Freeview and Freesat set-top boxes: How we test set-top boxes
Which? puts TV set-top boxes to the test so we can tell you exactly what you need to know when you're buying a new one. We'll help you avoid poor reception, terrible ease of use and set-top boxes that just aren't up to the job.
We put every set-top box through the same tests - a mixture of technical lab testing and expert assessment of picture and sound quality - so we can answer the important, no-nonsense questions with confidence and give you a verdict you can trust. Read on to find out:
- What makes a Which? Best Buy set-top box?
- How we test set-top boxes to find the best?
- How we'll identify which set-top box you should buy?
What makes a Best Buy set-top box?
We test all new releases of set-top box for all TV platforms: Freeview, Freeview HD, Freesat, Sky Digital, Virgin and BT Vision. We also test TV streaming devices such as Apple TV that bring Smart TV services and extra TV content to your TV using your home broadband network
Rigorous, detailed testing is the hallmark of a Which? review and all set-top boxes go through an extensive laboratory test over a six-week period to ensure that our Best Buys represent the very best you can buy and are products that won't let you down.
How we test set-top boxes
Each set-top box through a raft of inventory checks, technical tests and subjective picture and sound quality tests to ensure that everything is up-to-scratch before being passed to our ergonomics team who see how easy they are to use. At the heart of this testing is our assessment of the Electronic Programme Guide or EPG.
Electronic Programme Guide (EPG)
The electronic programme guide (EPG) is the control-centre for a set-top box. Selecting channels, accessing programme listings and even programming an attached DVD recorder can all be done via the EPG, so this is a vital feature that our experts spend a long time scrutinising.
The way manufacturers choose to display these varies enormously – we’ve seen excellent examples but come across some complete nightmares too.
The layout is paramount – the number of channels and time period they can display on screen varies and this can have a bearing on how easy it is to navigate around and find the information you want.
Some only show information on a single channel, while others show far more making it easier to plan your evening’s viewing. Some also handily display a mini-screen of the channel you're watching, even when you're accessing the channel listings.
Other EPGs blot out the picture completely, while many take a halfway approach and overlay a translucent EPG on the picture beneath, though this can make them hard to read.
EPG load time
We also measure how quickly the EPG can load the TV listings information – a good box will do it in around 10 seconds, but a bad one can take several minutes or even longer, which can be very frustrating. Similarly, we measure the speed of the text services. This too can vary significantly between boxes depending on how much memory they’ve got and the speed of their processor.
A set-top box spends most of its life either switched on so you can watch a program or sitting in standby waiting to be used so it's vital that its power consumption isn't excessive. We check to ensure that the set-top box you buy is both kind to your wallet and the planet. Products with our Energy Saver logo use less energy.
Should I buy it?
Once we have all our test results in, we evaluate the data to determine the total test score for each set-top box. This is based on the following:
- Ease of use 50%
- Features 40%
- Power use 10%
Those models that score 65% or over are awarded Best Buy status.