One of the questions I get asked often, is whether one needs to buy both a Freeview Recorder AND a streaming stick. The answer, for many people, is Yes – because those two devices serve two important – but separate functions. Until now, that is.
The Humax Aura is the first Freeview Play recorder powered by Android TV. It combines a fast and friendly Freeview recorder that can record up to 1,000 hours of television, with a 4K streaming device that offers many of the leading UK streaming services, as well as Google Chromecast support (Get the Aura here).
But everything is not perfect – mainly because some very important services are still missing (Netflix and NOW TV to name a few). So – is this the ultimate Freeview Play/Streaming device, and is it right for you?
Note: This review was originally published in November 2020, and has been updated in 2021 along with features that were added to the Aura.
Quick Look – Humax Aura 4K
What is it: A “Freeview Play” recorder powered by Android TV, with all the major UK catch-up apps, as well as some additional streaming apps and Chromecast support.
Interface & Usage
Value for Money
- Most of the major UK streaming catch-up apps and streaming services
- Google Chromecast compatibility
- Excellent video and sound quality (up to 4K/HDR)
- Fast and friendly interface
- Mobile app for remote usage
- Google Assistant via the voice remote
- A few major streaming services missing – Netflix, NOW TV and more
- Software bugs here and there
- Not cheap
Features and Specs
- Video Quality: 4K (2160p), HDR
- Sound: Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos (pass-through)
- Channels: 70+ SD Freeview Channels, 15 HD, 25+ Radio Stations
- Apps: BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, Demand 5, UKTV Play, Amazon Prime Video, BT Sport, Disney+, YouTube, Plex, and more
- EPG: 8 Days (7 days backwards)
- Recording: 1TB Model (up to 250 HD hours), 2TB model (Up to 500 HD hours), expandable via USB
- Tuners: 3 (Record up to 4 separate channels)
- Processor: Quad-core 1.8 GHz (ARM Cortex-A53), 3GB RAM
- Connections: HDMI 2.1, S/PDIF, USB 3.0, USB 2.0
- Internet: Ethernet Port / WiFi
- OS: Android 9.0 (Pie)
- Extra Features: Cast content from your mobile phone (with Chromecast-enabled apps), Voice search and Google Assistant via the remote, Personal recommendations on the home screen, a Kids Zone with curated content for children, Control and stream recordings via a smartphone app.
If you’re looking to upgrade your Freeview Play experience as well as your streaming experience (compared to a Smart TV with Freeview, for example) – the Humax Aura is ALMOST the ultimate device. The lack of Netflix (and NOW TV) support is a disappointment – but hopefully, this impressive and promising device will get even better with time.
Table of Contents
Who Is The Humax Aura For?
Smart TVs aim to give us everything we need these days. They have streaming apps, they have a Freeview tuner – so why bother with a separate set-top box?
The new Humax Aura is a great example of what a dedicated box can do. It’s the follow-up to Humax’ popular FVP-5000T Freeview Recorder, which did a lot of things well – but was showing its age, mainly in having a very slow interface.
So who is the Aura aimed at? First, if you have an older telly, then it’s a no-brainer: it’s much easier (and usually cheaper) to buy a dedicated box like this, than to buy a new TV.
But even if you have a Smart TV, there are things a dedicated box can do better. As a Freeview Play recorder, it can record live programmes for later watching (up to 4 separate programmes at the same time), it combines the live programmes guide with the streaming catch-up apps in a smart way, and it even lets you fast-forward the adverts.
What Is Freeview?
Established in 2002, Freeview is the UK’s digital terrestrial television platform. It provides access to free-to-air TV channels and radio stations, including more than 85 standard channels and HD channels – from the BBC, ITV, and Channel 4, to CBS, Sony Movies, QVC and many others.
Freeview, as the name implies, is FREE, without a monthly cost – but most people do need to pay the annual TV licence fee.
Freeview Play adds a streaming component, with catch-up apps from some of the leading broadcasters (like BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4 etc’). For Freeview Play, you also need to connect your compatible box to the internet (See my full Freeview Play guide).
As a streaming device, the Humax Aura has a faster interface than what many Smart TVs have these days, with a bigger selection of apps, and the Android TV interface, which is easier to use than those convoluted systems that many TV manufacturers rely on these days.
Plus, if you’re a Sky subscriber who’s looking to replace a Sky Q box with something that’s similarly easy to use and gives you access to a lot of things to watch without an expensive, long contract – the Aura is a worthy replacement.
All that being said, if you already have a good stand-alone streaming device (like the Amazon Fire TV 4K Stick, for example), and you just need a Freeview recorder – you can pay less for a Freeview-only box.
