Saturday 4 August 2012

Stuck with the bad : Humax Foxsat-HDR

OK, my next gripe, recording from TV in the digital age. So in the age of VCR, we put a tape in, pressed record and viola, it recorded.

We still have some VHS tapes, namely home videos, many that have been transferred to DVD, and some that haven’t. Yes we still have a VCR to do this with. I gave my Stargate Collection, recorded from Sky Digital, with the breaks painstakingly removed, to a local charity shop some two years ago. They were heavy and bulky, and the picture quality looks awful in the hi-def age. Oh and what a waste of time it was to record them so diligently, what was I on back then?

Anyway, back to today, and here’s my problem, all I want to do is this:-

Watch the odd series pre-recorded on a series link, preferably in HD, and maybe the odd movie once or twice a month.

Keep a series or, shock horror, two, on a hard disk based system.

I don’t want to pay a subscription charge, the free to air stuff is fine thank you.

Not throw endless money at trying to achieve the above.

That is pretty much it.

Cable  TV is not an option, despite living just a few miles from the centre of one of Britain’s largest cities, the road was dug, a cable laid, and then the company putting it in went bust, so whilst people all around us have cable our little pocket doesn’t, thought we do have a gigantic ugly green BT fibre optic broadband box right outside our house. 18Mbits suit us just fine, I am not interested.

So a satellite solution is the only option. To this end I own a Sky HD Box and a Humax Foxsat HDR (500GB) box.

The problem? In a word, both can’t do what I want, I feel like saying they’re both rubbish etc. but that would be how I feel about them, and not really nailing down the why.

So the ‘why’….

Interruption to thread : Oh good grief! I kept the shift key pressed a bit too long thinking of the next word to write and that Sticky keys nonsense started up and locked my keyboard up until I found the tray icon and turned it off, another one of life’s little nuisance thanks to modern technology (Windows 7).

.. anyway, the ‘why’ short version…

The Sky HD box, likes to crash, and you have to pay for the recording feature to work, £10 a month I’ve been lead to believe.  So I’ve no idea yet how a series link will fare on it, as once or twice a week, you turn it on, and it’s dead. Time to unplug and wait a few minutes. It’s a bit better since the more recent firmware updates. Cost was £80 (used).

The Humax box clips recordings that are on series link, at least a quarter, probably more like a third of the episodes I record have their last few minutes missing and few have their start clipped instead. That’s a deal breaker, makes programmes not worth watching. Humax support just ignored my e-mail about it, and yes the firmware is up to date, but it’s 6 months old, so they don’t update often. Cost me £250, and I paid this because the reviews were so glowing, e.g. What HiFi gave it 5 stars no less.

Long (boring) version.

The Sky HD box’s crashing syndrome, I doubt it would be improved upon significantly by having a newer box, when we did have Sky Digital and Sky+ subscriptions, it was much the same story, the boxes (yes some were replaced, Thompson, Amstrad, Pace, had ‘em all in various guises) did like to lock up needing a mains plug pull followed by a good long wait whilst it redetected  channels etc. The recorded media is not organised, other than one large list of recorded programs, that are just ordered chronologically, and that’s it. However until I used the Humax box, I didn’t appreciate what it does very well, which is work very well in every other respect. It’s fast and responsive, hardly any lag ever, and when I had Sky+ many moons back, and I can’t remember it ever cutting off the end of a recording. I did have vague memory of it doing so maybe more than once, but I can’t remember the incident. I know there are millions of Sky customers who are using Sky+ and the series link works all the time, and there are no or very few crashes. Then again people love the Humax box…. It’s me as well, not wanting to pay the fee, and here comes the worst bit, if you decided to stop paying, you can’t watch your recordings anymore! Another big turn off. In the age of people happily paying £45 a month for Sky, I probably look like some form of luddite. Well we had such packages and we ended up with a humongous amount of stuff recorded that we never had the time to watch. So we cancelled it.

Back to the Humax box. It’s difficult to live with. It has one awful remote control, a really turgid user interface and operates in two modes to give you something approaching Sky’s free to air coverage, that are a pain to switch between, normal satellite, where the planner no longer allows series link etc. or go back to setup, and find the option to go back to a limited subset, under the Freesat banner.

Slow to start…

First up it takes an absolute age to ‘BOOT’ up, unless it was already recoding something scheduled, in which case it’s instant. If you feel like eating something in front of the telly and think you’ll watch a few minutes of something, well you won’t. You’ll end up watching the word ‘BOOT’ on its LCD for a while, and will probably have finished a packed of crisp by the time you get a picture.

