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. How could we not be intrigued?
The Humax Aura can be a number of things to different people and it feels as though it has been priced to interest everyone. The most obvious use is as a Freeview Play recorder, with enough internal storage options to capture hours of live Full HD and standard-definition television.
With its Android TV platform, you can also use it as a Chromecast with benefits – a way of adding over 5000 apps and streaming services to feed your television or projector with plenty of 4K fun. With its USB sockets, hi-res audio and 3D home cinema codec support, there’s an option to use it for local film file playback too – it’s quite the box of tricks.
The Humax Aura costs £249 for the 1TB model, which can store up to 250 hours of HD (or 500 of SD) programming, and £279 for the 2TB model, which can store up to 500 hours of Full HD (1000 of SD) programming.
If you’re serious enough about live TV to want to record it on a regular basis, then the extra £30 for double the amount of space feels like a no-brainer.
Humax has had great success with its What Hi-Fi? Award-winning FVP-5000T set-top box and, four years down the line, a replacement has been long overdue. For both specs and looks, the Aura is the upgrade we’ve been waiting for.
Stand the two next to one another and the sculpted lines of the low slung Aura more easily fit into the category of contemporary industrial design.
The Aura is a tidy 26cm by 20cm box that takes up about the same space as your 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, recording or recording in standby. It’s a useful indicator and reminiscent of K.I.T.T from Knight Rider in standby mode.
But if it’s a party at the front of the Aura, then around the back is the serious business. Here you’ll find the single 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 if you’d rather leave the 2.4/5GHz wi-fi alone.
The Aura remote is fully featured, with dedicated buttons for just about everything you could need, including shortcuts to streaming services, recordings, the guide, the Freeview Play platform and the Android TV homepage too. You’ll need to pair the remote with the Aura box using Bluetooth for the Google Assistant voice system to work.
Ports HDMI 2.1, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, optical-out
OS Android TV 9
Freeview Play Yes
Dimensions (hwd) 4.3 x 26 x 20cm
The Humax Aura’s three Freeview Play tuners bring access to over 70 non-subscription live TV channels and over 20,000 hours of on-demand entertainment through the catch-up services, with BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5 all present. Those tuners allow you to pause and rewind TV, as well as record up to four channels while watching a fifth one live.
Unlike the older FVP-5000T, there’s no built-in app for streaming live TV or your recordings from the box to other devices around your home, though Humax says the same DLNA support will be added to the Aura in a forthcoming firmware update. The Aura mobile app will detect any DLNA or Chromecast-enabled devices on the same network as your box and allow you to play recordings or live channels to those, sourcing it from the Aura as a server.
For the time being, the Aura mobile app is a handy tool in its own right. It brings a full view of the electronic programme guide (EPG) to your small screen and allows users to schedule recordings, watch recordings and even enjoy live TV on mobile – just the ticket for keeping track of Countdown while you put the kettle on.
The Aura’s big-screen offering is also bolstered by Android TV, and that means another 5000 or so apps from Google Play are at your disposal, with subscription services such as Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video, alongside more UK-specific apps, such as BT Sport and UKTV Play.
There are significant gaps, though, including Britbox, Now TV and the Netflix app. Somewhat ironically, Netflix is actually one of the few non-catch-up apps available on the older FVP-5000T. Fortunately, the Aura’s built-in Chromecast functionality allows users to cast these missing apps from mobile, tablet or browser instead, but that solution won't suit everyone. It’s also worth noting that casting won’t work for either Apple TV or Apple Music, which are also missing from the Aura.
Away from the video side, the hi-res audio support is a welcome addition. It means those connecting the Aura to a decent external speaker system can get a strong performance from locally stored or streamed audio files, even if connecting through the HDMI, which can handle up to 24-bit/192 kHz levels.
You’ll need to download a third-party app such as VLC to play local media and Plex if you want to connect a NAS drive or similar from your home network. The Aura’s support for 4K HDR (HDR10 and HLG) and 3D audio codecs offers the potential to do justice to any high-quality movie files you own.
Thanks to the quad-core 1.8GHz CPU and 3GB RAM combo, the whole experience feels snappy and well put together. From the remote to the on-screen navigation, the user experience will bend to your bidding without complaint.
