In this review we take the Humax PVR 8000T Freeview Personal Video Recorder through its paces to help you choose and buy a PVR to receive free digital TV in the UK.
The Humax PVR 8000T is a cheap Freeview PVR set top box with an integral 80GB hard disk drive HDD. It's a single tuner PVR compatible with UK digital terrestrial television (DTV) reception. Up to 40 hours of free to air (FTA) Freeview TV programmes can be recorded onto the hard disk, with pause live TV features for time delayed viewing.
Humax PVR 8000T Review Conclusion
Good reception in poor Freeview signal areas, good functionality and price.
Time delay modes fiddly to use, poor manual, single tuner limits flexibility.
For a cheap PVR, the Humax PVR8000T build quality is excellent and the luxury mirrored front panel finish would complement even the most high-end A/V equipment stack. Note that the mirrored glass front panel and handset both have protective film on them to prevent scratching during shipping. This should be removed after installation.
The recently launched twin tuner Humax PVR9300T supersedes the PVR8000T and PVR9200T, featuring a larger 320GB HDD with up to 160 hours of recording.
The twin tuner Humax PVR9300T allows two DTT channels to be recorded onto the hard disk drive (HDD) simultaneously whilst watching a previously made recording or alternatively to record one Freeview TV channel whilst watching another. The older Humax PVR8000T cannot do this as it only has a single tuner.
The Humax PVR 8000T proved easy to install and setup. It found all of the Freeview channels available with ease and created a full channel line-up after just one minute of searching all available DTT channels.
Being a high sensitivity Freeview set top box, the Humax PVR proved ideal for fringe or poor DTT reception areas. It worked well even with a weak DVB-T digital TV signal from distant DTT transmitters. However, whilst the sensitivity of the Humax PVR tuner gave the best Freeview reception, in some cases it could complicate automatic installation.
In some locations, we found that automatic installation added a number of unwanted Freeview channels from distant out of region transmitters to the channel list, which then had to be manually removed from the EPG. To get around this, we deleted all EPG channels and carried out a manual re-installation, entering each UHF DTVchannel from our local transmitter in turn and saving the channel line-up. This solved the problem, although it took some time to accomplish.
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The Humax PVR 8000T user manual was badly written and proved difficult to understand for a non-technical audience. That said, computer literate people had no problems using it. However, the HDD PVR trick mode functions of the Humax 8000T were a little awkward to use, especially the scroll bar jump functionality which allows different portions of pause live TV - time shifted recordings to be instantly accessed from the handset.
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The Humax PVR 8000T set top box proved to be one of the best HDD Freeview receivers for weak DTT signal areas with its high sensitivity tuner. As I am outside the DTT coverage area of the Oxford TV transmitter (in Newbury), I decided to test the sensitivity of the PVR 8000T to see if good Freeview reception was possible in poor signal areas with fringe DTT coverage. Read the results of my experiment here.
The receiver also tried to lock up on the digital TV channels from the Crystal Palace transmitter on my Hannington TV aerial, where signal strength from Crystal Palace was very poor at our Newbury home (52 miles from London). It didn't actually manage to receive any of the Crystal Palace Freeview channels, but it paused on each DTT multiplex showing it could detect the Freeview signal from London, even though the signal was very weak.
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The Humax PVR 8000T worked well when pausing live TV for delayed viewing. We found this feature invaluable especially when interruptions from our young family occurred during our favourite digital TV programmes. After a few weeks, we soon realised that this is the single best feature of the Humax PVR8000T. It was possible to pause the Freeview TV channel being viewed and re-start viewing from where we left off, after resolving each family crisis! It was even possible to pause the time delayed TV programme again and again should further interruptions or phone calls be experienced.
Quality Scart Cables
When we discarded to cheap Scart cable supplied with the Humax PVR and connected a Quality Scart Lead, the picture quality from both Freeview TV channels and HD hard drive recorded programmes was found to be excellent. We directly compared the picture to that from our aging Pace Sky Digibox and were surprised by the improvement. Digital TV artefacts were reduced around on-screen white text and picture motion was noticeably smoother on BBC1.
Freeview MPEG2 recordings were identical in quality to the original broadcast material. The PVR 8000T recorded picture quality was a huge advance over VHS video quality. We highly recommend a Freeview PVR for owners of high resolution widescreen TV's who will really notice a huge improvement over VHS. We set up the TV video output of the Humax PVR to S-video, which seemed to give the best picture quality.
