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Humax provide a Sky+ (plus) like box for those without Sky! 

The Humax PVR 9200TB is the equivalent of the Sky Plus box for those of us that don't want to be tied to monthly subscriptions, but prefer the flexibility offered by FreeView.

It was with some trepidation that I plugged my very old TV aerial into the back of this Humax FreeView PVR. Having been on cable for the last 5 years with the aerial dangling in the garden I was expecting the worst! Luckily though the box sprang to life and discovered a good range of digital channels.

The Humax PVR9200T provides everything you need to receive and record FreeView programmes onto it's internal hard-disk drive (HDD). The drive itself is 160Gbytes, providing enough space for a claimed 100 hours of video. To put that into perspective you could record all three series of the new Doctor Who - three times over and still have enough room for all thirteen episodes of next years series!

Before the availability of hard-disk recorders, recording TV programmes had taken a backward step. Your options were to continue to use VHS tape (but only until your recorder finally broke) or move to recordable DVD. Anyone unlucky enough to have tried using a DVD recorder (ok - my hand is up!) to record directly from TV will know why that was a backward step!

Humax PVR-9200TB - rear view showing connections

Connection to a TV is catered for with SCART, RCA cable or RF Coax cable. An S/PDIF connection is provided for audio output to a hi-fi system.

The Humax comes with a SCART cable and a large remote control. The control is very clear and easy to use - and also, given it's size, less likely than others to get lost.

 

Power consumption is a bit of an issue if you're interested in saving the environment. When operational it takes around 28W, not too bad. In standby though it takes a fairly hefty 11W. This is definitely not the type of product to leave on standby when not in use. Luckily it does have a real, old-fashioned physical off switch around the back so you don't have to switch off at the mains.

Recording and Playback

With two separate FreeView tuners you can now watch one programme while recording another, or even record two programmes simultaneously. That ability alone is likely to save a few family fights when you next have Andrew Lloyd Webber up against Simon Cowell on different channels at the same time! It's even possible under some circumstances to record two programmes and watch a third, although how you do that isn't too obvious so I'm not going to go into details here!

As with many of these products, a single flick of a button on the remote will pause live TV. Very useful for when the phone rings. In our house even more useful in getting the kids to the dinner table ("But Daddddd - I just need to see this little bit..."). Sound Familiar?

You can also watch a programme that is being recorded without having to wait for the programme to finish. This can be very useful on commercial stations where you can slowly 'catch up' by skipping adverts. In fact you could use this for any programme - just start watching 15 minutes after it starts and skip the adverts!

The system downloads a 7 day programme guide automatically and integrates this well with the programme record function. If you press the 'record current programme' for example (confusingly by pressing the 'play' button on the remote) - the system automatically sets the published end-time from the programme guide. You can also schedule programmes to be recorded and specify that the programme should be recorded daily, weekly, weekday etc.

The programme guide also allows you to specify 'start time' as automatic - a great feature. This allows you to specify that you want to record Dr Who every week - and then still manage to record it when the BBC decide to shift the start time for one episode forward by 15 minutes (why do they do that?).

Once you have your recorded programmes the menu interface provides a clear list of all your stored content on the disk including the programme title and record date.

Of course storing onto the HDD is fine, but there will be some programmes you'll want to keep. It wouldn't take long to fill up the drive so you'll need a way of making a permanent copy. A separate SCART socket allows for connection of an external DVD recorder or VHS video recorder.

Connection to a PC

For the more adventurous you can in theory connect the PVR to your computer via a USB 2.0 connector underneath a drop-down flap on the front of the product. I say in theory, because there wasn't a single step in doing this that went smoothly. In my view I think Humax have done the minimum they can do to claim to have this feature (read check-box item!). Basically it doesn't work for anything other than small files.

You need to provide your own USB cable, I used one that came with an old external USB DVD drive. A CDROM, included with the package, contains both drivers for the PVR and a programme called 'e-linker'. The drivers would not automatically install and I finally had to open the control panel device manager and re-install the drivers from there. For some reason Humax have decided not to allow you to mount the disk as another drive in explorer, instead forcing all file transfers to be done via the 'e-linker' programme.

E-linker is fairly clunky, which would be fine if it actually did what it was meant to do. It doesn't. I had a number failures transferring files - no reason given. All I got was 'Upload failed : c:(fname) (-10)' - very informative. I can't particularly see why Humax can't get the data transfer right - it really isn't rocket science! Transferring a film for example can take a long time - it is infuriating to wait 30-60 minutes only to have it fail. Despite already downloading say 70% of the file - there is no facility to continue the download - it's back to the beginning. This really doesn't help with blood pressure!

Doing some Internet research showed this wasn't an isolated incident and the recommendation is to do nothing else on your computer while you do the transfer. With a dual-core Intel processor I think shuffling a few files around shouldn't be too much of a stretch. Anyway - I duly did nothing on my computer (OK - I checked my mail) while it tried to download a 3Gbyte feature film I recorded. Still failed - so in my opinion this is a broken feature.

One more time - I started the download and left the room - and it did download. So - you have a massively powerful computer - huge hard disk - fairly slow USB 2.0 connection, and the software can't actually download anything unless it has 100% of the CPU.

