Tuesday, January 22, 2013

MVision HD-300 Combo Net

MVision HD-300 Combo Net - £209

HD sat reception, a Freeview tuner, a programmable CAM and media streaming make for a great PVR combo

MVision HD-300 Combo Net
It can be hard to decide whether combining two reception platforms in one box is sensible. When you can get a Freeview receiver for £25 is it worth it, especially if you must sacrifice some of the proprietary aspect of Freeview in the process?
The MVision HD-300 Combo NET makes the decision a little easier by including blind search and DiSEqC 1.1 compatibility on the satellite side, and providing PVR functionality, common interface slots and a programmable CAM for both satellite and terrestrial reception, all for close to £200.

Build and connectivity

The HD-300 is a solid machine with a ‘no-nonsense’ styling. The front panel is fl at and quite plain but for the chromed buttons. These cover Power, Menu, Select, and Channel and volume up/down – more than is usually included. The four-digit fl uorescent display shines through the all-over acrylic fascia and shows the time (when the receiver is in standby), the channel number or the menu.
A fold-down flap on the right reveals a USB socket (the HD-300 has a second USB connection on the rear), two common interface slots for plug-in CAMs and a card reader slot for the embedded programmable CAM. This makes the HD-300 a whole lot more than just a free-to-air receiver and it has gained something of a following among TV’s illicit access community.
The remote control handset confirms suspicions that this machine is from the same Far Eastern stable as the Starview HD Combo+ – it’s identical. That’s no bad thing – it’s a universal remote, for control of a TV, VCR and DVD player/recorder as well as the HD Combo+ receiver, and the (slightly small) buttons are well laid out and it has a good solid feel in the hand.
On the back panel of the HD-300 its credentials are laid bare. Here are two F-connectors for the LNB input and loopthrough (an SCR LNB can be used), and two aerial connectors for connecting the terrestrial aerial and the loopthrough to the TV or other equipment. Although the satellite tuner is for HD and SD, the terrestrial tuner is SD only. Given that Freeview HD broadcasts have started and HD receivers are available, it’s a bit of a let-down that the HD-300 cannot manage them.
Because the HD-300 does manage HD satellite it connects to an HD TV with both HDMI and YPbPr connections. SD channels on both satellite and terrestrial are upscaled for output to an HD screen. Digital sound is also catered for with both coaxial and optical digital audio outputs.
SD equipment is connected to the TV and recorder Scart sockets as well as separate phono connectors for composite video and stereo analogue audio.
The second USB socket is provided on the rear panel and this, or the front panel socket, can be used for storage for the PVR and multimedia functions and for software downloads. The HD-300 also has RS232 and Ethernet network data sockets.

Setup

Setup for the HD-300 is pretty straightforward. The terrestrial tuner is very simple to tune as an autotune function is provided (individual tuning of multiplexes is also possible) and this takes under 2.5 minutes to find all the DTT stations available. The tuner is fairly sensitive and seemed to make no distinction between the strong and weak multiplexes at the test site.
Satellite setup is more complex. Slightly unusually, a DiSEqC switch is set up separately, rather than with each satellite to be received. The HD-300 supports both DiSEqC 1.0 and 1.1 switches so you can connect up to 16 LNBs. The receiver also supports DiSEqC 1.2 and USALS motorised mounts and, again, setup is through a separate menu, which makes for a lot of toing and froing between menus when fi rst setting up the system. Each satellite to be received must be scanned for active channels separately – there is no sequential setup procedure. Unlike the DiSEqC side of things, the diff erent types of scan are all integrated into one menu.
You can search a satellite in the ‘normal’ way (using the transponder details stored in the HD-300’s database), or search just one transponder (using details from the database or entered manually), do a ‘Fast scan’ for the European TeleSat and Canal Digitaal networks, or a blind scan.
The normal database scan is reasonably fast, taking a touch under three minutes to search Astra 19.2°E and about four minutes to search Hot Bird. The transponder database covers the main satellites around the world and can be edited as broadcasts change or completely new satellites are created.
The blind search is, of course, much slower as it doesn’t use the database but ‘tries out’ all the frequencies and symbol rates to see if they are being used, and transponders that are found but are not in the database are saved onto the database for subsequent normal scans. You can select to search just vertical or horizontal polarisations, or both, and vary the increment between the frequencies tried, from 2MHz to 10MHz, to speed up the search. Nevertheless, a blind search of Astra 28.2°E over both polarisations and with an 8MHz increment took under 20 minutes, which compares well with other similar machines.

