recording another. Incidentally, please remember to always disconnect set top box power before disconnecting the satellite dish F-connectors on the rear panel.

If your Sky dish has only one output, it makes sense to fit a cheap Quad LNB and to then run an additional coaxial cable feed to take advantage of the extensive range of features offered by Humax Freesat boxes.

Automatic Installation

On initial power up the automatic installation process asks for your Postcode and Country and the number of dish feeds you wish to connect. All available Freesat channels are then automatically installed into the Humax Freesat+ set top box and sorted to suit your region.

Humax Firmware Updates

After installation the Foxsat HDR continually checks for added and deleted channels in the Freesat channel list, retuning as an when necessary. This removes the hassle associated with manual tuning. It also supports automatic Over The Air (OTA) software updates to keep the firmware up to date.

Alternatively a manual software update can be carried out by downloading the latest firmware from the Humax Foxsat HDR Support Page. This is then placed onto a memory stick and applied using the USB interface on the Foxsat's front panel. The latest firmware version for the Foxsat HDR is HPRSFCI 1.00.21 (July 2012), which includes bug fixes for HD recording.

Adding Non-Freesat Channels

Manual Tuning Menu

Two set top box modes are supported in the Humax Foxsat HDR - these being "Freesat" and "Non-Freesat", the latter allowing you to add additional free to air channels not in the official Freesat channel list - like Sky News. These satellite channels can be added using the Manual Tune menu (left). To add Sky News the transponder frequency and information you'll need is: 12207, V, 27500 FEC 2/3.

Rather inconveniently, non-Freesat channels can only be accessed from the Humax set top boxes on-screen menu by selecting "Non-Freesat" in the configuration settings.

If you are downgrading from Sky+ you may notice some Freesat channel numbering differences too compared to the traditional Sky EPG. For example, BBC News is now on Channel 200, not 503 amongst other changes.

Ease of Use Rating
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Humax Foxsat Problems

  • Not all ITV Regions Available on Freesat - A few ITV regions are encrypted on the 28E satellite and hence not receivable on a Humax Freesat STB. These being ITV1 Anglia West, ITV1 Yorkshire East, ITV1 Tyne Tees South, ITV1 Central South West and ITV1 Meridian North - so if you live in these regions the Freesat+ set top box tunes the closest available FTA ITV region at installation. The work around to this being to watch your local news programmes on Freeview via your aerial.
  • System Slow to Respond to Handset Commands - Another irritation is the noticeable delay in getting the Foxsat HDR to respond promptly to handset commands without an annoying one second delay, particularly when scrolling through the EPG, renaming recordings or programming a timer recording.
  • Boot Up Time - The Foxsat takes 28 seconds to boot up from standby. This can be frustrating if you're in a hurry to start recording!
  • Foxsat Freezes in EPG with v1.00.17 Firmware - When trying to make a recording reservation while the Foxsat HDR is receiving programme information (updating the EPG data) the box can freeze (totally lock-up and become non-responsive) when the cursor is being moved to select a programme. A reboot (power down) is then needed to recover normal operation. A Humax Foxsat Beta Software update is available to fix this bug.
  • Foxsat Fails to Recognise Memory Stick or Update Firmware - Read our comprehensive Foxsat software upgrade problems article to find out how to fix this issue.

  • Limited Functionality Available from the USB Interface - Whilst the Humax User Manual says that you can copy 'to and from' an external memory stick or HDD using the front or rear panel USB interface, the functionality is in fact pretty much one way - in that you can copy media files to the device (including JPEG images and MP3 music files), but all attempts at archiving recording files from the Humax HDR to the external device have failed miserably. Even SD recordings (which can be copied on other Freeview PVR's and DVD Recorders including my DMR87 Panasonic DVD recorder with integral HDD and Freeview) cannot be copied on the Humax Foxsat HDR as the Green Copy Button remains rather stubbornly greyed out at all times.
  • USB Drive Compatibility Problems - Incidentally, any external device (Hard Disk or Flash Memory Drive) connected to the USB interface must be formatted so that it is readable by the Humax PVR File Manager or it simply won't 'see' the device. This means you need to format an external hard drive with either a FAT16 or FAT32 partition. Fortunately Windows can manage this for you. Just type the following from a Command Prompt (initiated by Run > CMD from the Start Button):

    Format <Drive Letter>: /FS:FAT32
    Make sure the drive letter is the external drive - not the drive with your operating system or other valuable data on it! Note that all data on the disk is erased by re-formatting a drive!

