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Look After The Bits And The Bytes Will Look After Themselves
When I was looking for a Freeview HD PVR there were basically two makes I was looking at, Humax and Digitalstream. The clincher was the Digitalstream was £100 cheaper than the Humax for the same capacity (500GB). The box itself is black and a little bit chunky but doesn't look out of place under my TV. There is a front display that shows the channel or the name of the program you're watching if watching a recorded program.
The Digitalstream has twin freeview HD tuners, meaning that it will record two programs at the same time, and will allow you to watch another channel. If you are recording two channels the channels you can watch becomes more limited, you can only watch the channels that are on the two tuned in Muxes. A Mux is a collection of channels.
The picture quality on HD channels is excellent, it's surprising how much better they look to SD
channels. The SD channels are good, they are a bit soft but after a little while you don't notice.
It is a bit sensitive to signal so I had to go in the loft to realign my aerial to get the HD channels,
but now the switchover is almost complete it shouldn't be a problem as they have boosted the signal.
Hopefully more HD channels will come soon.
The remote control is a nice size and fits in my hand well but some of the buttons are very small, the
Media button in particular could do with being much bigger as it's one of the most used buttons.
However, once you get used to it it's ok. You can pick up compatible remotes from other companies
relatively cheaply if you can't get on with it.
The menus are usable, the text is big and easy to read and the colour scheme is nice. There are some
issues with the Media screen, sometimes the selected line can move below the last item and if you're not careful you could accidentally delete the wrong program, I have reported this problem but so far it has not been fixed. Some functions should be easier to get to, such as the delete file option but you get used to it.
As with all PVRs you can select an individual program from the guide but if it's a series you can record
the entire series with the series link option, this is a great. If you want you can get the box to
automatically create folders for series linked programs.
The box gets updated via USB memory stick from files downloaded off the Digitalsteam website, not over the air even though there is an over the air option. This is ok for computer literate users, but some may find it difficult or may not even have a computer. The updates have addressed some issues and added some new features.
The biggest problem I have with the box is it's reliability, sometimes after coming out of standby the
box will refuse to respond to the remote control, the IR light on the front comes on when you press a
button but nothing happens. Putting on the latest update has not helped to fix the unresponsiveness and this is an often mentioned topic on the forums. Also, it has been known to miss the odd recording, but I believe this is mostly the fault of the broadcasters, often channel four or five.
On the subject of forums there is an excellent forum on avforums.com and one of the members has direct contact with the developers in Korea so you can get some good answers. They have also created a useful wiki site.
Another frustration is how long it takes to delete files, sometimes it can be quick but most of the time
it takes ages, it's not a major problem but could do with improving. It would also be very good to have
an 8x speed mode for forward and rewind, not sure why they haven't added it during updates it often asked for by the users. It also doesn't automatically switch on the TV or switch the TV's input when it's switched on which is something you'd expect of most devices these days.
The latest update has BBC support, this has taken a long time to come mostly because of the BBC dragging their heals. This works as a red button function. The interface for the iPlayer is functional but plain and it will stream in normal or higher quality, I had no buffering issues on my connection. There are no HD programs available and from what I've read this is the BBC dragging their feet not the box itself. There is no built in wireless, but you can pick up a wireless bridge for around £20 if you don't want to use a cable.
There are also some streaming internet channels but as of yet they're not worth bothering with, but it
does have future promise.
It is possible to hook up an external hard disk or USB memory stick to store programs, only SD programs can be played back on other devices, HD files are encrypted so cannot be played but can be stored and watched back on the machine later if the machine is running low on disk space. There is also a user mod that you can download that allows you to setup a Samba share to your computer. To do this a USB stick needs to be permanently attached to the machine with the update on it. There may be other user mods in the future.
On the whole I do recommend this box, it's not without it's issues, but at £100 cheaper than the
equivalent Humax and from what I've read the Humax is not without issues too. It still gets updates from the developers so the manufacturer support is good. I think it is good value for money. If you don't want Sky or Virgin then it's a great addition to the living room. I picked mine up from John Lewis, it was as cheap as anywhere else and came with a two year warranty.
