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Starview HD Combo+ November 2010

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n www.starviewuk.co.uk n 01455 444404 n £199

Starview HD Combo+ HD satellite and cable tuners make this PVR-ready combo worthy of attention, but it’s lacking a little in some areas The Opposition Comag PVR 2/100CI HD n Cheaper HD PVR with twin HD satellite tuners, 400GB HDD and better PVR but slow to scan, no streaming and no CAM

Micro M150HD n Much cheaper (caravan-friendly) HD PVR, but with no blind search, CAM, streaming or cable tuner

Once, an HD receiver – PVR-ready – for under 200 quid was a bargain beyond belief, but these days such a machine has to offer a bit extra to achieve the same status. The Starview HD Combo+ has extra features not found in the competition. Although it has only one satellite tuner, the HD Combo+ has a cable tuner too – perhaps not much use to some (you can’t use this receiver for subscribe to Virgin Media) but, combined with the CI slots and programmable CAM that the HD Combo+ also sports, this machine is something of a holy grail for those aiming for illicit viewing.

Build and connectivity

Interface

The HD Combo+ looks utilitarian with a square, solid appearance. The front panel has the expected power, channel up/down and volume up/down controls along with a smallish fluorescent green four-digit display that

shows the channel number. On the right-hand side of the front there is a folddown flap hiding the two common interface slots for plug-in CAM units and the card reader for the built-in programmable CAM. There’s also a USB socket for downloading software or as storage and recording. The remote control handset is a universal remote that can also be used to control your TV, VCR and DVD player/ recorder as well as the receiver. The buttons are well laid out (although a bit stiff to actually operate) and it feels solid in the hand, like a big-name handset. Around the back of the HD Combo+ there are a great many sockets lying in wait. There are four F-connectors – an input and loopthrough for satellite IF and another for cable. Although it’s unlikely that many users will have both cable access and a dish, with the built-in programmable CAM, and all the illicit decrypting that

Sat scanning options include a blind search mode which can be configured to search in desired increments in order to speed up the process

The receiver has a transponder database which can be edited and updated via USB. You can also scan whole satellites and individual transponders

Channel sorting options come with the ability to see the selected channel on the right side of the screen. Create and name up to 8 favourites lists


Test satellite ‘HD images are terrific, rendered faithfully with excellent clarity and liveliness revealed in the colours’

potentially provides, there’s bound to be a market for reception of both media. The primary output of this receiver is the HDMI socket, which provides HD output from HD and SD channels to a digital screen. There’s also the analogue equivalent from component video (YPbPr) sockets and digital sound via both coaxial and optical digital audio outputs. For standard definition screens, the HD Combo+ provides TV and recorder Scart sockets as well as separate phono connectors for composite video and stereo analogue audio. This receiver also has three means to exchange data with the outside world – another USB socket on the rear for downloads and PVR use, a largely redundant RS232 socket, and an Ethernet network socket that can be used to stream media from a PC.

Setup The cable and satellite tuners in the HD Combo+ are set up separately. The cable tuner is pretty straightforward (as the input is largely fixed in its format) and the satellite tuner follows the conventional pattern. If you have more than the simplest antenna system, then the DiSEqC switch or dish motor is first set up. The HD Combo+ supports DiSEqC 1.1 switches so you can connect up to 16 LNBs. You have to scan each LNB or satellite position for active channels separately as the HD Combo+ has no ‘search all’ option. The scan can be of the whole satellite or an individual transponder, and for all channels or just free-to-air broadcasts (the HD Combo+ also provides elsewhere for the deletion of all encrypted channels). Cable input and loopthrough

LNB input and loopthrough

YPbPr component video outputs

Stereo analogue audio outputs

Composite video output

The HD Combo+ is reasonably fast to scan satellites and we found no difference in the time taken to scan for all channels or just FTA ones. The scans use the built-in database of transponders on the main satellites, and this can be edited as transmissions change, or a new database downloaded from the internet onto a USB stick and uploaded to the receiver. However, the HD Combo+ also features a blind search to find active transponders not in the database. This is pretty slow (as all blind searches are) but you can vary the polarisations covered (vertical, horizontal, or both) and the increment (2MHz-10MHz) used to step through the frequencies looking for transmissions – the larger the increment, the quicker the search but the more chance of missing something. With the increment set to 8MHz, the HD Combo+ took about 24 minutes to scan 13°E. The newly found transponders are saved onto the database so a subsequent normal scan will find the channels again. Indeed, the whole channel list can be saved to a USB memory stick for reloading after a receiver reset, or to get back to square one. In all of the antenna setup and satellite scan menus there is also access to the Easy Find mode. This is an excellent aid to installing your own dish, and seen before on Comag’s camping systems. The special Easy Find LNB (about £8) works along with the receiver so you can align the dish when out of sight of the receiver and TV. An LED mounted on the LNB is addressed by the receiver in Easy Find mode showing red when there’s no signal, orange when you’ve found a satellite and green when it’s locked onto the correct signal.

