Led by Commander Sky and Sergeant Tiscali, TV is in the middle of an HD revolution. Pumping its fist in the air in support is a new splinter group, led by Evesham’s iplayer, which sees no reason why you should tie yourself into an expensive subscription just to be part of the hi-def gang.
For a box whose main competitors can already pick up HD broadcasts, it might seem odd that the iplayer currently has nothing of its own to show off. But by packing in more fancy gizmos than that kid from The Goonies, it’s going to do its best to keep you entertained til HD Freeview arrives. Just be prepared for a long wait – it might not happen until 2012.
Up, up and upscale away!
For starters it’ll upscale standard-def pictures in real time to either 1080i or 720p via HDMI. Picture quality was crisp on the 32in Evesham LCD we tested it with, but don’t expect any miracles. After all, it’s not the real thing, but when that does arrive, the iplayer’s HD tuner means it’ll be ready and waiting.
Thanks to an Ethernet port it’s also primed for ipTV (that’s video-on-demand over the web) or you could just surf and stream video. It’ll even download podcasts, so no excuses for missing each Stuff.tv instalment every Friday.
Browsing the net via remote isn’t ideal, but a USB connection on the side of the box is just begging for a keyboard or even an external HDD should you want one.
By hooking the iplayer up to your PC it’ll also let you export recordings from the 80GB hard drive (about 70 hours of SD footage) ready to be burned onto disc. It’ll also work the other way, letting you spin vids, browse pics or play tunes through your TV.
Standard PVR features all perform solidly, with an idiot-proof seven-day EPG (it even shows channel logos), time-shifting on live TV and top-notch recording quality. For 300 quid we’d expect a better remote, though. After only a month’s use, the bundled cheapo zapper’s d-pad became infuriatingly stubborn.
One tuner is a little stingy too, and it leaves us wondering whether the iplayer really has enough fight to cope against Sky HD and enough stamina to last the long wait for HD Freeview. But despite its shortcomings it still remains as the only way to exercise your telly’s HD muscles without subscribing your life away. Vive la revolution!