Humax PVR-9200T Freeview HDD Recorder

Let's start with the tech

Without further ado, here's the jist of the Humax PVR 9200T personal video recorder:

  • Twin Freeview Tuners
  • 160GB hard disk (capable of up to 100h recordings)
  • Can store and play MP3 and JPEGs as well as the recorded TV programs
  • USB port for transferring files between the PVR and a computer
  • "Garibaldi" slot for Top-Up TV cards.
  • One (only one) weeks EPG (Electronic Programme Guide)
  • Bling-bling styling (not a good thing really)
  • Enormous remote control
  • CD with basic file transfer software

That's about it, from a hardware point of view.

What can you do with it?

As this is a PVR you can obviously record TV programmes onto a hard disk. That's the basic functionality. But as it's got two tuners, you can watch one programme and record another one. Or you can watch a recorded programme and record two other ones.
But not only that, the box records the stuff you're watching, so if your girlfriend rushes into the room and start sounding like Charlie Browns teacher, not only can you pause live TV, but you can rewind it too.
For a bit more on PVRs see my other article about PVRs and the Digifusion box.
But this box has got a few more tricks up it's firmware. Not only does the large disk provide you with a lot of storage for your recordings, but you can also upload your family album to it. The new version of that boring slide show! You can also upload MP3 files to it so that you can rock your heart out through your TVs. However the cool thing is that you can also download your recordings to your computer. These files are straight MPEG2 streams, so if you have a good movie player on your computer, you can watch the movies without any conversions. The files are huge, but still quite cool. Sadly there's often errors in the transfer which is quite an anticlimax, especially if you're away from home with the movies on your laptop and no successful transfers. You'll be forced to play Minesweeper instead.
You can also burn these recordings to DVD and thus archive them. How about a whole set of your favourite TV shows on just a few DVDs instead of VHS tapes..?! Very very cool.

The Humax vs the DigiFusion

You might have read that we had a DigiFusion FVRT 100, which eventually packed in completely.
We really loved the way the DigiFusion worked. The remote control was intuitive and the user inteface wasn't half bad if you disregard the shiny-water-ripples-background and some mickey-mouse type styling.
The recordings generated thumbnails for every 5 minutes which meant that you could easily distinguish one CSI episode from another without having to press play. Very convenient. You also had dedicated buttons on the remote for your "library", "guide" etc. Very good. The EPG was also stretched over two weeks instead of the 1 week of the Humax. The box also downloads software updates over the air, you don't have to worry about anything. Just check the inbox once in a while to see what new features the DigiFusion elves have delivered. Sure it did have a few annoying features, but they weren't anything to worry about. One annoyance was that after a recording had finished and you went to view the library it asked you if it should generate the thumbnails. Something I, as a programmer, would have scheduled after the recording finished.
The Humax on the other hand is a bit of a differnt animal. The UI is generally very clean, no water-ripple-effects here, plain and nice. However, the engineers have missed the basic points of a PVR; View, Schedule, Watch. It's easy to view and select TV channels, there's a dedicated "Guide" button, but that's about the only thing that's easy. To actually get to a recording you have to either go through the menu totalling 3 clicks on the remote - that's just to get there. Or you can get to the recordings by sliding the bottom of the remote down, and pressing a button. This however brings you to another listing which doesn't have all the features that the through-the-menu-listing has got.
Now if you went via the menu, you can edit and delete the recordings, that's good. If you went through the button, all you can do is click the big OK button to play the recording. To play a recording in the via-menu-listing you have to press the Play button. Pressing OK will give you the option to delete the recording, amongst other things. Why this confusing menu-system??
Another thing that the Humax has got compared to the DigiFusion is Picture-in-Picture (PIP), but all controls are hidden behind the sliding cover. *sigh*.
When watching a recording and you press play twice, you'll end up at the beginning of the recording. Annoying if you point the remote towards the box, and first time you didn't think it got the signal, so you try again... *bang* beginning. When you forward or rewind a recording you're presented with x2, x4, x16, x64 speeds. Sadly 16 is a bit too slow, and x64 is too quick! There is however a 30 second skip button, perfect for skipping past ads, unfortunately it's hidden behind the sliding cover, and once you're past the ads how do you know you've only missed a few seconds rather than 30 seconds.
On the good side the Humax is snappy and nice to deal with. The UI is very precise and clear to use (apart from when it's illogical). The guide and the search functionality is top notch and it finds all sorts of shows, you can even list per type, say movies. Sadly it limits the search results to 100.
Scheduling recordings is dead simple, just click OK over any programme that hasn't started yet and you're done. Same goes in the search results, but you'll also have to confirm the recording.
The most annoying thing with the Humax is probably that it doesn't store the EPG when you turn it off. This means that it gets left on more than it should be. I'm no tree hugger, but I don't like waste, and this is a waste in my opinion.
I almost forgot; updating the firmware of the Humax is not very intuitive. First you have to know when there's a new update available. The nice folks at keep good tabs of this, so check there first. Then you have to go into the menu and tell the box to look for the update. Not too bad, when you know how to. What I didn't know was that when updating past more than one update, you have to cancel the first one to accept the second one. Otherwise it'll just tell you you're being silly. Not intuitive at all.

The verdict

In the end, despite the silly UI, the Toys R' Us remote control and the volatile EPG, the Humax PVR 9200T is a very solid PVR. It very stable, and you can record a lot of programs onto it. The UI is clear, albeit a bit illogical at times.
If they'd iron out the UI and ship me another remote control it would be almost perfect. Crown it with a better USB transfer program, or even better, an Ethernet port and onboard FTP, HTTP or SMB server and we'd have the perfect PVR.
Should you get one? Basically yes. It's not perfect, but as far as I know, it's the best one out there. In fact, CNET calls it the Rolls-Royce of Freeview recording. And that says quite a lot doesn't it. Add the fact that you can get it for less than £200 today and you've even got a very good bang-for-the-buck-ratio.