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Sagemcom RTI 90-320 T2 Expert Review

Sagemcom RTI 90-320 T2

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Without HD, watching the World Cup on a flatscreen TV is like looking through a pair of underwater goggles.

While not seeing Alan Hansen’s intensely hairy chest or Lee Dixon’s surprisingly hairless eyebrows may well be seen as a benefit, the diabolically low bit rate of the standard definition pictures (on BBC and ITV) means that for anyone who actually wants to see the ball there’s never been a more desperate need for Freeview HD.

And if you happen to like recording a match or the highlights, or any other HD show, then a PVR is an absolute necessity. Buy a standard Freeview HD TV or receiver and you will only be able to record standard definition shows to an external DVD recorder or PVR.

But terrestrial HD is such a nascent technology that Freeview+ HD boxes are only now appearing on sale and the fear is that the few models available may have been rushed out to satisfy the substantial demand and/or to capitalise on the world’s biggest sporting event.

Sagemcom rt190-320 t2 1

Priced at £250 Sagemcom’s RTI 90-320 T2 HD is a bit of a two trick pony (albeit the two most important ones), with a 320GB hard disk that can store up to 80 hours of HD shows (a 500GB version is also available) to complement the Freeview HD tuner.

Despite the presence of USB and ethernet sockets there are no multi-media or networking functions. The USB is a service port although the ethernet connection could be used for the BBC’s iPlayer if (when?) Freeview follows in Freesat’s footsteps.

One HDMI socket provides cutting-edge digital connectivity and for aural satisfaction you can connect to an amp using either the digital electrical output or stereo phonos. There’s also a Scart, which seems pointless on an HD box, but no CI slot so no option to upgrade to Top-Up TV.

Sagemcom rt190-320 t2 rear

Sagemcom is the new name for Sagem following a restructure by the French mega-brand. To go with the new name is a new look as the company ditches the squat grey design in favour of a new shiny black livery.

The box looks classier than it feels, being made of fairly lightweight plastic. The fascia is pleasantly adorned with a few basic controls and a smattering of logos. However, that USB socket sticks out like a bruise on a banana, and the while the LED display nicely shows the channel number most of the time, it occasionally causes confusion with words such as NEnu (for menu), 6u1d (for guide) and init when initalising.

Sagemcom RTI 90-320 T2 HD: Performance

Sagemcom rt190-320 t2 1

The good news is that the RTI 90-320 T2 HD’s tuner serves up excellent HD images. Native HD content – everything on the BBC HD channel – is especially impressive and shows all the clarity and detail found on simultaneous Freesat and Sky broadcasts.

Sagemcom rt190-320 t2 setup

Skin tones, which are often the least convincing aspect of a broadcast image, are as accurate as you could expect.

Sagemcom rt190-320 t2 hd broadcast

ITV and C4′s HD channels are simulcast in standard definition so a lot of content is upscaled and – unlike some other boxes – the info banner and EPG on the RTI 90-320 T2 HD do not indicate their native resolution.

However, it’s not difficult to tell when a show has been upscaled as no HD processor can convincingly add detail that wasn’t originally present.

Sagemcom rt190-320 t2 epg

The standard definition tuner is no slouch either, equally as good as anything else on the Freeview HD market with quality very much dependent on the broadcaster’s bit rate. Midsomer Murders on ITV for example suffers from all kinds of minor aberrations such as MPEG noise, pulsing over patches of similar colour and a general mushiness – but the same problems exist on rival platforms.

Despite an electrical (aka coaxial) digital audio output and a Dolby Digital logo on the front the Sagemcom RTI 90-320 T2 HD is one of the many Freeview HD boxes that outputs in stereo only. This is a result of broadcasters using the AAC codec in order to transmit audio description information and the box’s inability to transcode to DD 5.1 or Dolby Digital Plus.

Reassuringly, recordings are perfect facsimiles of the original broadcasts with picture and sound quality undiminished.

Sagemcom RTI 90-320 T2 HD: Value and ease of use

Sagemcom rt190-320 t2 1

The box’s operating system is no match for the fine quality of its pictures. The low-ish figure of under 2W power consumption in standby contributes to a boot-up time in excess of 30 seconds. The GUI that greets you when you finally arrive at a picture and press the menu or guide button is frankly pig ugly.

