We put this pleasantly designed single-tuner Linux box with Enigma2 firmware and recording upgradeability through its paces
THE PREVIOUSLY reviewed VU+ Solo was a budget-priced single-tuner HD-capable Linux box with PVR via USB.
Judging from its frequent appearance on internet forums and newsgroups, it was a popular enthusiasts’ choice. Its bigger brother, the similarly Linux-ed Duo, is a PVR with twin tuners for greater recording flexibility. The Uno sits somewhere between the two.
It’s a single-tuner Linux box, but with the correct firmware a range of plug-in USB tuners are supported. This effectively converts it into a dual-tuner receiver – or a PVR, if a SATA hard drive is fitted internally. Also present, under a flap that also conceals a USB port, are two CI slots and two smart card readers that will come into their own with firmwares or plug-ins capable of supporting them. Plug-ins? Yes – the Uno, like its relatives, runs the Enigma2 firmware made popular by the Dreambox range.
As with some Dreamboxes, the supplied DVB-S2 tuner takes the form of a plug-in card. This fits into a slot on the motherboard. If extra tuners become available, this could be replaced by a DVB-T/T2 (DTT) or DVB-C (digital cable) card.
In connectivity terms, the Uno is on par with most other Linux receivers, though unlike smaller Dreamboxes, the tuner benefits from an LNB loopthrough. HDMI and networking are naturally included as is an RGB-capable Scart. There are no phono sockets for component-video output but it’s available via the Scart socket, which is also capable of RGB. SD broadcasts can be upscaled to 720p via the 1080i-capable HDMI.
Composite video, analogue audio outputs and a RS232 serial port are also included. The latter, oddly, must be used alongside the Ethernet network port if you’re loading new firmware into the receiver from a PC via the freely available VuUtil program. Rather more useful in everyday use are the USB ports, two of which are located on the rear panel and can be used to add WiFi networking with a plug-in dongle.
The Uno is rather neat with its tasteful blend of matt and gloss finish. It’s a pity that the basic controls (standby, channel change and volume) are not backlit, as they’re difficult to make out in subdued lighting. The same cannot be said of the bright 12-character fluorescent display that dominates the front panel. In addition to the name of the currently selected channel, some menu information is shown. Internal construction is neat; the Broadcom BCM7413 chip is heatsinked by a skimpy slab of aluminium. Presumably this chip is highly efficient and generates minimal surplus heat, as the receiver worked reliably for long continuous periods. All the same, a temperature-controlled fan graces the rear panel.
Fitting a 2.5in or 3.5in HDD is simple, and all necessary hardware – cradle, screws, vibration-absorbing grommets and cabling – is supplied. 2.5in drives are best for low power-consumption and running noise, although the 3.5in ones give you the highest capacity. Our 2TB drive was recognised and initialised without a hitch. Otherwise, you’ll have to rely on a USB device or arrange for recordings to be written to a networked drive like a NAS. Any HDD you fit to the Uno can be accessed by other devices on your network – great for transferring recordings to a PC, or streaming them to compatible networked multimedia players.
Basic configuration follows the traditional Enigma route. On powering up for the first time, you’ll be greeted by a series of step-by-step ‘wizards’ that guide you through initial installation. They cover language, TV system, time zone, initial dish/DiSEqC configuration and searching for channels – all of which can subsequently be modified via the setup menus. The Uno supports simple switchboxes (DiSEqC 1.0/1.1), DiSEqC 1.2 and USALS. All of the usual dish movement controls are supported.
Searching can target single transponders or complete satellites. Also allowed are automated multiple-satellite searches. As regards manual searching, Enigma2 doesn’t permit PID entry for non-standard services, however, one of the pre-installed plug-ins offers a basic implementation of blind search. No control over step-size is available – all you can specify are frequency and symbol rate range, polarity, band and satellite.
We might have blind search (an Enigma rarity) but many of the features we take for granted with other distributions of Enigma2 are not preinstalled. Go to the ‘plug-ins’ menu and they’re all waiting to be downloaded. Among them are a test-pattern generator for TV adjustment, video-enhancement tweaks, a ‘satfinder’ with large signal strength/quality bar graphs and the all-important ‘webinterface’ that allows you to remotely control your receiver and stream live channels to a PC. Blind search apart, other unusual plug-ins that are preinstalled include 3D tweaks (not having a suitable TV, we couldn’t verify these), fan control and certain types of firmware upgrades.
Main menus rather than plug-ins cover other aspects of configuration. In the AV menu you can choose between various resolutions, refresh rates and aspect ratio defaults – lip-sync and audio settings are also adjustable here. Having said that, a further plug-in was needed before we could change HDMI output mode. Then there are functions like parental control, plug-in installation, the common interface slots, user-interface customisation, HDD spindown period and network configuration.
If you want the ability to access the network and store details of shares (a must for network recording, and useful for multimedia playback) then you’ll need the ‘network browser’ plug-in. It’s perhaps just as well that all plug-ins are free, and that the Uno is equipped with 128MB of non-volatile memory, used in part to store them.
