Freesat HD for the casual observer
Review “Just because you have an HD Ready TV, it does not mean you are watching HD TV.” Well whaddya know? Still, that’s the advice that Sagem gives in the manual for its new DSI86HD Freesat HD receiver.
Sagem's DSI86HD: the antidote to satellite subscription services
Sure it sounds obvious to technophile Register readers, yet there are many people who own HD TV sets who don’t realise that they’re still just watching standard-definition programmes, and that they need to receive an HD signal in order for their TV to show all in its high-definition glory.
Indeed, Sagem hopes to appeal to the HD-unready masses with the DSI86HD. The home cinema enthusiasts have got their Sky HD subscriptions and Blu-ray players sorted out already, so the DSI86HD is aimed at more casual viewers who’d not want an expensive subscription.
Sagem is after those who’ll be happy with the BBC HD channel on Freesat plus the occasional episode of The Bill on the half-hearted ITV HD. And we have to say that the company has done a pretty good job at making the device easy for novices to configure and use.
The DSI86HD is a compact, black plastic box measuring just 12in wide, 7in deep and less than 2in high, so you’ll have no trouble finding room for it beside your TV. The plastic casing isn’t terribly rugged though, and it’s light enough for a toddler to easily pull it off a shelf, so plan ahead if that’s likely to be an issue.
Unplugged? The front panel USB port is currently a curiosity, rather than functional
There’s a simple LCD display on the front of the unit, and a USB port that is labelled for unspecified ‘future use’. Tucked around the back of the unit you’ll find another port for reserved for future use, this time Ethernet.
Definitely available for use are the two Scart connectors and outputs for both analog and digital audio. The HDMI interface comes with a cable in the box and, of course, there’s a coaxial connector for the satellite dish that you need in order to pick up the Freesat signal from the great blue yonder.
The unconfigured Ethernet port also suggests potential for use on-line
We used the satellite cable from our existing Sky+ box for this, but you can order a satellite kit from Argos along with the DSI86HD if you need to. The DSI86HD itself costs £130, and you can get the satellite dish installed for an additional £80, or buy the satellite kit and install it yourself for £50.
The DSI86HD is just a receiver, though, with no internal hard disk that will allow you to record programmes to watch at a later date. However, Sagem is planning to release a hard-disk Freesat+ models closer to Christmas. The DTR94250S HD will cost £250 with a 250GB hard disk, or £300 for the 500GB DTR94500S HD, so it might be worth waiting if you fancy the full range of DVR features.
The DSI86HD gets full marks for its straightforward installation. Sagem’s manual provides very simple instructions for setting up the receiver, and we were watching BBC HD less than five minutes after breaking the seal on the cardboard box. Other aspects of the device are equally straightforward.
The remote control is an unremarkable affair and, as expected, follows certain Freesat layout conventions. Press the Menu button and it displays a simple series of large, clearly labelled icons on the left-hand side of the screen, which provide access to the unit’s main settings.
The upscaling option succeeds in making a noticeable improvement on SD content
The most interesting option here is the ability to ‘upscale’ standard-definition programmes to what Sagem claims is 1080i quality. That’s a little optimistic, as it only takes a quick look at the BBC HD channel to see that true 1080i content is clearly superior.
However, the upscaling does definitely improve the quality of the standard SD image, making it noticeably sharper than the somewhat soft and airbrushed appearance of SD programmes that we normally see on our Samsung TV. Other handy features include parental control options that allow you to lock individual channels and even remove the channel name altogether from the main list of available channels.
The on-screen menu does the job, but scheduling can be tricky
The DSI86HD uses the standard Freesat 7-day programme guide, and though there’s no internal hard disk for recording programmes it does allow you to record onto a separate VCR or other type of recorder by using one of its Scart connectors. Unfortunately, the process for scheduling recordings this way is rather long-winded, and the receiver’s lack of recording facilities remains its only real weakness.
Sagem deserves credit for producing a mass-market Freesat receiver that is easy to use and which will appeal to less technically-minded users in the same way as the many low-cost Freeview receivers that have helped to make Freeview so popular in the last couple of years. The upscaling option also works well and will help people to get the best from their HD TV sets. Given this promising start, we look forward to seeing the company’s forthcoming Freesat HD recorder with great interest. ®
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