Flinging live and recorded television around your home, Humax’s tiny H3 breaks the lounge room shackles.
Australian free-to-air television can be painful to watch, but a decent Personal Video Recorder can turn broadcast television into your own personal Netflix – automatically recording your favourite shows each week so they’re ready to watch when you flop down on the couch.
Of course these days we expect the freedom to watch our favourite shows on any device, anywhere around the house. That’s where Humax’s H3 Espresso comes in, streaming live broadcasts or recordings from a Humax PVR to any television in your home. It’s accompanied by iOS/Android apps which let you watch on your handheld gadgets.
The H3 Espresso is only available in Australia as part of a $477 bundle with the Humax HDR-3000T PVR, you might see it referred to as the “Humax Twin Tuner Quad Recorder & Smart Media Player Package”. The PVR features twin HD tuners – capable of recording up to four programs simultaneously across two different networks – and can tap into the IceTV Electronic Program Guide, Humax’s EPG or the broadcast EPG.
While the HDR-3000T PVR is designed for your primary television in the lounge room, the H3 Espresso is likely to end up connected to a secondary television in the bedroom or rumpus room.
Like most streaming boxes, the H3 lacks a TV tuner and aerial input. On the back you’ll only find a HDMI video output, SP/DIF digital audio output and an Ethernet port, plus there’s a USB port on the side. The box also has built-in Wi-Fi.
The H3’s primary job is to stream content from a Humax PVR in your lounge room, via the H3’s Live TV+ app. Humax throws in a decent remote control but unfortunately it’s not the most elegant and user-friendly onscreen interface.
You can watch live standard-def and high-def channels on the H3, streamed from the Humax PVR on roughly a 5-second delay, with the same picture quality as the free-to-air broadcasts. This is brilliant if you want to watch live television in the bedroom but don’t have access to an aerial socket.
You’re not breaking the law and the networks can’t stop you, so you don’t need to worry about the blackouts of premium sporting events like the footy enforced on the broadcasters’ live streaming simulcasts.
If all you care about is streaming live channels around your home then you should weigh up the H3 against options like the HDHomeRun Connect and Plex Live TV. The H3’s strength is that it also lets you watch shows recorded on the PVR, but it doesn’t support remote chasing playback so you can’t watch the beginning of a movie while you’re still recording the end.
Apart from the H3 box connected to a second television, you can tap into the recordings stored on the PVR using Humax’s iOS and Android apps. Unlike many PVRs, you can also access the recordings on the PVR’s hard drive across your home network via DLNA, FTP, WebDAV or Samba.
One limitation when watching live channels remotely is that you’re reliant on the twin tuners in the Humax PVR in the lounge room. If someone in the lounge room is watching Channel 9 on the PVR while recording Channel 7, then you can’t watch Channel 10 on the H3 in the bedroom or on the mobile apps. At this point you can only watch channels from the Seven and Nine networks.
Here the H3 offers an interesting contrast to its closest Australian rival in the Fetch TV Mini streaming box, designed to work in conjunction with the Fetch TV Mighty PVR. Together they’ll cost you about $570, but you might get a better deal via your internet service provider.
The Fetch TV Mini has an aerial socket and built-in tuner, so you can watch live television in the bedroom without tying up one of the tuners on the Mighty PVR in the lounge.
The downside is that the Fetch TV Mini can’t stream live channels from the Mighty, as the H3 can from the Humax PVR, so with Fetch you’re out of luck if you don’t have an aerial wall socket in the bedroom. As a fallback the Mini’s catch up apps can tap into some live simulcasts and Fetch is looking to extend this.
As a media player, Humax’s H3 can play content from a USB stick or else tap into FTP, Samba, WedDAV and DLNA sources around your home such as computers and network storage drives. That’s a better deal than you get from the Fetch TV Mini and most modern streaming boxes, harking back to Swiss Army Knife media players like the WD TV Live, although admittedly these days most people don’t need these advanced streaming options.
You can also use the H3 as a wireless display to stream content from smartphones, tablets and computers – although it’s not as flexible as something like an Apple TV or Google Chromecast. The H3 is not compatible with Apple’s AirPlay, nor is it recognised as a Chromecast-compatible streaming device, which means the H3’s wireless display feature is unlikely to work with some internet video apps.
Thankfully you can screen mirror using Android’s Cast feature if you enable Wireless Display. The H3 is also recognised by media player apps like 8player on iOS and AllCast on Android, for streaming content across your network.
This is where Humax’s H3 really comes up short compared to the Fetch TV Mini. With the H3 you’re faced with the same few options you’d find on something like a WD TV Live: Netflix, YouTube and TuneIn along a smattering of other third-rate apps not worth mentioning.
Unfortunately the H3 isn’t designed with Australia in mind and doesn’t feature catch up TV apps from Australia’s five free-to-air broadcasters. Nor can you use the HbbTV FreeviewPlus catch up services, as you can on the Humax PVR in the lounge room, because the H3 box lacks a TV tuner.
You also miss out on Fetch’s ability to tap into streaming content from Optus and Stan (co-owned by Fairfax Media), plus you miss out on Fetch’s own movie rental service and pay TV channels.
The H3 is far more useful in UK, where owners can tap into streaming pay TV services. It’s hamstrung in Australia, there’s a built-in VPN client which you might be able to put to good use but it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth.
So what’s the verdict?
The H3’s ability to stream live and recorded television will be a welcome addition to some homes, although it’s important to appreciate its limitations and consider your requirements before taking the plunge.
To be honest the Fetch TV Mighty/Mini combo is hard to beat and is likely a better fit for busy households. That said, if you’re keen to watch broadcast-quality live television in bed and there’s no aerial socket at hand then the combination of Humax’s HDR-3000T PVR and tiny H3 Espresso streaming player might be what you’re looking for.