The twinning of Freeview Play and Android TV 9.0 doesn’t make for the easiest of combinations, though. Each offers its own home page experience, leaving the user unsure as to which one to use. You’ll find some apps on both, but others just on one, and both home pages have their own settings menus. Fortunately, the shortcuts on the remote mean that you can sometimes go straight to whatever it is that you’re looking for, but that doesn't really excuse the poor integration of the two interfaces.
Each interface is good in its own right, at least. We particularly like Freeview Play's Kids' Zone – a brightly coloured area with TV programmes specially selected for younger viewers. Content can be searched according to duration and timeslot, and parents can use this to block certain apps and channels from appearing.
The picture quality through the Freeview Play tuners in both SD and Full HD is every bit as good as that of the FVP-5000T. Watching Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is on BBC2, we get some inviting shots of a French antiques market on a cloudless summer’s day. The cobbled streets and stalls are bright and colourful, but with a realistic sense of tonality and texture.
The Aura trades a touch of detail for this better blending and, while some might prefer harder edges to stone walls, it feels like a well-judged decision from Humax. There’s a proper sense of complexity to the bright blue TV shelf as one of the bargain hunters haggles over a few Euros. It makes for a more natural aesthetic to the picture and feels believable when upscaled to 4K.
That arrangement is justified even further when switching to SD on the BBC News channel. Low-res content can seem particularly harsh and blocky when upscaled, but the Aura’s slightly softer approach smooths out a few 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 of the finer detail is lost, particularly at the brightest and darkest extremes of the contrast spectrum. Viewing a scene set in the White House, the backlit silk curtains are missing folds in the material and the Aura doesn’t reveal the number of freckles on ex-CIA Deputy Director Grace Mallory’s skin that we might expect.
The other slight drawback is that not all users will find the dynamic range and refresh rate content matching system easy to use. There are a few options and, without the right ones selected, app TV shows and films are often displayed incorrectly; motion is juddery and streams are often jumpy. It can be fixed using the remote while viewing, but it isn’t easy to do. Quality standalone streamers have options to automatically match the dynamic range and refresh rate of the source material, and the Aura should really have the same.
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. Plugging it into our reference system, we fire up the Tidal Masters version of Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival and, by the standards of PVRs and video streamers, we’re struck by how well it captures the recording.
There’s a spacious sound to the vocals and guitars that gives a fabulous feel to the acoustics of the room where the recording was made. Compared with other, similarly priced streaming products, there is an added dimension to the track. There’s a good dose of dynamics that brings excitement and character to all of the instruments. We can visualise the drums at the start of the track and every time the first snare of each bar is hit with an accent.
The back and forth between the guitar and the vocals is like listening to a conversation. It’s a cohesive sound from top to bottom and we feel confident that there’s little we’re missing in the music. Some streamers at this level might offer a touch more crispness to the rhythm, but not without some loss of the excitement we get with the Aura.
All of that translates to an enjoyably emotional feel for home cinema as we switch to AV with 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.
When Brian May plays his solo at the end of the piece, it’s like he’s making his guitar sing. Again, the sense of place is captured brilliantly in a credible rendition of the sound of the old Wembley Stadium full of 72,000 people clapping in time and singing along to Radio Ga Ga.
Sound such as this is a huge leg up for any home cinema device. Whether capturing the atmosphere of a rock concert or the special effects of an action scene, the Aura really 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 – and is charging – more this time around and this box doesn’t deliver these extras quite so well.
If you’re going to promise more apps, then the omission of the most popular one of all is an issue. You also need to make sure your handling of streamed TV and film content is up to the same high standards as the competition, and that isn’t quite the case with the Aura. 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 cheaper but still brilliant Humax FVP-5000T and buying a Google Chromecast with Google TV as well is a better option in terms of overall performance. The experience won’t feel much more split than the Aura already does but, more importantly, the smart offering will be more complete and a little better for picture quality too.
That said, if you have your heart set on a single box solution for your TV recording and video streaming, the Aura is a solid choice.
- Picture 4
- Sound 5
- Features 4
Read our guide to the best set-top boxes
Read our Humax FVP-5000T review