Being a busy person, I tend to be unavailable to watch the programmes I like on TV when they're on and I often miss programmes just because I forget to tune in at the right time. Usually remember 30-40 minutes into the programme or remember an hour after they're over or even the following day. I know you can use TV On Demand services like iPlayer, 4oD, etc on a computer but I find that programmes aren't available right away (i.e. right as the Watchdog ends on TV, it's not available to watch on iPlayer for a few hours). Not only that, the programmes are only available for a limited amount of time and I find I sometimes only watch recorded programmes after a few months. i.e. movies, TV series with lots of episodes that I declare I'll only watch if I have time (i.e The Simpsons), etc.
The Digital Stream Freeview HD is a Freeview Personal Video Recorder (PVR). (I'll call it DS for short) That means it's a Freeview tuner with a hard drive, which enables you to record the programmes to the hard drive including programmes from the few high definition channels available as well as the standard defintion ones. Mine has 320GB of hard drive space, which can record 180 hours of standard definition or 90 hours of high definition video. You can also get it in 500GB and 1TB versions.
Originally, mine was listed at £199 everywhere about but I managed to buy mine off Amazon for £160 (supposedly refurbished but looked brand new to me when it arrived). Today, the £500 version is £199, 320GB version is £175 but may be cheaper elsewhere if you shop around.
DESIGN & FEATURES
The box itself is beautiful in black with red light up touch sensitive buttons, which only show up when the box is turned on. Very nice looking but I rarely use the buttons on the box as I'm usually sitting back and using the remote. The screen is big and clear without being overly bright. There's also a front flap cover that opens revealing a Top Up TV card and USB slot.
It's a twin tuner box so that means, I can watch one channel whilst it records another channel. This is good for when two programmes you want to watch are on at the same or overlap. You cannot record two channels and watch a third channel though in which case you'd need a treble tuner (which I think doesn't exist). Lots of programmes I watch overlap u with each other so twin tuner is essential to me. Even then, if you schedule lots of random recordings, you're likely to find an overlap, in which case the DS tells you and asks you which programme you would like to prioritise.
It has an EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) like any other PVR and this lets you see what programmes are on over the next seven days (a TV Guide basically). This is also where you schedule which programmes to record as well as read information on what the programmes are about. This works very well and when you press okay on a programme, it asks if you want to record the single programme or the whole series (if applicable). It also asks if you want to record the HD version (if available) instead if you chose and standard definition equivalent. In the EPG, rather than scroll through the pages of programmes, which some people do selecting whatever takes their fancy, I prefer to use the search function. You can filter by Genre, which works but takes about 10 seconds to bring up the results. I prefer to use the Search function.but unfortunately, this isn't very intuitive to use and I'm not sure it works. After entering the keyword to search for, there's no button search button to apply the search. When I entered the letter 'a' and left it, it eventually populated the results box. Unfortunately, changing it didn't give me an updated list and I'm not sure how to get it to function.
The machine has crashed on me several times when everything just froze. To fix that, I just turned it off using the mains power switch on the back of the unit. This is easy enough to reach. Another problem I've had is that certain programmes that I'd scheduled to record got stuck in record mode. I'm sure they had stopped recording but they were marked as being recorded, which meant that I could not delete them. Also, as two were stuck in this mode, it meant that the machine was not able to start another recording. This means that I could end up missing a future recording. Again, to fix this, I had to restart the machine.
The biggest issue I had was when I lost all the recorded programmes. I watched a recorded episode of The Jonathan Ross Show, and then went on to delete it afterwards. It got stuck on the deleting status (in hindsight, it might have been that the recording may not have stopped right after the programme, so the programme recorded might have been really long, hence longer delete time). Tried to cancel the deletion but that didn't work so again, I powered off the machine at the mains. When I went back into the recorded programmes menu, all my programmes had gone! A bit annoying but luckily, I'm not a avid TV viewer so I'll just move on. Might frustrate many others whom can't go without their favourite programmes though.
Afterwards, when trying to navigate away from the programmes section in the Hard Drive, I wasn't able to. It was stuck and this went on every time I went into that section. I tried a Repair from the Other Options Menu, which seemed to do nothing so I formatted. Same symptom occurred but after a few more restarts, it told me whilst broadcasting something that the Hard drive had a problem so was being repaired. This went on and when trying to view the hard drive info, the machine would restart. I went ahead and did another format, and then managed to use the Repair option, which didn't take long The problem was resolved then. Saves me returning the unit to Amazon, which is good but could have done without the problems and for the Repair option to work right from the start rather than do nothing when pressed. Glad I fixed it and it's been working fine since a few months down the line.
