Humax’s Aura is a Freeview Play recorder built around Google’s Android TV platform, giving it access to a host of big-name streaming apps beyond the core Freeview catch-up players.
Humax offers 2 models, one with 1TB of disk space for apps and recording which costs £249 and a 2TB option costing £279.
The box offers support for a wide range of picture and sound options including, for those with compatible equipment, 4K HDR 10 and Dolby Atmos.
In keeping with wider industry trends, there’s no support for the now seriously ageing SCART lead so your TV will need an HDMI connection, and to use the streaming services you’ll need to connect the box to the internet. Here Humax has provided maximum flexibility with support for both Wi-Fi and ethernet connections.
In addition to Freeview’s live channels and catch-up players, Aura can be used to enjoy content from premium subscription apps, and this is where the box’s support for 4K and HDR 10 comes into play.
A number of services, including Amazon Prime Video, come pre-installed and extra apps can be downloaded from the Google Play app store which is built into Android TV.
In addition to Prime Video, app highlights at launch include Disney+ and BT Sport and there’s also Google Play Movies through which you can rent and buy movie and TV shows which aren’t yet available on streaming services.
Netflix fans will be disappointed to know the service isn’t currently available, though it could be added at a later date.
Other notable absences include Apple’s subscription TV service and Sky’s Now TV.
Although you can download an app for the last of these from Google Play, attempting to run it just results in a ‘not supported’ error.
In fairness to Humax, the company has never claimed support for Now TV but this is a useful pointer that just because a service has an app in the store, you might not be able to watch on Aura so it’s definitely worth checking with Humax before buying if support for a specific service is a deal breaker for you.
Also currently missing is Britbox, however the service is due to roll out to all Freeview Play devices including Aura over the next few months.
Aura also supports selected Android games which can be downloaded and played on the big screen and there’s built-in support for Chromecast so you can push content from compatible apps to your TV.
Also present is Google’s voice assistant which can be used to search for content and to control smart home devices.
As well as making it easy to stream content, Aura allows you to record shows from Freeview. The box has three tuners meaning you can record up to four channels at once while watching another live.
The generous amount of hard drive space means you won’t need to worry about running out of room for your favourite shows.
Recordings are confirmed both by an on-screen message and through the box’s LED which switches to purple if the box is on or orange if it’s in standby. This provides immediate reassurance that your recording is underway without having to delve into menus.
If you set a recording on a Standard Definition channel you’ll be prompted to record your chosen show in High Definition if a HD version is available, but unlike on Manhattan’s T3R there’s no option to automatically do this.
Like the T3R, Aura records from the buffer meaning that if you press record part way through a show you’ve been watching it’ll record the whole programme.
There’s also an option to pad recordings so they start and end before and after the scheduled times, great for live events which you don’t want to be clipped by late schedule changes, and recordings can be displayed in either an image-based grid or a text-based list.
However, there’s no trash can so be careful with that delete button.
In a nice touch, recordings are included when using the search feature as are future listings from the programme guide (EPG) and, as is standard on Freeview Play, content from across all of the catch-up players.
Another plus is that you can search using voice so there’s no more having to scroll through the on-screen keyboard.
The Aura is a speedy performer with absolutely no lag when opening apps or scrolling through the EPG or menus, voice searches are handled pretty much instantaneously and with a high degree of accuracy.
The remote control has a solid, premium feel which balances nicely in the hand and buttons have big, clear labels which makes them easy to read.
But while there’s lots of things to like about this box there are some niggles too.
Because it’s not just an Android TV streamer or a standalone Freeview Play box, there’s some duplication.
For example, there are two homepages – a dedicated Freeview one which provides quick access to the catch-up players, EPG and recordings, and an Android TV one which provides a short cut to the live Freeview channels and catch-up apps but also includes paid-apps and links to Google’s services.
There are also four ways to access two different search functions. First up you have a dedicated Freeview Play search which, as noted above, can search the EPG, recordings and catch-up content. This is accessed via a dedicated button on the remote and through the Freeview Play homepage.
There’s also a wider Google search accessed via a button on the remote and via the Android TV homepage. Both display results in completely different ways, even when you’re searching for the same thing.
Taken together, these result in a slightly inconsistent user experience.
And while harnessing the power of Android TV has allowed Humax to offer more content options than its rivals, it also brings quirks such as the system recommending the incompatible Now TV app or suggesting that I might want to install the ITV Hub app despite it being pre-installed as one of the Freeview Play catch-up players.
I also wasn’t keen on the absence of a one-key way to skip days in the EPG. Instead you have to access a pop-up menu which allows you to then skip between days in the coming week. However, there’s no option to do the same in the backwards EPG so you’re left to just scroll manually which can get tedious.
The notable gaps in its app line-up means it’s not the one-stop solution some will have been hoping for.
The gaps can be easily and cheaply filled with a streaming device such as a Roku or Amazon’s Fire TV stick, though if you’re considering that route Aura’s asking price means it’d be cheaper to buy a standalone Freeview Play recorder and use the stick for all your subscription streaming.
But if the missing apps aren’t an issue for you, of if you already have access to them through another device, Aura is a very impressive, modern Freeview Play recorder with potential to grow.