For the many poor souls who still can’t get Freeview (incredibly, almost a quarter of the country) the only option for digital telly has been Sky – until now. Freesat, a joint venture between the BBC and ITV, offers subscription-free access to high-definition content for virtually the whole of the UK, and the Humax FOXSAT-HD is the first box that can pick up its signals.
Sadly, it’s not quite a one-box solution – all Freesat boxes require a satellite dish to pick up the signal. The Foxsat-HD does work with a Sky dish if you already have that installed, but otherwise you’re looking at an £80 installation charge.
The box itself is unexpectedly small, with a simple-minded display and an unremarkable remote control. It certainly doesn't look the sort of product that's going to revolutionise the way you do anything. Then again, if you live in an area that's gone without Freeview all this time, the Humax is probably the best-looking piece of kit you've seen in a while.
Thanks to its neat, straightforward menus, the Humax can be set up in next to no time. Plenty of users will need a dish installing by their retailers, but as we've already got a Sky TV dish we thought we'd give it a try – and our FOXSAT-HD box happily picked up a signal that way.
After a little argument about whether we knew our own postcode or not, the Humax sought out a total of 80 TV and radio stations without fuss.
The vast majority of Freesat content currently available will be familiar to anyone with a Freeview box, and the picture quality the Humax delivers won't startle too many viewers either.
Standard-definition broadcasts via the FOXSAT-HD are colourful, high-contrast affairs with a lack of fine detail. Motion is handled reasonably well, except in the most testing circumstances when it can lose a little definition.
Of course, its big trick is receiving hi-def broadcasts, and if you've been used to standard definition viewing then the BBC's HD-preview channel will look sensational. Compared to any standard-def broadcasts, BBC HD looks crisp, detailed and stable via the Humax. Movement is tracked keenly, tricky edges are convincing and the level of fine detail is impressive.
Although BBC HD is the only hi-def channel available on Freesat right now, ITV HD is due to come on stream in time for this summer's European Championships, with a full HD line-up later this year.
Sound, whether from standard- or high-definition broadcast, errs on the side of thin and weedy. It's definitively not the worst we've heard, but the lack of weight at the low end and the eagerness to spill into sibilance at the top makes it a bit of trial compared to more accomplished Freeview boxes.
And if you want surround sound, Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks can be sent to a multichannel amp or receiver via the optical digital output.
So if your lack of Freeview reception has made you wary of the big analogue switch-off, never fear. There will be plenty of products that can do a digital job for you and, if the Humax FOXSAT-HD is anything to go by, they'll be capable and inexpensive.