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Programming the cheap Humax PVR for HDD recording uses the on-screen display and involves a lot of keystrokes. Up to 20 recording reservations can be made to record Freeview TV programmes up to 7 days in advance onto the 80GB HD which provides up to 40 hours of recording time. Non-computer literate people found programming the Humax PVR frustrating, made worse by the poorly written manual. Older people had problems grasping the procedure for creating a HD reservation. People with poor eyesight also complained that the handset buttons were too small and the labelling hard to read.
The Humax Freeview PVR could miss the very beginning of programmes, if programmed to start recording exactly at programme start time. Presumably this is done to facilitate back-to-back HD recordings. The PVR 8000T didn't allow enough time to spin up the hard drive for recording to commence at the precise start time. The Freeview PVR recording actually started some 15 seconds after the scheduled start time in the reservation. This was enough to miss the very beginning of some Freeview TV programmes. If reservations were started a few minutes earlier to compensate for this, then this had the unfortunate side effect of labelling the recorded programme incorrectly in the "recorded programmes" on-screen menu. However, it was possible to re-name the Freeview recording later on, but it could cause confusion.
An early software version of the Humax PVR 8000T didn't store timer reservations into non-volatile memory. To partially correct this software bug, download the latest firmware from the Humax Digital website or try an over the air software update (OTA). Annoyingly, the front panel time setting is also lost if the mains supply is interrupted whilst the PVR-8000T is in standby, and the clock is not reset even after 240V power is reinstated. Unfortunately, this software bug remains even with the latest Humax software update. Humax should make the PVR-8000T power up momentarily when power is re-established to reset the clock settings so future recording reservations can be made. Currently, this problem means that a power cut will prevent all future recordings by reservation. It's a shame Humax that didn't fix this problem in the latest PVR-8000T software release.
The latest software version for the Humax PVR-8000T is available to download from the Humax Digital website. Version numbers of the software update are given below:
The PVR8000T has no card slot, so is incompatible with Top Up TV (subscription service). The new Humax PVR9300T twin tuner model corrects this limitation by having a Top Up TV card slot.
The Humax PVR 8000T has a adjustable UHF modulator which worked well, giving excellent picture quality when correctly set to a free UHF channel. When the Humax boxes UHF signal was fed into the RF input of our Sky Digibox, Freeview TV channels were successfully added to our Sky TV distribution system and could be watched on other TV's in our home. Picture quality via the UHF modulator was excellent after adjusting the RF modulator to a spare UHF channel.
Hard Disk Upgrades
I did a hard disk upgrade on my Humax PVR 8000T upgrading it to a Maxtor DiamondMax 200GB PATA133 IDE drive. This gives up to 100 hours of recording time, 60 hours more than with the 80GB drive. Since the operating system for the Humax PVR8000T is not stored on the hard disk it makes the upgrade more straightforward.
There are pros and cons with the Maxtor 200GB hard disk upgrade, so read the following carefully before doing any disk upgrade:-
First the advantages, aside from the obvious increase in recording time - the loud ticking noise from the hard drive, which was present for a few minutes when the PVR 8000T was initially turned on, was eliminated by the disk upgrade. The second advantage being that the occasional momentary picture twitches (jumps) that I used to see with the 80GB disk during time shifted viewing seem to have been cured, either because of increased data buffer size or improved read write times of the Maxtor 200GB hard drive. When the Humax PVR is in time shifted viewing mode it is continually writing new data and reading old data from the disk, so the data overhead is high.
Unfortunately, the hard disk upgrade resulted in a significant disadvantage - during time shifted viewing, with a delay of over 5 minutes a loud ticking sound is present continually from the hard disk. This wasn't present with the old Seagate 80GB hard disk and is proving very hard to live with as we frequently use the Humax PVR for time shifted viewing.
I did notice that the Humax PVR 8000T creates two partitions on the disk. One of them is 256MB in size and the other occupies the rest of the available disk space (used for MPEG2 recording files). It is therefore possible that the 256MB partition is used somehow for indexing the time shifted viewing. On the larger physical disk, it is possible that this 256MB partition may be too small - but since it is created by the Humax PVR software there's little I can do to increase it. Any manually created partition is over-written by the Humax disk format and initialisation utility, so it just creates a 256MB partition.
Carry out the following procedure at your own risk and be aware of the pros and cons of upgrading the Humax PVR 8000T hard disk by reading the pros and cons above. I also wish to make clear that I will not be held responsible if you damage or render inoperable your box by any means.
In addition, switch mode power supplies, like the one inside the Humax PVR use high voltages which could prove lethal, so make sure you disconnect and unplug the unit from the 240V mains power before removing the top cover.