NAVIGATION & THE REMOTE
The menus are fairly nippy. You press a button on the remote and the selection moves without any delay, which is pretty good, but when it comes to performing certain actions like search, move, delete, it becomes a bit more tedious. there's also a lot of buttons and options to choose before getting to your destination function.
It's pretty easy to navigating a playing programme. You can fast forward, rewind like any other video player but my favourite button for doing so is by using the Next and Previous buttons. Pressing the next button jumps forward 30 seconds or whatever time you set it to skip, in the settings. This generally works well but I've had it suddenly restart the programme from the beginning or bit further back after trying to skip forward so there might be a bug somewhere. If you stop a programme, you can resume from the last position..
Deleting a programme that you've watched seems to vary from 10 seconds to around a minute, which is rather annoying. I have had an episode of TV series take longer to delete than a two hour movie so maybe the hard drive was busy. On my old Humax, it was always very snappy to delete things like it should be. In addition, when a programme is playing and I go to the recorded programmes to delete it, it complains that I can't delete the programme while it's playing. That's fine, but in order to delete it, I need to come right out of the menu, press Stop, then go back to Menu > MEDIA > Press FUNCT+ on the remote > Scroll down 3 options to Delete, and then finally, Confirm by choosing Yes. That's very long winded. Why not let me stop the programme whilst in the menu?
The front of the box has a USB port, which enables me to copy / move recorded programmes to a USB hard drive. In order to do this, it forces me to format my external Hard Drive to a file system that it recognises and can utilise. The file format it uses for programmes is TRP. I tried to copy the programmes to my laptop but because of the file system the external was formatted to, my laptop(s) couldn't see the drive for me to access the programmes! (Both Windows and Mac). The drive is working but it's just that the operating systems don't recognise the file system. I read that it is possible if you use a Linux operating system to see the external drive and then use software to convert the TRP files into a recognisable format that can be played but this is way too much hassle, especially as I couldn't get my laptops to see the drive so gave up.
The ability to copy / move the programmes to an external means that you can have a back up of your favourite recorded programmes or simply to free up space so your DS's internal hard drive doesn't fill up preventing it from recording a few programmes. That and if you have more than one of these PVR's, you can transfer the programmes from one DS to another. I would much prefer to copy the programmes onto my laptop or media server so I can conveniently watch the programs anywhere around the house though!
The remote is well built but most the buttons are quite small. The shape is tapered so bigger at the bottom than the top and is very easy to hold. The button layout is okay but not great. You would have expected the Play button to be a bit bigger and in a more prominent position but once you get used to it, it's fine. Some of the other main buttons such as the colour options and the Function button are in different colours, which is good but I think the button layout could have been a bit better.
No complaints on picture quality. Standard definition Freeview programmes are good quality if you also have a good TV and provided the programme being broadcasted is of good quality. HD programmes are excellent when viewed on an HD TV. You'll need to use a HDMI connection lead.
- Great picture quality including HD channels
- Watching and recording programmes is quite easy to do
- EPG works well and lets you set single or series programme recordings
- Good quality remote
- Ability to move / back up programmes to external USB drives
- Slow to perform certain functions (deleting / moving)
- Awkward navigation
- Recorded progammes are in an unrecognised format when exported
- Poor search
- The odd glitch
- Reliability isn't great
This purchase was an upgrade from a Humax Freeview PVR, which worked well albeit the occasional crash, slow populating EPG, lack of HD and my losing the ability to record a whole series automatically. The Digital Stream box works well, produces good results but the navigation, speed (of some functions), un-intuitive navigation and poor search facility is a big let down.
Recommended? Initial answer is 'no' unless you don't mind the niggles, as the box works well enough and you can record programmes easily enough if just using the EPG, otherwise, look for something that's a bit more intuitive with a working search function. The DS has been very stable but can still crash. My dad, with an identical unit has also experienced the crashes so it's not just my unit. I've had it for about 5 months now so it's reliable enough.
Thanks for reading