VCR Scart

0

5 mins

FTA scan, Hot Bird: 3m 54s 0

5 mins

Full scan, Astra 19.2°E: 3m 10s 0

5 mins

0

The HD Combo+ can store up to 8,000 channels and these are selected from an onscreen list, which can be sorted according to the channel name, the transponder frequency, encryption, image definition or the provider. You can choose to display all channels or just those from one satellite. The channels are listed in a central pane on the screen with the sort category headings (initial letter, frequency, and so on) on the left and inset video from the channel selected on the right. You can swap between the category headings and the channel list to get to the required channel fast. Up to eight favourite channels lists can be named and populated to accommodate different Coaxial digital audio output

Optical digital audio output

FTA scan, Astra 19.2°E: 3m 4s

Full scan, Hot Bird: 3m 59s

Basic use

TV Scart

Tech Data

RS232 data port

HDMI

USB data connection

Ethernet network connection

5 mins

Blind search, Astra 19.2°E: 24m 10s 0

25 mins

Power consumption: 40W max

Features No LNB inputs: 1 LNB loopthrough: Yes DiSEqC: 1.0/1.1/1.2/USALS No. channels: 8,000 Selectable FEC: No Symbol rate range: 1000-45000 Blind search: Yes Linux: No CAM: Embedded Common interface: 2 Teletext: DVB decoded EPG support: DVB now-and-next, 7-day Timer: 8 events, 30 years Hard drive: Via USB UHF modulator tuning: N/A Software upgrade: USB download Data ports: RS232, 2 x USB, Ethernet AV outputs: SD out: TV Scart (Composite, RGB), VCR Scart (composite video), composite video HD out: HDMI, YPbPr Audio out: Stereo analogue audio, optical digital audio, coaxial digital audio


Test satellite recording until it has finished – a pity as that’s one of the most useful PVR features – and you cannot resume playback where you left off. 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. When the HD Combo+ is connected to a home network, video files, photographs and MP3 music files on a PC can be streamed to the receiver for display on the TV. Although this is by no means unique, what is unusual is that setting up the system is quick and easy. Notwithstanding that the PC software and all instructions have to be downloaded from the internet, it took only a couple of minutes to enable a folder of camcorder footage on a PC to be available on the TV, and in good quality to boot.

Performance Twin CI slots and a programmable CAM cover satellite pay-TV

Ratings PLUS

n Blind search n LAN streaming n CAM and CI slots n Good value

Minus

n Relatively meagre PVR features n Prone to software glitches

Build Setup Searching Navigation Performance Features Value

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PVR and multimedia With a hard drive or USB stick connected to one of the USB ports, the HD Combo+ can record broadcasts and play back recordings, MP3 files and photographs from USB or from a PC over a connected network. The receiver doesn’t buffer the incoming broadcasts and so you cannot rewind a programme until it has been paused or recorded. Despite this, the live pause is pleasantly quick to start up. Only one channel can be recorded at a time (as the HD Combo+ has just one satellite tuner) but while a channel is being recorded, you can watch another channel on the same transponder, and the onscreen channel list is abbreviated to the channels available when a recording is in progress. However, you cannot start to watch a

The quality of images and sound from the HD Combo+ is excellent, but the receiver does not perform as well in robustness of the software, and several times the picture would freeze, playback files crash or the receiver would otherwise give up on normal operation. These are never catastrophic, and there have been several software revisions since the HD Combo+ was first launched so we hope that future versions will cure these hiccoughs too. The picture quality makes it worth putting up with software glitches. HD images are terrific, rendered faithfully with excellent clarity and liveliness revealed in the colours. Upscaled SD channels also appear rocksteady and detailed. While the SD output from the Scart sockets is less impressive, it does a good job and is quite adequate for archiving programmes to DVD. The audio quality, meanwhile, lives up to the pictures. The digital sound output is almost noise-free and distortionless n Geoff Bains

Verdict The Starview HD Combo+ has much to commend it, but it feels a little ‘unfinished’ and freezes more often that it should, making it less appealing to non-technical users, though they are perhaps not the target audience. It’s up against some strong rivals at this price (and even below) but there really is nothing else that offers quite this combination of versatile reception and searching, PVR, and programmable CAM (let alone the cable tuner) for this price. You have to turn to a Linux machine for all this – a lot more money and hassle – so the HD Combo+ can be forgiven for its few foibles.

Interface

81%

genres or family members, and you can manually edit the main list to delete unwanted channels, and rename or re-order the wanted ones. The EPG displays the programmes for up to seven days ahead, on six channels from the list last displayed in the channel list screen, along with an inset picture of the current channel and the synopsis of the selected show. You can skip forwards and back through the schedules six hours at a time, and a programme can be marked for recording with a single keypress. Alternatively, the receiver’s timer can be set manually. The HD Combo+ also decodes any digital teletext signal (it’s not reinserted into the output signal, presumably because it’s not available via HDMI anyway), and the HD Combo+ has an excellent picture zoom, plus an onscreen calendar and a couple of games built in.

The programme information banner displays now-and-next data including synopses. Other features include signal strength and audio details 94  What Satellite & Digital TV  November 2010

PVR features are adequate if not extensive. You can record one channel and watch another live broadcast if it’s on the same transponder

Download the freeware Home Stream software and you can stream media from networked PCs in addition to playing files stored on USB drives


Starview HD Combo+