  • Handset Codes Missing - Whilst the Humax handset can control different devices including Audio, Tuner Amplifiers, TV's and DVD's -the handset codes provided in the user manual failed to control our fairly new Panasonic LCD TV.

Tuner Sensitivity

Humax Diagnostics ScreenThe Foxsat HDR's twin tuners worked well with 100% signal strength and >90% quality on all popular channels with a 43cm Sky dish in southern England. Only CBS Action and CBS Reality (on Eurobird 28.5E) having lower signal quality readings of around 70% - although these channels were still watchable even during rain when the signal quality dropped to around 30 - 40%.

Picture Quality

Humax EPGThe box supports upscaling of Standard Definition programming to 1080i through its HDMI interface connector leading to big improvements in picture quality when watching SD programmes.

However it is only with HD programming that the Humax Foxsat HDR excels, giving stunning picture quality and sound. By comparison, the pictures rendered on SD channels whilst sharp and well controlled, show fairly obvious MPEG2 artefacts - much the same as a Sky+ HD box.

It's worth noting that not all the programmes simulcast on BBC1 HD are in fact HD, some being upscaled from 576i SD (at least ITV1 HD label upscaled programmes in the EPG to let you know this is the case - the BBC don't seem to do this!).

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Compatibility with Older TV's and Dish Installations

Humax Foxsat Rear Panel

In common with other Freesat+ recorders, the Foxsat HDR has no 'Component Video Output' which restricts connectivity and lowers picture quality on non-HD ready TV's. One explanation for this is that Freesat HD channels incorporate copy protection, which precludes the use of HD compatible analogue video outputs like 'Component Video'.

Hence any connection to older TV's must be made by means of the Scart Cable (supplied) with a choice of Composite, RGB or S-Video available from the Humax set top box on-screen menu. Always use RGB or S-Video where possible.

*Note* The LNB1 Out connector (as shown in the Foxsat rear panel picture above) allows limited additional functionality where only a single coaxial cable connection from the dish exists. By connecting "LNB 1 Out" to "LNB2 In" a limited number of channels can be watched whilst recording another programme. These channels must be on the same Freesat Multiplex.

BBC I-Player & ITV Player Support

The BBC I-Player on-demand service is fully supported on the Humax Foxsat HDR 500GB. To take advantage simply connect an Ethernet cable to the set top box from your Broadband Router and follow the installation instructions on the Freesat website. Access is via the Red Button from BBC channels.

ITV Player offers 7 day catch-up TV and is available solely on Humax Freesat receivers at present from EPG Channel 903. The service requires a broadband connection to the box's Ethernet port and covers catch-up programming from ITV1, ITV2, ITV3 and ITV4.

EPG and On-Screen Display

The Freesat+ EPG loads fast on the Humax Foxsat HDR with the programme schedules being downloaded in around 30 seconds. All on-screen displays and menus are well designed and informative. The picture below shows the attractive channel information on-screen menu.

Freesat Channel Information Menu

We have read various web reports about the handset Infra Red angle of operation on Humax set top boxes like the Foxsat HDR being very narrow - meaning that the STB doesn't respond to the handset if it's not angled directly at the front of the box. We've not noticed any problems so far. It is possible that users suffering this problem have forgotten to peel off the protective plastic film which is present on both sides of the pull-down plastic front panel on the Humax Foxsat HDR during shipping.

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PVR Features & Functionality

The Humax Foxsat HDR has a number of cool features over and above many other Freesat+ PVR's on the market and earlier Humax set top boxes. These include:

  • Recording padding - Ability to automatically add a few minutes of padding to the beginning and end times of recordings to avoid missing parts of the programme.
  • Record two programmes and watch a third - It's possible to record two programmes whilst playing back a different recording or watching a different channel but this must be on the same digital multiplex as one of the recordings. Alternatively you can also playback an in-progress recording in time delay mode.
  • Programme clash avoidance - whereby the Humax Freesat+ HDR checks for an alternative version of a programme from its EPG data if the start time clashes with another scheduled recording.
  • Intelligent recording - Split recordings are catered for by the Foxsat. For example, where say a film is split in two parts by the News, the Humax PVR intelligently records both parts automatically without the unwanted News section.
  • Autotracking - A new feature called "Autotracking" keeps an eye on the broadcast stream for 15 minutes prior to the scheduled start time of a recording, waking up the Humax STB to accurately track any deviations in the scheduled programme's start times and to cater for them accordingly.
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Full Specification