Slow to use… and that remote…

I've played with a good number of PVR's and this is by the slowest I have ever used. Initially you can't tell if it's the remote control causing the lag, or whether the box is slow. Well it's both. The remote is badly laid out and the rubber keys do need a firm press, the nice looking silver ring used as a directional cursor more so than the rest of the keys. The ‘play’ key for example, which is one that's used quite a lot, is placed in a cluster just above the center to the left. This is frustrating in the extreme, on most PVR’s it is a LARGE key, why they made it so small and placed it in such an awkward to reach place is beyond me, it appears to defy common sense.

So I set up a multi-remote a cheap but functional One 4 All jobby. It was then that I noticed that the unit itself is also slow to respond. At least now I know it’s the unit and I could now stop repeatedly pressing keys harder in hope of a quicker response. You fast forward an ad, and oh no your left pressing the play button repeatedly as it whizzes past, then you rewind. Repeat three times, and you end up spending quarter of the time the das would have taken, so your ahead in terms of time saves, but it’s annoying.

The guide looks fantastic, but is again turgid and slow in use, worse still it buffers key presses, as one makes one too many key presses, it goes way past the target timeframe one was looking for. The media section that keeps the series you record in nice neat folders is quite nice, and not quite as slow, but still no match for the speed of a Sky HD’s episode list.

It chops things, and we’re not talking about your fresh veg…

So you can set up a series link to record all the episodes of a particular series. Nothing new and this is what I bought it for in the first place. It is this feature’s implementation that provably breaks the camel’s back. Almost every other recording it makes is truncated. The end will be missing! Fantastic, so you have an episode of the Big Bang Theory recorded (oops’ I’ve fessed up to one of the two series I have recorded, the 2nd one is much more embarrassing, but not Rules of Engagement or desperate House Wife’s, it’s not THAT bad), the full 20 minutes or so of actual program time after you skip the ads, it didn’t bother recording. It ends a few minutes short, and you don’t get to see the punch line. This is more frustrating still when the following episodes may reference what happened at the end, and one can only make an educated ‘guess’ at what actually happened. Crummy firmware.

One interesting thing is that it has never locked up or crashed, ever. It has twice failed to make a recording at all, i.e. recorded a few minutes and marked the recoding as having had a failure, but that’s it. But any good ‘features’ this box has are largely irrelevant if it can’t even make complete recordings.

The worst thing is that it wasn’t immediately obvious. We had already watched nearly all Big Bang Theory episodes, and just wished to have a collection on the hard drive in HD, so we hadn’t watched them yet. Then I recorded another series that I wished to watch later with my wife. So we had 40 odd episodes recorded, and that’s when it really hit us, that a great many had their ends cut off. After watching about 12 episodes we began to wonder if it was worth watching anymore. We would off course skip to end and see if it’s there in the first place, but really? Oh and then the ultimate kicker, once in a while, it will cut the beginning off, i.e. start recording too late.

Obviously I contacted Humax support (allegedly UK), and had no response. Oh well, so much for customer support. This is clearly not fit for the purpose it was sold, and I am now wondering how much time I will now need to waste in clawing back some money for what has been a very poor investment. I could complain to Richer Sounds about it and see what they have to say, but as its well over 30 days, they are probably within their right not to be interested. Then there’s the manufacturer, who doesn’t even reply to e-mails.

What to do…

Pay Sky…

I am loathed to do this, but assuming I claw back some of the cash by getting rid of the Humax box, I could pay Sky that money, and see how it goes, how often crash leads to an episode, or series of episodes to be missed.

Hope Humax get their finger out…

.. and fix the clipping problem, I can live with the rest.

Out of the box idea, DVD Box-sets…

Forget the whole recording mumbo jumbo, buy them cheap on ebay as boxed sets, eventually, I can wait. I bought seasons 2, 3, 4 (to add to the 1 and 5 I’ve had for years) of Babylon 5 for abour £5 each, bona fide originals.

Only caveat is that it needs to be bit more of a ‘planned’ viewing activity, i.e. get DVD, put in box, watch the copyright messages etc. get to episode selection. Or put on HDD and watch using WD-TV, that then requires WD-TV to be turned on, it scans the hard drive etc. etc. Even the Humax at its worst is more convenient, turn on, wait, wait some more, go to media pick series, select next unwatched episode (with the risk that it won’t have recorded the end of the recording…).

Give up…

Then there’s my friend who makes the point, why bother watching TV at all, one day his argument might just win the day. I have enough unwatched, original DVD’s to last me two years at my current rate of viewing.