In summary - although there is hardware support for transferring your video files to a PC, the software doesn't actually work. If this is something you're going to want to do a lot of then I'd suggest this isn't the product for you.

If you should happen to get your file to your PC you'll find it in MPEG 'Transmission Stream' (TS) format, so simply moving the video files to your computer is not going to make them immediately useful. I used the VLC media player, which can play the TS format files directly. It's highly likely though that you moved your videos to your PC so that you could write them to DVD. If you want to create a playable DVD then you'll need to convert to standard MPEG format and then use your standard video editing software to create the DVD. I used something called ProjectX to do do the translation.

e-Linker also gives you the option to transfer MP3 files and JPEG images to the PVR, but not to transfer video so you're not going to be able to pop your home videos onto the box. I don't think this is likely to be much of an issue for the average user.

Summary

As you will have noticed I was somewhat disappointed with the PC interface, but that is really targeted at very small set of potential users, and I may have spent a little long on this area up above.

This is a very good product. It makes recording TV programmes easy - which it should be - and in fact always used to be before the advent of DVDs. It's easier than using a VHS recorder, and actually cheaper than many VHS recorders used to be - quite an achievement after the years of DVD being the answer to everything. There is no delay, no re-winding tape, no 'preparing DVD', no 'DVD type not recognised' - just press record and the programme you're watching is stored. For 99.9% of potential users this is an ideal product. For the remaining 0.1% you should probably consider a media PC of some form.

I'm not going to allow the PC connectivity to affect my smiley face rating - I'm rating it on how I think it would perform for a typical user - which is very well indeed.

UPDATE 16 Sept 2008 : The PVR9200TB is now being phased out with Humax bringing out a new range of recorders. We've reviewed the latest PVR9150T, which you can read here.

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Rating:

Comment by jdiamond, Feb 8, 2008 10:11

In your review you said:

" If you press the 'record current programme' for example (confusingly by pressing the 'play' button on the remote)"

I don't have to do that, I can just use the record button.  

Unfortunately with regard to the PC download - it still doesn't work :o(.
Rating:

Comment by petew, Feb 7, 2008 10:03

Hello jdiamond. Thanks for your detailed comments. I can't remember the issue I had with having to press 'play' to record - it worked fine but wasn't intuitive.

On download to a computer. I'd be really interested to know whether this has been improved in the new software release. You never know! If you do get a chance to try it out let me know how you get on.

All the best - Pete
Rating:

Comment by jdiamond, Feb 6, 2008 22:01

I have had the 320GB model with the advanced firmware since November 2007 (was 227) only avialbale directly from HUMAX mailorder.  One of the reasons I bought it was for the PC download option and I was really really disappointed when I found it didn't work.  This left a bad taste in my mouth and had it not been for the large 320GB disk I would have been really p'd off.

OK so that aside it is a fantastic box with a superb picture.  I have just had to learn to be a bit disciplined and remove items I don't want rather than just keeping any old thing.  With repect to viewing a channel while recording two others, as long as the channel you want to view is on the same plex as one of the channels you are recording then you can watch away.  It greys out any channels you can't access anyway.  I found the remote pretty good, the only thing is that the most used buttons (the recorded program list and the skip forward 30s and back 15s (customisable and set at 7s by default)are under the sliding door which is a small pain - and I can see the door will end up broken and permanently off!

To record the channel you are watching you don't press "play" as described in the review, you press "record" as you would expect and I found most of the controls pretty intuitive.  There is a 2 hour buffer on the current channel you are watching, but if you flip over and back the buffer starts from the beginning again so if you want to do that you may as well just record the program.

Had it not been for the connecting to PC not working I would have given it 9.5 out of 10 but as it was important for me I would have to downgrade that to 8 and I am probably being generous there.
Rating:

Comment by petew, Feb 1, 2008 13:12

I'm told the software has now been upgraded (January 2008, over air so all owners should have the upgrade). The upgrade equips the Humax recorders with the latest Freeview Playback recording features that include series recording, split recording to allow viewers to link and record two-part programmes, and alternate instance recording. The last of these I think covers the situation where a programme is broadcast twice at different times, and the first showing could not be recorded for some reason, the PVR should be able to automatically work out when to record the other transmission - cool!
Rating:

Comment by colombia, Dec 28, 2007 18:58

cananybody tell me if the unit comes with auto buffering
Rating:

Comment by j7054, Dec 3, 2007 20:25

sounds good, giving sky a run for its money is good enough for me (ex-sky customer & not happy), PC interface is not that important as long as it does everything else right.I think I'll be having a long look at this one.
Rating:

Comment by petew, Nov 14, 2007 2:56

The Silver version of this product has now been formally reduced to 149.99 from comet, making it over 25 cheaper than the best Amazon price. There's no indication that this is a temporary reduction. The black version remains at the higher price of 179. Here's the link.
Rating:

Comment by petew, Nov 2, 2007 18:01

Comet have a special offer until the 8th of November. You can get the Humax product for only 149.99 if you enter the code HUMAX30 into the promotional code box after adding to basket. I think it's only the silver version rather than black that's on offer. That's a pretty good price for a very good product - ideal if you're looking for something to record Christmas Telly - and also probably avoid a few fights! Details here

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