Forget all the blather about the long overdue Guns N' Roses album, the most eagerly awaited item in AV land has been a Freesat HD PVR - the first box that enables you to watch and record free-to-air high-definition TV, without a subscription (though with the essential addition/use of a satellite dish. Oh, and of course an HD Ready or Full HD TV).

The £299 Humax Foxsat HDR finally landed in shops this weekend, and in our testing rooms, too, where it's currently undergoing a thorough review. With such keen interest in the product - the first stocks of which have already sold out - we thought we'd bring you a hands-on online preview.

First, the basics

To recap, here is the full tech spec of the Foxsat HDR from Humax:

  • Freesat HD and SD channel recording
  • 320GB hard-disk drive
  • Simultaneous viewing of one channel and recording another channel
  • Record 2 channels at the same time
  • Receive HDTV signals (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 and MPEG-2)
  • Under 1W power consumption in standby
  • HDMI - digital interface for perfect transmission of picture and sound
  • Simultaneous playing of transmissions over HDMI, Composite or Scart
  • Easy installation and operation
  • Resolution format: 1080i, 720p, 576p, 576i
  • DVB-S2 and DVB-S compatible
  • Ethernet support
  • Full colour high resolution electronic programme guide
  • Dolby digital audio output (S/PDIF)
  • Automatic software upgrade via satellite
  • Upscaling Standard Definition channels
  • Audio description / One touch subtitle
  • Dimensions (Width x Height x Depth): 380 x 55 x 252mm
  • Weight: 3.1kg

What does that mean in real-world terms?

Let's put some flesh on those bare tech-spec bones. Firstly, that 320GB hard drive - that's enough to hold a maximum of 80 hours of HD content or 200 hours of standard definition TV.

Then there's the connectivity: the Humax is capable of outputting at a maximum resolution of 720p/1080i via the HDMI connection, while there are also two Scart outputs, a USB input for accessing other content, and an Ethernet connection for possible future upgrades (much as the Sky+ HD box offers the same, currently dormant feature).

Finally, we're delighted to confirm that not only will the Humax Foxsat HDR allow you to enjoy live programmes broadcast with surround-sound audio, it allows you to record that Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, too. All you need is a suitable receiver/surround sound system to plug it into.

More after the break

Electronic programming guide and recording options

The Humax Foxsat HDR offers the ability to pause, rewind and record Freesat channels, an 8-Day EPG, series recording, schedule trackings – the box adjusts to time changes on the schedule – and split recordings – for when programmes have a break in the middle.

There are a couple of standout features, too. Should you try to record a programme that’s available in SD and HD – such as BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing – the box will prompt you to choose, ensuring you won’t miss any HD content.

Also, should you try to record three channels at once – one too many – then the Humax will helpfully inform you of any repeat showings at other times, allowing you to record that instead.

Usability first impressions

The interface is clean and clear, and navigation is fast and intuitive – a similarly simple but effective remote control only helps matters. Pausing and rewinding live TV is easy, while setting recordings, accessing your recorded content and skipping through chapters all prove utterly painless.

However, well aware that some usability issues only become apparant once you've lived with a product for a while, we're putting the PVR through its paces for a good while before we reach our final verdict on ease-of-use.

Read our full review from next week

For more feedback - including the crucial verdict on sound and vision performance, both with SD and HD viewing and recording - our full review will be published in the January issue of What Hi-fi? Sound and Vision, which will be posted out to subscribers next week and on sale in shops by 11th December.

Who knows, the Humax Foxsat HD PVR may even be back in stock at retailers by then!

In the meantime, we'll be adding to this blog with more pictures and comments.