The channel up/down keys access the channel list, which can be sorted alphabetically (‘all’), by satellite, provider, or favourites. It’s easy to add channels to a favourites list; press ‘menu’ and the option is shown in the ‘channel list’ menu that appears. After selecting a channel, pressing the ‘info’ button yields an EPG-derived description of the current programme. If, however, the menu button is pressed when the favourites list is onscreen then other options – including the removal of channels that no longer meet your needs – are available. It’s typical of the context-sensitive menu system that runs Enigma2 receivers (another is intelligent use of the handset’s coloured fast-text buttons).
The EPG supports now-and-next and seven-day schedules. Pressing the EPG button displays the ‘eventview’ menu, which treats us to a description of the current programme (or the one that follows). From here, you can list any ‘similar broadcasts’ listed in the EPG or set the timer. The ‘eventview’ menu is also a springboard for the EPG proper. It offers two modes, the first of which (‘single’) focuses on one channel’s schedule.
The other (‘multi’) lists what multiple channels are offering within a given time slot. If the relevant EPG data is in the machine, the name of the programme currently being broadcast by the channel is shown. Forthcoming timer events are flagged, too. A manual timer is included as is an ‘instant’ recording mode, which can continue indefinitely or – EPG providing – until the end of the programme. Dedicated handset buttons select subtitles, switch between soundtracks, engage teletext and toggle between TV and radio modes.
As with most other Enigma2-based boxes, you can record multiple channels while viewing another – provided they’re on the same transponder. We were able to successfully record three FTA HD services on Astra 1, one of which we were viewing. If you install one of the firmwares capable of supporting a USB-interfaced tuner, such as VIX, then even more flexibility is possible. The satellite list has an additional ‘current transponder’ view and so you can identify at a glance channels that can be accessed at the same time. Picture-in-picture is available.
Timeshifting works well, with multiple playback speeds and ‘goto’ functionality. A handset button grants you direct access to a descriptive recordings list; an alternative route is to use the powerful media player, which is one of the preinstalled plug-ins.
Content stored on USB media or networked devices can be played. If you’ve installed an HDD you could transfer multimedia files to the machine itself via the network. File compatibility is excellent – our 1080p MKV/X.264 video was taken in the Uno’s judder-free stride – and the player can be used while a recording is in progress. But you have to add files to a playlist first and, even more annoyingly, a separate plug-in is needed for photos. This is an Enigma issue, though, rather than a Uno one. Another plug-in worth mentioning is the Opera web browser. Although no substitute for the one running on your PC – it’s slow and clumsy – it’s certainly handy if you have a pressing need to check a website without booting up your computer. Other Enigma2 plug-ins available include Google Maps, IMDB, a Last.fm client, YouTube and podcasts.
Initially, few services were discovered on Hot Bird (Astra 1 was fine) with our reference 45cm Technisat multi-feed dish. Across a number of runs, only between 200 and 500 services were found – this popular constellation offers more than 2,000. Blocks of channels were ignored during the search, suggesting that bands or polarities were not being switched correctly where appropriate. A search on the internet suggested that others had encountered the same problem with older firmwares. We obtained the most recent official release and installed that using VuUtil. No improvement was noted, but all channels were found with a conventional DiSEqC 1.2 motorised dish connected.
The Technisat dish works well with other receivers, but we suspect an incompatibility rather than sensitivity issue. Searching was rather slow, although disengaging the default network scan mode speeds up matters. Blind search is fast but, as the test results show, fewer channels are found.
In normal use the Uno is fairly responsive. On occasions, though, a rotating hourglass appears. Video is unaffected, but menu access is temporarily disabled. We suspect that some unspecified background process is to blame. Picture and sound quality proved well up to scratch, and in particular the HD channels stood out on our full-HD Samsung LCD TV Martin Pipe
There’s much to like about the VU+ Uno, although a price approaching £300 seems expensive considering that only one tuner is built in.
This receiver is stable and performs very well overall – certainly with compatible outdoor equipment – while its use of the firmwares based around Enigma2 opens up all kinds of possibilities for expansion.
- Very respectable AV performance n A decent selection of plug-ins
- Flexible storage and HDD provisions
- Only one tuner
- Some incompatibilities noted with one of our dishes (Technisat Multytenne)
- Rather expensive
No LNB inputs: 1 (extended IF, 22kHz).
LNB loopthrough: 1
No. aerial inputs: None
Aerial loopthrough: None
No. channels: Dependent on firmware and plug-ins, which share 128MB flash memory
Selectable FEC: No
Symbol rate: 2000-45000
Blind search: Yes (plug-in)
CAM: 2 card readers. CAM support dependent on firmware
Common interface: 2
Teletext: DVB decoded
EPG support: DVB 7-day or now-and-next
Timer: Limited only by available memory
UHF modulator tuning: N/A
Software upgrade: Network/RS232 or USB
Data ports: 2x USB (rear-panel), 1x USB (front-panel), Ethernet, RS232
SD out: TV Scart (composite/S-video/component/RGB), composite
HD out: HDMI
Audio out: HDMI/optical digital audio (Dolby Digital bitstream compatible), analogue stereo
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ON SALE: 6th June 2013
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