  • Twin Independent Satellite Tuners (requiring a correctly aligned Minidish at 28.2E and two dish feeds)
  • Reported to be compatible with Single Cable Distribution (SCD) satellite installations
  • Massive 500GB disk for up to 300hrs of SD recordings or 150hrs of HD programming
  • Freesat HD and SD Channel Recording supported
  • Ability to record 2 channels at the same time - or watch one while recording another
  • Automatic adjustment of recording start and end times if the beginning of a programme is delayed or moved to a different time slot
  • Series record capability, so you don't miss an episode of your favourite shows
  • Pause and Rewind Live TV, although without the ability to record the pause buffer
  • Fast forward or rewind the playback of a recording or time slip playback at 2x , 4x, 8x, 16x, 32x, 64x or 1/2x, 1/4x and 1/8x normal speed
  • Low power consumption. Only 1W power consumption while in standby (compare this to 18W on standby for a typical Sky+ HD box!)
  • HDMI Interface for high quality picture and sound
  • HDMI support for 576i, 576p, 720p and 1080i
  • HDMI upscaling for Standard Definition channels
  • Two Scart connectors with choice of RGB and S-Video output
  • Dolby Digital optical audio output (S/PDIF) and Dolby Digital via HDMI supported
  • 2 USB connectors (one front panel, one rear panel)
  • HDCP Compliant
  • Ethernet port (for future use and access to online services like BBC I-Player)
  • Full 7 day Electronic Programme Guide
  • Instant recording button
  • Humax handset controls multiple devices with codes provided for DVD player, different makes of TV and Audio System
  • Recording scheduling for 14+ days by timer reservation
  • By default 20GB of the hard disk is reserved for MP3 files and pictures (which can be uploaded through the Foxsat HDR's USB interface from an external memory stick or a FAT16/FAT32 formatted external hard drive. Note: NTFS partitions on external drives are not supported)
  • Humax Foxsat set top box dimensions (Width 380mm x Depth 252mm x Height 55mm)
  • Weight 3.1kg

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Foxsat Limitations

  • No Coaxial Digital Audio Output (just an Optical S/PDIF connection is provided)
  • No Component Video Output
  • No UHF loopthrough capability or modulator is provided. This means that you'll need an RF Modulator to feed the output of the Humax Foxsat HDR into any existing UHF distribution system previously used for Sky TV.

    In this regard the Foxsat HDR does not match the functionality of Sky+ which has an in-built modulator. Also note that such the external modulator will not provide 12 volt DC power up the coaxial cable to your loft distribution amplifier, so consequently this will need to be mains powered if you are swapping over to a Humax Freesat HDR from a Sky+ or Sky+ HD box with a signal distribution system in place. Most loft boxes come with an optional power supply to accomplish this.

    In addition, the Sky remote eye is not compatible with the Foxsat HDR Freesat+ recorder as it has no UHF loopthrough. If you would like to change channels on the box from another room you will need to buy an suitable alternative product to Sky's magic eye like a Marmitek PowerMid XL infrared extender set.

  • No timer scheduling of Non-Freesat channels (only instant recording)
  • No archiving of Freesat HD channels via USB or Ethernet connection seems possible due to copyright restrictions. File Manager copy is disabled on copyrighted HD programmes and doesn't seem possible even with SD recordings
  • No recording of programmes of time delayed programmes from pause buffer
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Conclusion

The Humax Foxsat HDR is a full-featured Freesat+ PVR which gives other Freesat set top boxes a run for their money. By direct comparision, it even offers some improvements in recording functionality over Sky+ HD in a number of areas and a considerable cost saving by having no monthly subscription. This more that makes up for the more restricted HD TV channel lineup, assuming of course you are not a big sport Sky Sports fan! Highly recommended.

If you're considering cancelling your Sky subscription and moving to Freesat+ HD with a Humax Foxsat set top box, then it's worth noting that the lack of a modulator in the Freesat box means some additional hardware is needed to distribute the Foxsat box's output to other TV's around your home.

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Disclaimer

The above technical reviews of the Humax Foxsat HDR are provided in good faith and are accurate to the best of our ability. No guarantee regarding accuracy of information contained in this PVR review is provided.

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