First, unplug the 240V mains power and remove the mains plug, isolating it from the socket. Then remove the 5 screws holding the top cover in place. The hard drive is prominently located on the right hand side of the PVR - see a top view picture. The existing 80GB hard disk will probably be manufactured by Seagate. It is housed on a small metal stand-off bracket (retained by 3 screws). To upgrade it, you'll need to carefully remove the 3 securing screws attaching the bracket to the chassis and carefully lift the bracket clear of the unit, disconnecting the hard disk power cable and IDE cable from the drive. It is wise to use static precautions when handling hard drives as they are prone to damage from static electricity.
Then unscrew the 4 screws underneath the bracket that attach it to the hard disk. Place the old Seagate 80GB disk in the anti-static bag that came with the new 200GB hard disk. Now screw the 200GB hard disk upgrade to the stand-off bracket using the same screws that anchored the 80GB disk.
The jumper settings on the new hard drive should be OK straight out of the packaging and should not require changing. The disk was set to: Cable Select (CS enabled). In addition, there is no need to format the new hard disk using a PC as the file system used by Humax is not FAT, FAT32 or NTFS, so you'd be wasting your time. Instead, install the drive direct from the box unformatted. Replace the IDE cable and hard drive power cable and re-anchor the bracket with the 3 retaining screws. Replace the top cover and the 5 retaining screws. Power up the Humax PVR and go into the "Record menu" > then select Option 3 "HDD Control". Format the disk using the on-screen format button and check that the available space is around 201,371MB. Occupied disk space will be 0MB. Then check time delayed viewing and programme recording works properly. If successful, the upgrade is complete!
For any of you who are interested, the Humax 80GB hard disk is not "readable" in a PC as it has no Windows recognisable file system, so you can't watch or backup your recordings onto DVD by installing the drive into a PC. You'll therefore need to backup any HDD recordings onto DVD or tape before upgrading the PVR 8000T hard disk. I suspect the same is true of a Sky + drive, so back up your programmes before cancelling your Sky subscription!
For more upgrade information, visit Radio and Telly where compatible hard drives are listed which have been successfully tested with the Humax PVR. Not all 160GB or 200GB hard disks are upgrade compatible, so careful research is needed. Maplin.co.uk sell a range of ultra quiet 160GB and 200GB UATA hard disks with prices under £80, although I can't guarantee they'll work as I haven't personally tested them. Nor can I tell you with any other type of drive will work, so please don't ask me!
If it helps, my Maxtor DiamondMax 200GB hard disk was purchased from Vivatech Ltd, Shambria Woodvill Road, Leatherhead, Surrey in March 2006. Their telephone number is 01372 377362.
The Humax PVR 8000T is an award winning cheap PVR with an integral Freeview set top box offering a good specification and excellent picture quality. It worked very well in weak signal areas with poor Freeview coverage, thanks to its high sensitivity tuner - being one of the best Freeview receivers we've tested for areas with a poor Freeview signal allowing fringe and "out of area" DX DTT reception.
A Freeview PVR makes a credible cheap alternative to Sky Plus, avoiding the £10 monthly subscription. However, Freeview has significantly fewer digital TV channels than a full Sky TV subscription can offer, so if you're a Sky Sports fan, then a Freeview HDD PVR is not for you!
Since the Humax PVR will only record from its built in DVB-T compatible tuner, you cannot record onto its hard drive from your Sky Digibox, so any channels not available on Freeview cannot be recorded on the PVR 8000T. This is its main limitation.
If you mainly intend to watch free to air (FTA) Freeview TV and want the convenience of being able to pause live TV and watch time delayed live TV, then the Humax PVR is a great choice. You can make up to 40 hours of high quality MPEG2 recordings. Since the unit has a VCR Scart output it is also possible (subject to copyright) to transfer any recordings made on the HDD onto VHS tape for archiving.
The pause live TV and time delay viewing functions worked well. Not having to find a spare video tape when recording BBC1 or the other regular Freeview channels was hugely appealing, as was the excellent recording quality when compared to VHS Tapes. With no need to keep a heap of tapes next to your TV and the superior picture quality offered, it comes as no surprise that the PVR 8000T and the new Humax PVR9300 with its twin tuner and upscaling are growing in popularity, as is digital TV in general.
Read more Freeview PVR set top box reviews at Digital Spy.
The twin tuner Humax PVR 9300T set top box has the same high performance as the PVR 8000T whilst allowing one Freeview channel to be recorded onto the HDD hard drive whilst viewing another. Alternatively, two channels can be recorded concurrently. List price is around £152 from Amazon.co.uk. To buy the Humax PVR 9150T or another cheap Freeview PVR box, see the ad above.
The information contained on this cheap Freeview PVR page is provided in good faith and is accurate to the best of our ability. No guarantees regarding accuracy of information are provided. Hard disk upgrades are done at your own risk and no interoperability guarantees can be provided.