Pure has long claimed to be a lot more than a simple radio company (not that there’s anything wrong with being a radio company, simple or otherwise), but it’s in 2013 that it’s really coming true.
Admittedly the launch of Pure Connect (nee Pure Lounge) music streaming service got the ball rolling, but it’s the impending launch of the Sonos-baiting Jongo system and this Pure Avalon 300R Freeview PVR that are really stretching the UK company’s product range. The Avalon 300R is available in 1TB (£350) and 500GB (£300) versions.
Pure Avalon 300R review: Features
So what can Pure Avalon 300R bring to the Freeview party that YouView hasn’t already turned up with? If the feature list is to be taken on face value, it doesn’t look like much. Talk of dual tuners and pausing, rewinding and recording SD and HD is nothing more than expected from a product such as this, while built-in wi-fi is a nice inclusion.
But what’s this? New HTML5 versions of BBC iPlayer and YouTube? Now we’re getting somewhere. Internet radio and Pure Music streaming? Very nice. Four HDMI inputs? How intriguing!
Pure Avalon 300R review: User interface
The feature that Pure seems most keen to shout about, though, is the user interface, and heaven knows that’s a crucial part of the experience. But just how pleasant is the Avalon to use? Turns out it’s very pleasant indeed.
As soon as you turn the 300R on it welcomes you with clean, clear and colourful menus. It quickly guides you through the channel-tuning process (which takes about five minutes) and prompts you to download new software as long as there’s some available and you’re connected to the internet.
Changing channels has never been terribly exciting, but Pure’s also done something about that. Press the Channel Up or Down buttons on the remote and the channel you’re watching peels away as if you’re turning the page in a book. It sounds gimmicky, but it – and the umpteen other graphical flourishes you can choose instead – add a flash of charm to the simple operation.
Setting up a list of favourite channels is also a doddle, and once done a press on the Heart button brings in a transparent list neatly from the left – it makes getting to something that you might enjoy much quicker. Or you can press the ‘up’or ‘down’ buttons on the pad to flick through the programs currently being shown on other channels.
Hover on one for a few seconds and a mini screen appears with what’s currently showing. It’s an innovative use of picture-in-picture that – among other things – can be very handy for avoiding adverts.
Then there’s the EPG itself: a really neatly laid-out and searchable eight-day guide that operates quickly and looks lovely. It also has a mini-picture of the currently tuned channel so you don’t miss out on any action while you plan what to watch next or set recordings for later in the week.
Speaking of which, whenever you press to record a standard-definition programme, a prompt will let you know if there’s an HD version available. The same thing happens when you tune to live broadcasts from the BBC. And with space for 250 hours of HD on the 1TB hard drive, why not record the HD version?
Pure Avalon 300R review: Picture
As for video quality, it’s exemplary. The standard-def picture is so clean, natural and controlled that it occasionally looks like HD. It can’t work miracles with the ropey broadcasts from the likes of Dave, but it does its very best.
Switch to one of the actual HD channels and the picture is simply superb. Supremely sharp, with bags of detail, great contrast and colours that are both vibrant and natural, this is broadcast television at its very best.
Pure Avalon 300R review: Smart functionality
When it comes to accessing the Avalon’s other features you’re probably going to go via the main menu, and what a treat it is. Those features are represented by colourful floating cards that you navigate using the ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons. They look great, are easy to make sense of and they move really smoothly. It’s just another little touch that makes the Avalon’s world such a pleasant place to be.
Select the pink ‘On Demand’ card and you’re taken to the Avalon’s web portal. It’s actually rather bare at the moment, but Pure promises that more services are on the way. Besides, to many BBC iPlayer is all they’re after, and on the 300R it’s delivered smoothly and in excellent quality.
The new YouTube interface is very nice too, and makes navigating the confusing world of user-uploaded videos via TV far easier than it has been in the past. To make it even easier you can link your smartphone to the Avalon via the YouTube website, and this allows you to find videos on your touchscreen and play them on the television. It’s not up there with AirPlay, but it’s a handy feature nonetheless.
Back to the menu, and this time we select the blue ‘Pure Connect’ card, which takes us to Pure’s own web services. Internet radio is here and is obviously a very nice feature to have, but Pure Music is more exciting. With millions of tracks available to stream on-demand, for just £5 a month it’s a massive bonus for the Avalon, and with apps available on your computer’s browser and iOS and Android devices, it’s a real Spotify rival.
Pure Avalon 300R review: Sound
It sounds surprisingly good, given the 128kbps bit-rate that’s used. You’re not going to mistake the audio for hi-res FLAC, but punch, detail and tonal balance are good, and make for a more-than-acceptable presentation.
If you do want access to higher quality music you’ll be pleased to hear that the Avalon can also stream content from USB hard drives and network attached storage devices.
The format support is surprisingly complete, too: on the audio side you get 24-bit FLAC and WAV on top of the usual MP3 and AAC, and for video there’s support for HD MKV complete with surround sound.
The Avalon might not be able to reveal all the extra detail in a 24-bit recording, but it’s a fine feature to have. Movie soundtracks emerge with body, clarity and punch.
Pure Avalon 300R review: Future developments
There are a few flaws, most notably on the on-demand front. Not only does YouView have more content, it integrates it into the experience beautifully rather than ring-fencing it in a separate menu the way the Pure does.
We also think the Avalon could do with a smartphone app that allows you to listen to Pure Music and internet radio through your main system without making it necessary to turn your TV on.
Pure is promising that this is just the start, though, and has confirmed that more on-demand services are on the way, along with an AirPlay-like Pure Stream app for iOS and Android, and an option to save standard-def recordings onto USB sticks so they can be watched on other devices.
Pure Avalon 300R review: Verdict
Even without those additions we’re rather smitten with the Avalon. Simply put, no other PVR delivers higher quality video and none are as much of a pleasure to operate. This is a really classy device that proves once and for all that Pure is way more than a radio manufacturer.