The combination of a hideous grey and red colour scheme, old-fashioned fonts and clipart icons is a world away from the slick delights used by kit from the likes of Samsung and Humax.

Sagemcom rt190-320 t2 options

To make matters worse, navigating the menu system is an irritatingly slow business. The box reacts far too slowly to the remote control (which is no great shakes in itself with cramped buttons) and having to move through the menus and EPG at the pace of a drunk snail is counter-intuitive.

Sagemcom rt190-320 t2 merge recordings

As a PVR the RTI90-500 T2 HD works perfectly well. It offers a twin tuner, series-link, manual scheduling, live pause and a one hour HD buffer (two hours for standard definition). Recordings can be merged, manually renamed and moved into folders. You can fast forward and rewind at 4x, 10x , 60x or 300x but there’s no slow-mo option.

Sagemcom rt190-320 t2 recording

Ugliness aside, the 8-day EPG is nicely laid out with a small window showing the current broadcast. Information of each show is plentiful apart from the lack of native resolution.

You can zoom in or out to show one, two or four hours ahead in list or grid view, plus there’s day and date selection. Normally the channel number is displayed on the front of the box, but annoyingly, when recording a show this remains stuck on ‘rec’ so the handy reference of a channel number is lost.

Sagemcom rt190-320 t2 remote

At £250 the RTI90-500 T2 HD represents a significant investment. Compared with non HD PVRs it’s very expensive, against other Freeview+ HD boxes it’s neither a bargain nor a rip-off. A year from now – even by Christmas this year – prices will fall significantly as the market shifts from the early adopter into mass market territory.

Sagemcom RTI 90-320 T2 HD: Verdict

Sagemcom rt190-320 t2 1

There are swathes of HD hungry Freeview TV viewers eager to feast on as much high quality content as they can digest without paying through the nose for a subscription.

Being first out of the traps gives Sagemcom a huge advantage in this fledgling market with a box that, price aside, looks like a very enticing proposition by delivering those HD pictures and offering a means of time-shifting them. But what should be an all-round triumph falls down in a couple of significant ways.

We liked:

The RTI 90-320 T2 HD doesn’t disappoint in what is perhaps the most important aspect – it’s HD pictures are superb. To be fair, we’ve seen a lot of Freeview HD boxes and most of them have delivered equally impressive results but ultimately it needs to be stated this is not a duff box in this respect.

The other not insignificant plus is that you can pause, rewind and record Freeview HD with as much confidence as you can with any other decent PVR. The recording management is also a bit more sophisticated than most. The versatility and user-friendliness of the EPG is also to be commended.

We disliked:

Features-wise there are a few absent friends such as a CI slot, multi-media playback and network capability, but whether these would be considered deal-breakers is a matter of personal preference.

The lack of surround sound is a big disappointment and makes a mockery of the Dolby Digital logo splashed on the front of the box. Having said that, audio quality is fine so long as you don’t mind it in stereo.

The main dislike is the operating system, which is clunky, ugly and annoying. Much better menus are to be found elsewhere.

Pros

  • Good EPG
  • In-depth recording management
  • Superb HD pictures

Cons

  • No CI slot for top up TV
  • Poor surround sound implementation
  • Clunky operating system

Verdict

Anyone in the market for a Freeview+ HD box wants to hear that this
is a brilliant all-rounder. Sadly, that simply isn’t the case.

Our
overall opinion of the RTI90-500 T2 HD is that if it were a car it
would look like a Toyota Auris from the outside, feel like an Austin
Allegro on the inside and drive like a Jaguar XK with a dodgy gearbox.
And who would want that combination? No matter how good the performance
you just wouldn’t be happy being transported along in such unglamorous
surroundings.

It’s probably worth waiting for rival PVRs to come
out from the likes of Humax, Sharp, Philips and Toshiba before raiding
the piggy bank for an RTI90-500 T2 HD.

On the other hand, if
you’re desperate for a Freeview+ HD box and don’t mind the tatty menus
or slowness of its operating system you can at least rest assured it
will deliver the HD goods.


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