Humax Aura 4K Freeview Play review

hccbestbuybadgev3Humax teams up with Google to re-invent its Freeview Play PVR. Steve May investigates

Humax is hardly the most profligate of PVR makers. When it launches a set-top box, it tends to stick around, quietly serving its audience. Its new model, the Aura, is the company's first hardware overhaul in three years, assuming flagship status from its 2017-era FVP-5000T.

A casual observer might think the humble Freeview timeshifting business had given up the ghost with the trend toward streaming and ubiquitous catch-up TV. The development of new PVRs has been driven by premium Pay TV operators, leaving those that have cut their monthly subscription contracts to squabble over simpler streaming boxes.

But the Aura has found a middle ground. It's a first for Humax, in that it combines the latest build of the Android TV platform (OS 9.0, also known as Pie) with Freeview Play. The result is a set-top box with a slick, modern interface (a quad-core ARM Cortex processor delivers fast responsive operation), with access to the Google Play store, Google Assistant voice control, and Chromecast built-in – plus the ability to timeshift hundreds of hours of programmes to its hard drive. Exactly how much depends on whether you opt for the 1TB or 2TB edition – there's no 500GB version planned, we're told.

Space Invader
As we've come to expect from Humax, build quality is good. The device is fashionably round, with a gloss-black plastic lid, although it still occupies a significant amount of space beneath your TV.

Connections include an HDMI, optical digital audio output, Gigabit Ethernet, two USB ports (one 3.0, the other 2.0), plus terrestrial aerial loopthrough. Wi-Fi is 2.4GHz/5GHz dual-band.


The Aura is supplied with a well-designed Bluetooth remote control, which features a number of pre-programmed hotkeys, including Freeview Play, familiar tri-colour Google Assistant button for voice control, Amazon Prime Video, and a Kids' Zone shortcut. The latter is a family-friendly safe space that allows younger viewers to explore terrestrial TV and on-demand content.

Should you misplace the zapper, there are on-body touch controls for power, volume and channel selection.

The provision of Freeview Play is key to the Aura's everyday appeal. Just like a Freeview Play telly, it offers a seven-day TV guide with scroll-back functionality, plus a full deck of mainstream catch-up players, including BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5, not to mention UKTV Play, CBS Catchup, Horror Bites, STV Player and BBC Sounds. There's also a considerable library of on-demand content from the Freeview vaults.

Thanks to the Android platform, there's also access to the Google Play store, and that means plenty of streaming SVOD support. Amazon Prime Video is native to the box, evidenced by its own button on the handset, but you can also download Disney+, BT Sport, UFC Fight Pass, Google Play Movies and others.

Currently there's no Netflix, though. Humax told us that discussions are ongoing, but as yet the market-leading streamer hasn't signed off on an app. If the Aura has an achilles heel, this is currently it.

Operating noise is whisper-quiet. The internal fan is not intrusive, and the PVR's hard drive barely makes itself known. It's much quieter than a Sky Q or Virgin V6 box.

Pushing More Pixels
This is Humax's first PVR to be 4K and HDR10 enabled. Of course, you won't find any 4K content on Freeview, but during my test there was support on YouTube and Amazon Prime Video, with BBC iPlayer set to be available by the time you read this. Codec support includes H.265, H.264 and VP9, plus MPEG-4 and VC1 for regular HD sources. It's also compatible with Dolby Atmos, via Dolby Audio, as well as hi-res audio up to 24-bit/192kHz over HDMI.

Amazon Prime actioner Jack Ryan delivers Dolby Atmos over HDMI from the Aura into an AVR, with all the requisite immersive sonics. The show also streams from Amazon in 4K. Similarly, The Grand Tour looks superb in HDR 4K.

Dive into YouTube and Under The Red Sea in 4K SDR also looks lush, with vivid colours and scads of detail in both fish and coral reef.

Freeview recordings reflect their original fidelity. A timeshift of the HD remaster of Friends, from Channel 5 HD, captures plenty of texture and sharp set dressing, while a Hammer classic on the Horror Channel in glorious SD is predictably softer (although not disastrously so). Both play back with reassuring stability, and no unwanted artefacts or glitches.