Need to buy a gift for somebody who loves technology but you can’t afford the big ticket items?
Akai AD185X high-definition set-top box
An Akai HD set-top box with PVR support
- Excellent picture quality, fast channel switching, large remote control, ability to pause and rewind live TV
- Design is a bit bulky, only one digital tuner
The Akai AD185X is a reliable HD set-top box with the added benefit of free-to-air TV recording (via USB). It can be picked up for less than $100, which means it's pretty hard to pass up.
Price$ 99.95 (AUD)
The Akai AD185X is a high-definition set-top box that can record free-to-air television directly to a USB storage device, such as a USB thumb drive or external HDD. This essentially gives it the capabilities of a basic PVR (personal video recorder) — although you’ll naturally need to provide the storage device yourself. It will suit people who aren’t quite ready to upgrade their analog television, or who own an HD TV without an inbuilt digital tuner.
With dimensions of 270x165x37mm, the Akai AD185X is kind of bulky for a digital set-top box. You will probably need to put it on top of your DVD or Blu-ray player (as opposed to alongside it). On the plus side, the unobtrusive design is reasonably appealing, with none of the ugly buttons or logos that tend to dominate entry-level models. The front interface is limited to channel and power buttons, with an LED screen dominating the centre. The USB port is also located at the front, which makes connecting storage devices nice and easy.
In addition to the requisite HDMI, the Akai AD185X also offers component and composite AV ports; the latter is essential if you’re still clinging to your creaky old CRTV. You can watch HD TV channels on an analog television, but they will obviously appear in standard-def. (Note: You can set the resolution to match your television manually in the menu, with the option for 576, 720p or 1080i output.)
The Akai AD185X is a cinch to set up; just plug in your aerial, connect it to your TV and then find the available channels in your area using the Auto Search function. This takes around five or six minutes. Recording on the fly is equally simple; all it requires is a quick press of the remote’s record button (a formatted USB drive must be connected).
Naturally, you can also plan recordings up to seven days in advance using the EPG (electronic program guide). However, this is where things get a bit trickier. The interface is quite fiddly — especially for novices — and may take some time to get used to. With that said, a little hands-on practice should help to iron out any kinks. All recordings are made in the h.246 format and can be immediately played back on the device.
Unfortunately, the Akai AD185X only comes with a single digital tuner — this means you can’t watch one TV channel while recording another. To be fair though, we weren't really expecting twin digital tuners in such a cheap device (indeed, even the $799 Sony RDR-HDC500 came with a single tuner). In any event, if you own a new HD TV you can switch over to its inbuilt tuner and flick around while the PVR is recording.
We experienced no grief with the Akai AD185X during testing; digital channels looked crisp and didn’t stutter, with only occasional pixilation issues. There were no annoying pauses when switching between TV shows either — handy if you’re a fidgety channel hopper. The remote itself is chunky and easy to use, with large, responsive buttons. Recorded programs looked great during playback, with no obvious compression issues.
People with short attention spans (or weak bladders) will appreciate the ability to pause and rewind live TV. This is achieved by pressing the Timeshift button, which creates a buffer between the live broadcast and what you see on your TV screen. This allows you to rewind, pause or even fast-forward time-shifted content, just as if it had already been recorded. This is particularly useful if you mishear a key line of dialogue — a common occurrence in our house, courtesy of the big, bloomin’ highway outside our window.
The Akai AD185X comes with some useful tools and features. In addition to the seven-day EPG, it offers a parental guidance tool (which automatically blocks programs rated 15+ and over), slideshow configurations (with limited transition effects), subtitle options (colour, size, etc), and a multimedia player (JPG, BMP, GIF, MP3, WMA, WAV, MPEG1, MPEG2, DIVX 5, XVID and AVI files are all supported). One feature we would liked to have seen is the ability to split up a recorded program. As it stands, you’re stuck with one big file after you've finished recording.
The Akai AD185X is a perfectly decent option for those wishing to upgrade to digital TV on the cheap. It will allow you to watch and record the latest HD TV channels — even if you don’t own a HD TV.
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