There's no easy way to get around this. Kogan's Freeview HD Digital Set-Top Box is an ugly little beast. It's not expensive to buy, and it really shows, with a simple black casing, a four-character LED front display and a single USB port at the front. You won't be fooling anyone that this is anything but cheap technology if you have it displayed in your AV cabinet. It is small, which has some appeal, but it's a solid return to Kogan products that skimp on design values in the name of delivering cheap products. Even the official product code (KGNFSTBVAA) is pretty ugly.
The remote control continues with the less than aesthetically appealing motif. It's small, the buttons are poorly labelled and oddly laid out and we often found it unresponsive in testing.
Despite the name, the Freeview HD Digital Set-Top Box isn't just a digital TV receiver. With the addition of a USB storage drive, it's also a functionally capable PVR. We say functional in that it works, but again you're not getting an absolute bargain here, and shouldn't expect Tivo levels of PVR customisation. All of the channel information relies on whatever the FTA digital channels put out on their EPGs. To say that the FTA EPG is often inaccurate might be something of an understatement.
The set-top box carries a logo indicating that it's Freeview "compatible". Normally that would mean it had a shiny Freeview logo on it but was otherwise functionally crippled with restrictions on moving recorded programming around and no ad-skipping functionality.
We're not sure what strings Kogan's pulled to make it happen, but we've got to say that the Freeview HD Digital Set-Top Box is just about the most flexible Freeview box we've ever seen. Recordings made to the USB drive connected to the front are directly accessible, and there's a setting in the menus for a "jump" command. Most of these are set to different minute period durations, but there's also an option for a 30-second jump period that's ideal for the kind of ad-skipping that Freeview boxes are meant to specifically prohibit.
As with Kogan's other products, the Freeview HD Digital Set-Top Box doesn't come with an instruction manual. It's offered as a PDF download from Kogan's website instead. Unlike some other Kogan products, we'd strongly recommend downloading it, as some of the unit's functions are hidden under some rather obtuse menu selections.
We're beginning to suspect that no-name Chinese manufacturers mandate putting in generic video games into AV products, as the Kogan Freeview HD Digital Set-Top Box features not one or two but three different game options. If they float your boat, Tetris, Othello and Sudoku are all available for your amusement.
Setting up the Freeview HD Digital Set-Top Box involved the usual job of scanning for channels and waiting a while, and on that score the box works well enough. Certainly, if you didn't care that much about USB recording, this is a functional enough high-definition set-top box option at roughly the market price for such items at the time of writing.
Kogan's set-top box will take a standard USB flash drive and use it both for time-shifting and pausing live TV, as well as recording from either a timer or the EPG.
You'll need a lot of patience for either option, however. Timer recordings can be set to work once or daily, but not weekly, and the user UI is very rough around the edges. The EPG is very slow to update and uses the same timer restrictions. It also makes no visual representation for any programs you've chosen to record, so it's possible to try to set multiple timers for the same program, although you will hit an error message trying to confirm them.
Is it fair to criticise a product that costs less than AU$100, and less than a quarter of many of the leading PVR solutions? On one level, as long as you know what you're getting, there's value in the Kogan Freeview HD Digital Set-Top Box. It's the most flexible "Freeview compatible" PVR we've ever seen. It's small. It comes with Tetris. The ability to add USB storage means you technically never need run out of recording space, and the ability to easily shift files to your PC via sneakernet is a nice addition.
At the same time, the UI is poorly laid out, the remote is equally strangely configured and often doesn't respond well. As a TV watching option it's not all that relaxing, as you fight the limitations inherent in the device, the sluggish remote control and the often confusing menus.