Basic use

Up to 8,000 channels can be stored by the HD-300, and there are a variety of ways to find and select the channels you’re after. The onscreen channel list can display all the channels stored or each satellite (and terrestrial) separately. The list can be sorted alphabetically by name, by transponder frequency, by encryption, by provider, and HD or SD. In each case, the sorting categories are displayed down the side of the screen and the channels in that category in the centre, so you can swiftly get to the channel you want. There are also eight favourite channels lists to fill with channels of a particular genre or those favoured by a particular family member, and the main channel list can be manually edited to rename, delete or move channels around.
The EPG displays the programmes for six channels, up to seven days ahead, for both satellite and terrestrial channels. There are few satellite channels that provide this information in the DVB format (Sky’s full EPG is proprietary and cannot be accessed by the HD-300) and, although a full terrestrial EPG is displayed, it is very slow and erratic to display all programmes far in advance. You can only scroll through the EPG or skip six hours at a time. The synopsis for a selected programme is displayed and it can be marked for recording. The timer can also be set manually, although this is a very tedious job (the channel must be selected from the whole channel list and you have to specify the recording duration rather than an end time).
Although the HD-300 can decode digital teletext signals from the few satellite channels that carry them, it cannot cope with the MHEG ‘red button’ services on Freeview.

PVR and multimedia

You can use either of the front and back USB ports to connect memory for the HD-300’s PVR functions. With a HDD or memory stick connected, the HD-300 can record and play back broadcast programmes.
Although the HD-300 has two tuners, for satellite and DTT, you cannot record with one while watching with the other. However, you can record and watch two channels on the same satellite transponder or terrestrial multiplex. Live broadcasts can be paused but because the reception is not buff ered you cannot backtrack on a programme. You can’t start to watch a recording until it is fi nished and if you leave and return to playback of a recording you have to start again at the beginning.
Playback offers the usual pause and fast-forward and rewind, up to 8x normal speed, and the progress bar can be dragged to jump to any point of the recording. There are no facilities to bookmark or edit recordings.
The HD-300 will also display a slideshow of JPEG photographs and play MP3 music fi les from connected storage and play externally recorded DivX and MPEG video files. And, like its cousin, the Starview HD Combo+, the HD-300 can also stream media direct from a networked PC to the TV screen – an excellent feature which, along with a highly dubious online ‘Videoclub’ and other more illicit uses of the Ethernet connection, justifies the ‘NET’ model name suffix.

Performance

Although the HD-300 may not have all the functionality of the Starview, it also doesn’t suff er from the same instability. This machine performed solidly for the entire test.
The quality of pictures and sound from this machine is solid too – clear and crisp images with strong colours on both satellite and terrestrial reception. Of course, HD channels have the edge on picture quality but SD images through the HDMI output are very good, and terrestrial channels are largely identical to satellite ones.
SD output (from the Scarts and phono sockets) is not so good, tending to be a touch grainy and diff use, even with SD channels. However, sound from both the digital and analogue outputs is excellent Geoff Bains

Verdict

It’s hard to get away from the fact that you can add DTT reception to any system for next to nothing, and because the HD-300 does not provide Freeview HD or interactive services it has to be a good satellite receiver to make the combination attractive. Fortunately, it is. It produces excellent HD and SD images and sound on a digital screen and connects to a wide range of antenna systems. It’s pretty simple to use and provides adequate PVR facilities, network streaming, and both CI and CAM that will be essential to some. All this for a bit over £200 is pretty good going and the clincher is that DTT is well integrated into the mix too.
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