[opendtv] Humax review

  • From: John Golitsis <john@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: OpenDTV <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 13 May 2005 12:53:25 -0400

I wouldn't have bothered with this, but I just loved this line:

"We got impressive reception with a $7 indoor RadioShack aerial, but  
we were just a few miles from the broadcast towers atop the Empire  
State Building."

Someone should tell them that, for ATSC reception, they are in a  
particularly challenging spot!


Humax HFA100
Reviewed by  John P. Falcone
Edited by David Katzmaier
Reviewed April 26, 2005

In a world where cable and satellite companies are competing to get  
you to spend upward of $100 a month or more for TV programming, it  
may come as a shock that you can get crystal-clear digital TV for  
free. OK, not exactly free--you'll need a TV or monitor, a digital  
ATSC tuner, and an antenna--but there'll be no onerous monthly fee  
assessed by an oligarchical media conglomerate. It's a safe bet,  
though, that you already have a TV or two, and you may still even  
have that rooftop antenna lashed to the chimney. Just add an external  
digital tuner--such as the Humax HFA100 ($229 list)--and you're good  
to go.

ATSC tuners such as the HFA100 will appeal primarily to owners of  
HDTV-ready TVs who want to take advantage of high-def local  
broadcasts. Its price is low enough, however, to attract a few owners  
of analog sets who want to check out digital broadcasts but don't  
want to invest in an HDTV just yet.

That bargain price--similar boxes cost hundreds more just a couple of  
years ago--had us prepared to lower expectations, and the simple  
feature set is in line with the price. For example, there's no built- 
in DVR or upscaling DVD player (the latter is included on LG's more  
expensive LST-3510, for example) on board, although Humax has  
included the essentials. In addition to the ability to decode all 18  
ATSC digital-broadcasting formats, the HFA100 can output video in  
high-definition (1080i or 720p), DVD-level EDTV (480p), or good old  
480i. Simply put, that means it can receive any standard or HD  
digital broadcast and display it on any TV, from a brand-new 50-inch  
plasma to that 15-year-old Sylvania that's sitting in the corner of  
your garage.

Despite the HFA100's small confines (2.7 inches high by 12.25 inches  
wide by 9.5 inches deep), its back panel is packed with a full  
arsenal of jacks. HD video is available from component, VGA-style  
RGB, and HDMI outputs, while coaxial and optical ports deliver  
digital audio. Older TVs, meanwhile, can make use of the composite  
and S-Video connectors, as well as the twin analog audio outs.  
Significantly, the analog video and audio outs remain active no  
matter what HD output the resolution is set for-- component or RGB/ 
HDMI. That means you can be watching Lost in 720p high-def resolution  
on your HD monitor while simultaneously recording it in standard  
definition on a VCR, a DVD recorder, or a TiVo. The HFA100 also  
features an RS-232C port, so it can be controlled from external  
devices (for advanced home-automation installs or switching channels  
during timer recordings, for instance).

The Humax is no harder to set up than a standard DVD player. In  
addition to making the requisite connections from the box to our TV  
and our A/V receiver, we screwed a small indoor antenna to the RF  
connector on the rear panel. The HFA100 offered a guided setup mode  
that walked us through a series of simple menus. The mode ends by  
quickly scanning the wireless spectrum for any and all digital TV  
channels in the area and adding them to the lineup.

Minutes afterward, we were up and running, flipping through a variety  
of digital programming from Seinfeld reruns to the NCAA basketball  
playoffs. We compared the sumptuous high-def picture of the game on  
CBS to the same program on our cable system's HD feed; the over-the- 
air picture delivered by the Humax was just as good, if not better,  
than the cable version. Moreover, the HFA100 finally lets us see what  
our favorite WB shows look like in HD, since our cable company has  
yet to add that channel to its line-up.

The HFA100 has another trick up its sleeve in the form of a  
rudimentary electronic programming guide (EPG). Yes, its level of  
detail varies from station to station (our ABC affiliate lists simply  
"DTV program" for every 30-minute block, for instance, while the CBS  
station includes titles and short episode synopses) and the guide  
extends only a few hours into the future--but for a freebie, it isn't  
half bad.

With its easy setup and near-universal TV compatibility, the HFA100  
has a lot to offer, especially for DTV newcomers, but there are a few  
shortfalls that may irk enthusiasts. A rear-panel toggle switch  
limits HD output to the component outputs or the RGB/HDMI out, but  
not both simultaneously. And the resolution through those connections  
must be locked in through a button on the front panel, not the  
remote. Furthermore, there's no option to pass the native resolutions  
of each station (say, 720p for ABC and Fox, and 1080i for NBC and  
CBS). That means you're stuck relying on the HFA100's ability to  
process the video, rather than off-loading the duties to your HD  
monitor--even though the monitor probably has a better video processor.

The HFA100's technical quibbles aside, it's the limitations of over- 
the-air DTV and HDTV reception that may pose bigger obstacles. As  
with all broadcast receivers, the Humax is only as good as the  
antenna to which it's connected. We got impressive reception with a  
$7 indoor RadioShack aerial, but we were just a few miles from the  
broadcast towers atop the Empire State Building. Better antennas,  
rooftop models in particular, should yield improved results, but be  
sure to check AntennaWeb to determine which stations are  
theoretically available in your area. And remember that, even in the  
best-case scenario, you'll be limited to the old-line broadcast  
networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PAX, PBS, UPN, the WB, and the  
requisite smattering of independent and Spanish-language stations)-- 
kiss HBO, Comedy Central, and MTV good-bye.

The Humax's main competition is Samsung's similarly priced SIR-T451,  
which does include a QAM tuner that the Humax lacks. QAM carries  
digital and HD channels over cable, but the Samsung can't access the  
scrambled digital channels available via your cable company's box-- 
making it less useful on most cable systems. Even without QAM, the  
Humax HFA100 is an impressive little digital tuner that offers  
remarkable bang for the buck. If you're looking to add HD programming  
to a tunerless plasma display, a PC monitor, or even just an old  
bedroom TV, the Humax is a capable and easy-to-use way to do it.

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