Manhattan T3-R Freeview Play PVR

hcc_recommendedThe Manhattan T3-R is a Freeview Play-enabled PVR designed for TV enthusiasts who want a connected, time-shifting telly box, without the associated subscription costs of pay TV providers such as Sky, BT TV or Virgin Media. What you get are 85 linear Freeview channels (the vast majority of which are standard-def), plus a full fist of catch-up and TV services. Available in two guises – the 500GB model tested here (£170) and a £200 1TB version – it's easy to see its appeal. But is it really possible to enjoy the AV high-life on the low-down?

The T3-R is compact and glossy, and is supplied with a full-size infrared remote control that also doubles as a TV zapper for volume, input selection and channel changing. On the box's back panel are an aerial loop-through, optical digital audio output, powered USB port, HDMI output and Ethernet.

It takes just a few minutes to connect to a network (Wi-Fi is integrated) and store Freeview channels, and then you’re good to go. Streaming apps are BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, My 5, UKTV Play, BBC News & Sport, CBS Catch-up and Horror Bites. The box also has YouTube and YouTube Kids apps. There’s no Netflix, which is a shame, but then I suppose this wouldn't fit too well with the Free ethos.

The T3-R is 4K and HDR10/HLG compatible, although that comes with caveats, most obviously because Freeview doesn’t deliver any over-the-air 4K content – you can use the platform to watch 4K from YouTube and BBC iPlayer, however. Audio provision covers Dolby Digital Plus and regular stereo.

Like its non-PVR stablemate (the T3), using the box is no more challenging than donning a pair of comfy slippers. The Home screen features catch-up services, as well as icons for TV guide, recordings library and so on. Onscreen graphics are smart and intuitive. There’s a simple channel browser which pops up at the bottom of the screen, encouraging you to explore.

As a recorder, the T3-R offers standard features like series linking and pausing live TV. AV quality is transparent to the original broadcast; the better-looking HD channels (BBC News, NHK) are sharp and vibrant, while low-bitrate SD looks grotty, as expected.

Resolution output options cover 720p 1080i, 1080p and 2,160p. In order to avoid stuttering and other anomalies, my advice is to select Match Frame Rate in the settings menu to guarantee original 24, 30, or 60 frames-per-second playback.

One of the joys of the Freeview Play platform is content curation, from programme recommendations to smart search and that roll-back 7-day programme guide. The T3-R also allows you to create your own Watchlist of on-demand choices.

It's all pretty slick, and powering everything along is a quad-core CPU that goes some way to keeping navigation sprightly. Operational noise is also pleasingly low, with no crunching of gears from the hard drive (although, as we all know, that can change in time).

But there are niggles. The T3-R only lets you record two channels simultaneously, a limitation which compares badly to premium machines from Sky and Virgin Media that enable timeshifting of half-a-dozen programmes at the same time.

The good news is Manhattan is working on a firmware update which will enable a third channel to be viewed and timeshifted that's on the same multiplex as one of the two in-progress recordings. Hopefully we’ll see that improvement land early 2020.

The box's wireless reception isn’t exactly robust. In a known strong signal area in my house, with a relatively high-speed connection, on-demand playback still buffered. Using Ethernet or a Powerline solution would seem like a worthwhile investment.

One for contract cutters
There’s no doubt that if you've been using a standard PVR for a number of years, this Freeview Play model signifies a solid upgrade – particularly if your telly itself isn’t well connected. The proliferation of mainstream catch-up players is welcome and having YouTube onboard in 4K is a nice addition. Overall, this is a polished smart recorder option for contract-cutters.

HCC Verdict

Manhattan T3-R

Price: £170

We say: This 4K HDR-capable Freeview Play PVR benefits from Manhattan's slick UI. One for time-shifters looking to upgrade

Performance: 4.5/5
Features: 4/5
Design: 4.5/5
Overall: 4.5/5


HDD: Yes. 500GB
Tuner: Yes. 2 x Freeview Play
Connections: Aerial input; aerial loopthrough output; HDMI output; optical digital audio output; Ethernet; USB
Dimensions: 265(w) x 53(h) x 207(d)mm
Weight: 678g

Features: Roll-back EPG; Series Link; Live Pause; Watchlist functionality; 4K, HDR10 and HLG support; BBC iPlayer, ITV Player; All4; My 5; UKTV Play, BBC News & Sport; CBS Catch-up, Horror Bites and YouTube apps; variable lip-sync delay; selectable output resolution