Back in April I reviewed Manhattan’s T3 Freeview Play 4K Smart Box and came away impressed at its combination of wallet-friendly pricing, integrated catch-up content such as BBC iPlayer and All4 and, albeit limited, 4K support, although I did lament the absence of any live pause feature.
At the time Manhattan promised this would be available in a recording version of the box which has now hit shelves and they’ve sent one along for me to have a look at.
The Manhattan T3-R Freeview Play 4K Smart Recorder shares the same content options, including the ability to watch the BBC’s 4K iPlayer broadcasts, and underlying user interface as the T3 so I’ll point you in the direction of my original review for a rundown on them and kick off with a look at the T3-R’s headline addition – the ability to record:
Recording and Live Pause
Manhattan offers the T3-R in two models – one with a 500GB hard drive, enough to record up to 300 hours, and a 1TB version, ideal for those who like to build up a big library of shows and films to watch another time – which carry a recommended price of £169.99 and £199.99 respectively.
When you’re reviewing a non-recording set top box it’s impossible to escape the fact that all modern TVs include a Freeview tuner and most have at least some of the UK’s most popular catch-up apps, facts which can make it hard to explain why people should spend money on something that duplicates a lot of what they already have.
But with a recording box it’s an easier task as the recording function in most TVs sucks, requiring the user to add either an external USB stick or drive and then limiting them to recording just one show at a time.
This is an approach which has also been taken by some set top boxes which boast of offering a recording facility but lack any built-in storage or the dual tuners needed to be able to record multiple programmes.
In my view a dedicated recorder with built-in storage will always offer a better experience compared to either of the above and the T3-R operates at the top end of what the market currently has to offer.
The good impressions started when, during the very simple initial set-up process, I was asked whether I wanted all recordings to be automatically made in High Definition even if I programmed a recording while browsing the Standard Definition version of the channel in the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG).
This is something most of us have probably accidentally done at some stage, leading to the annoyance of sitting down to watch your favourite show or that big Bank Holiday movie only to discover you’re going to have to endure sub-par picture quality. By accepting the T3-R’s prompt during the setup process such frustrations become a thing of the past. It’s a fantastic feature.
Unlike some of its competitors and your TV, the Manhattan T3-R also allows you to record two things at the same time, or to record one and watch another live, meaning you don’t have to decide which of two conflicting or overlapping programmes to miss.
The good news doesn’t end there.
If you’re watching a given show and decide partway through to record it, the T3-R will record everything you’ve already watched, as well as the rest of the show, so you can watch it all back later. This is something many of its rivals can’t do.
Plus, as referenced above, the T3-R has also gained the ability to live pause shows so you can pop out of the room for a coffee or comfort break without missing any of the action.
Performance and Picture Quality
Like its stablemate, the T3-R is a speedy beast that responds well to button presses and menu choices without leaving you waiting around.
Whichever box or TV you use, picture quality for Freeview channels is always going to rely on a host of external factors such as aerial quality and signal strength, while on demand content is reliant on the speed and stability of your broadband.
But with those caveats made, I found the T3-R delivered good looking pictures and stutter-free streaming.
Box and Remote Design
The T3-R is housed in a two-tone black matt and gloss casing which will fit in nicely under your TV or within a cabinet and is well ventilated both on top and underneath so overheating isn’t going to be a problem even in the most confined of spaces.
The rear of the box houses all your connectors – aerial, ethernet, optical out, HDMI, power and a USB port, however this last one can only be used for software updates rather than for accessing music or video files on an external drive.
While that might bit of a disappointment for some, those with troublesome Wi-Fi connections will appreciate Manhattan including an ethernet port so the box can be plugged directly into a broadband router or hard wired via a home plug adapter. It also means you can quickly get the box up and running without having to sit entering long, complex Wi-Fi passwords.
The remote is essentially the same as the one that shipped with the T3, with a few buttons moved around to accommodate a new recording button plus a second button that gives one-press access to the recordings library.
While the remote is perfectly serviceable, it’s a little hollow feeling for my liking. It’s not that I want a controller to feel like a house brick, but the T3’s feels like there’s a lot of empty space inside and personally I’d prefer something either a bit thinner or for the current model to gain a little more heft.
The Manhattan T3-R is a fast, speedy and reliable box which is simple and enjoyable to use and which builds on the successes of the T3 by adding a well implemented recording feature into the mix.
Yes, the absence of Now TV, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix means the T3-R isn’t for those wanting an all in one box that can replace an array of streaming sticks and Smart TV menus.
But there are currently millions of UK homes who don’t subscribe to a streaming service – the latest Ofcom figures suggest this is true of over half of households – and many more who do but are happy switching between devices.
Anyone in those groups who is looking for a new set top box will want to check out the T3-R because it delivers one of the best Freeview Play experiences currently on the market, including a recording feature which is more flexible and useful than most of its rivals.
The Manhattan T3-R Freeview Play 4K Smart Recorder is available from Amazon.co.uk*