What Hi-Fi (UK)
It’s a Freeview recorder and 4K Android app platform rolled into one; so is this settop box set to top Humax’s previous box?
Even without an Oxbridge education, the Humax Aura PVR has managed to achieve a double first. It’s the first Freeview set-top box from Humax to use the Android TV operating system and also the first to be 4K Hdr-enabled. The Humax Aura can be a number of things, but its most obvious use is as a Freeview Play recorder, with enough internal storage options to capture hours of live Full HD and SD TV. The Android TV platform means you can use it as a Chromecast with benefits – a way of adding more than 5000 apps and streaming services to a TV or projector. With its USB sockets, hi-res audio and 3D home cinema codec support, there’s also an option to use it for local film file playback too – quite the box of tricks.
Humax has had great success with its Award-winning FVP-5000T set-top box, and a replacement has been long overdue. The Aura is a tidy 26cm by 20cm box that takes up about the same space as a wi-fi router. Its gloss black body is accented by an LED strip on the underside, which changes from red to blue to violet to orange depending on whether it’s off, on or recording.
Around the back is an HDMI 2.1-out along with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 (Type A) sockets for local media. There’s also an optical audio-out and a LAN connection. The Aura’s remote control is fully featured, with dedicated buttons and shortcuts to streaming services, the guide, recordings, the Freeview Play platform and Android TV homepage too.
The Humax Aura’s three Freeview Play tuners bring access to more than 70 live TV channels and more than 20,000 hours of content through catch-up services. Those tuners allow you to pause and rewind TV, as well as record up to four channels while watching a fifth one live.
The Aura’s big-screen offering is also bolstered by Android TV, and that means more than 5000 apps from Google Play including services such as Disney+, Prime Video, BT Sport and UKTV Play.
Any significant gaps can be plugged with the Aura’s built-in Chromecast functionality, allowing users to cast any missing providers from a mobile, tablet or browser instead. While this is good enough for the occasional watch, the fact that the Netflix app is missing isn’t ideal.
Thanks to the quad-core 1.8GHZ CPU and 3GB RAM combo, the experience feels snappy, but the twinning of Freeview Play and Android TV 9.0 doesn’t make for the easiest of combos. Both offer a home-page experience with their own settings menus, and you’ll find some apps on both, but not others.
The picture quality through the Freeview Play tuners in both SD and Full HD is every bit as good as the FVP5000T. Watching Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is on BBC2, we get some inviting shots of a French antiques market on a summer’s day. There’s a natural aesthetic to the picture that feels believable when upscaled to 4K. Switching to SD on the BBC News channel, the Aura’s slightly softer approach smooths out more of those unwanted edges than its predecessor, and adds some much needed subtlety to clothing colours and skin tones.
However, the app platform is not quite as adept. Compared with a budget streaming stick, the Aura’s skill with a 4K HDR app is a little less assured than it might be. We watch The Boys on Prime Video and, while the picture is punchy and dynamic, some finer detail is lost.
The Aura’s hi-res music support offers an excellent opportunity to get good quality sound from this box through both locally stored files and streamed music services. We fire up Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival on Tidal Masters and, by the standards of PVRS and video streamers, are struck by how well it captures the recording.
It’s a cohesive sound from top to bottom, and while some streamers at this level might offer a touch more crispness to the rhythm, it’s not without some loss of the excitement we get with the Aura.
Delivering on all fronts
All of that translates to an enjoyable feel for home cinema as we switch to the Live Aid scene at the end of Bohemian Rhapsody on Prime Video. The thuds of the kick drum are wonderfully solid and offer a genuine sense of timbre and resonance as the pedal first hits the skin at the beginning of the set. Whether capturing the atmosphere of a rock concert or the special effects of an action scene, the Aura delivers on this front. The Humax Aura does its main job well. It’s an excellent Freeview recorder for both Full HD and standard definition, with an easy to use TV guide, plenty of space, and handy remote recording features. The problem is that Humax has offered more this time around, and this box doesn’t deliver these extras quite so well. Tacking on the Android TV platform also means that the overall user interface loses a little focus.
While the Aura is spot on for sound, opting for the Humax FVP-5000T and a Google Chromecast with Google TV might be a better option. However, if you have your heart set on a single box solution for TV recording and video streaming, the Aura is a solid choice.