Rather good, considering the price
Review With the digital
Armageddon crossover almost upon us – or actually upon us in the case of anyone living in South Devon or the Borders – never has their been a better time to take a look at an affordable, easy-to-use, jack-of-all-trades Freeview tuner that even the most technophobic in society can get to grips with. That would be the TVonics MDR-250, then.
TVonics' MDR-250: slimline
Why? Because alone of all the set top boxes available in the UK, only the MDR-250 has been awarded full marks by switchover oversight body Digital UK for ease of use, energy efficiency, performance and connectivity. More to the point you can now pick the unit up in John Lewis and Comet for less than 40 quid, TVonics kit previously not being all that easy to find on the high street.
For the money, the MDR-250 is a rather nice looking box of tricks. It feels solidly made - from an attractive mix of matte and gloss black plastic with a shiny silver TVonics badge on the top. At only 196 x 89 x 31mm, finding a place for it to sit on or next to your telly shouldn't be a problem.
Surprisingly at the price point – and considering how nice the 250 looks – TVonics also supplies am infrared extender so you can hide the box away with the extender peeping out to pick up the signal from the remote control.
As with most Freeview boxes, set-up is very straightforward: just plug everything in and away you go, though that shouldn't obscure the fact that TVonics supplies the MDR-250 with a very well-written and comprehensive illustrated user guide. When first hooked up, the unit locked onto all 85 available Freeview TV, radio and data channels in a little under 55 seconds which was pretty good going.
The remote's well designed
The remote control handset is another reason Digital UK get so gooey over the MDR-250. Called an 'Easy Grip Remote' by TVonics, it's nearly as big as the 250 itself and is an excellent piece of design with large, easy to find buttons and clear, self-explanatory labelling that should make granny's life that bit easier.
If you'd do normal DVB-S...
...budget would be 10 pounds, like in the rest of the world. This whole "let's make our own little market with Freeview and Sky" really raises the prices.
The interactive / MHEG functions on the MDR-250 worked just fine for us. While not quite as quick as the Freeview tuner built into the Sony Bravia that was used for comparison we certainly had no cause for complaint.
"some things you don't get for forty quid"
"an RGB output signal from the second Scart slot" - apparently not, i've used about four different sub-£25 boxes that all provided this facility. this seems a bit gash to me, especially with the apparent MHEG problems and this "no signal" error which i've also never encountered on any of the cheaper ones.
Digital Switch Over
Technically we still have analogue in South Devon for now, well until Wednesday this week. Finally I'm hoping I'll be able to pick up more than 10 channels on my DVB-T card in my PC (I can pick everything up on a Freeview box or our LCD TV with Freeview built in so I guess it's just the DVB-T card being picky).
I was going to say it's a bit expensive really for a Freeview box but I guess the fact it has an RF modulator built in has to be a good thing for those people with old Scartless (or even AV input-less) TVs, On the other hand you could probably get away with connecting a Freeview box to an old video recorder (maybe even an old Betamax) via scart or if there is a lack of scart connections, AV inputs.
I guess the on street price of something like this will be more like £25 to £30.
When you can get a freeview box for £20 in Tesco, this £40 box is not "budget" IMHO.
It's a reasonable box, your review concentrated on picture and EPG though and, while important, one element was really missing... MHEG performance.
These "press the red button" MHEG applications are becoming more and more prevalent. I tried one of the boxes in store and the performance on BBC News (Channel 80) was dire. Not much time for an extensive test, however, it could explain why the box does not also support picture in picture - they have scrimped on the electronics - the web site won't quote the processor, it just says "32 bit Fast responsive" !
Can El Reg carry out some further (i.e. comprehensive) tests or open up the box and reveal what processor and other components are used?