So with the Humax Aura finally aiming to give two home entertainment solutions with one device – does it excel in both of them? Let’s dig in…
Setting Up The Humax Aura
The Humax Aura is a shiny, mid-sized device (and a fingerprint magnet). With all of its features, I was surprised at how light-weight it is (764g, compared to more than 1kg for the previous Humax FVP-5000T model).
It comes with everything you would need already in the box: the remote control (with batteries), an HDMI cable, an aerial-loop cable (if you want to connect more than one device to your aerial), an Ethernet cable and the power supply.
On the top of the device, there are a few physical buttons (power, switching channels and volume) – which is useful if you misplace the remote.
There’s also a quick setup guide – it’ll get you up and running, but for some of the more advanced features, you would need the full manual, which is only available online.
On the back of the box, you’ll find the aerial “in” socket where you plug a coaxial TV aerial cable (from your indoor or outdoor aerial), aerial “out” for optionally connecting another Freeview device, an HDMI 2.1 port, Ethernet and two USB ports, an optical S/PDIF audio port (for connecting directly to speakers / a soundbar), and the power socket.
The Ethernet port is worth a mention – most streaming sticks these days don’t come with an Ethernet connection (with some, you can use an adapter which you need to buy separately). So if you don’t want to rely on WiFi for your streaming – it’s nice to finally see a streaming device that keeps the Ethernet connection around.
Connecting the Aura to the internet is obviously essential for using its streaming and Freeview Play features, so that can be done either with the Ethernet cable (connected directly to your router or via a Powerline Adapter) or via WiFi. If your device is far from your router, you might want to look into a WiFi range amplifier.
You will also notice there’s no SCART port, so if you have an older TV, that might be an issue. And while there are HDMI-TO-SCART converters out there, let’s be frank – if you have an old TV that only has a SCART port, there’s no point in buying this expensive 4K box anyway.
The USB ports can be used to connect an external hard-drive, in case you want to play media saved on a different drive – or as a way to expand the available storage for recording (but you can’t transfer recorded programmes from the Aura to an external drive).
Once everything is hooked up and you turn the power on, you will be asked to pair the Bluetooth remote control. Then, you will need to sign in with your Google account (yes, you do need one, as this is an Android TV device), and the device will download a few default apps, and offer to download apps that you were already using on your mobile phone (if it was connected to the same Google account).
Finally, the Aura will start scanning for Freeview channels. Once that’s done – you’re ready to go into the main homescreen.
Using The Humax Aura
Users who are used to a device that just offers Freeview recording – such as the old FVP-5000T, might get a bit overwhelmed when they see the Aura’s main screen for the first time.
There are two distinct interface camps in the streaming hardware world: there are devices (like the Roku) that offer a very simple, very straightforward interface that only shows you the apps you have installed.
Then there’s the, ehm, “messy” camp (for lack of a better term) – that throws everything but the kitchen sink at you (The Amazon Fire TV devices are in this camp, for example) – apps, content recommendations, banners, things you can rent, things you can buy… with the order flipping around every time you turn the device on.
The Humax Aura’s interface (and Android TV with it) is kind of in the middle: The top row of apps doesn’t change much, and gives you fast and easy access to your favourite apps. Everything else on the screen – keeps changing, according to your usage and what the device “thinks” you might like.
Note that unlike the new Google Chromecast with Google TV, which has the new “Google TV” UI, the Aura features the Android TV UI, which is different.
The top row is dedicated to your favourite streaming apps (and a live TV button) – you can move the thumbnails around, and add or remove apps from that list. This will usually be your first port of call when you want to run apps like Amazon Prime Video, BBC iPlayer, etc’.
The next rows change according to your usage and the apps you have installed. You might see video recommendations from YouTube, last-watched videos from Plex, or “recommended” movies to rent/buy from the Google Play Store.
You can always come back to this main screen using the “Home” button on the remote, which is convenient.
Speaking of the remote, it’s pretty easy to use. With so many features tucked into one box, there are understandably A LOT of buttons, and they might take some getting used to – but they’re pretty well positioned.
And then, there’s the Freeview Play interface – which sometimes feels like totally separate section.
Watching Live Freeview TV
The first thing you’ll notice when you start using the Aura’s Freeview section, is the speed. The Humax FVP-5000T was annoyingly slow: this time, however, moving through menus, and the electronic guide, and everything else – is a breeze.
If you’re used to your TV’s slow interface – this will be a revelation. Switching between live Freeview channels is still a bit slow, but not so much that it becomes annoying.
When you watch an SD channel that also has an HD version (like BBC One, for example), you will see the option to jump straight to the HD version with a single button.
The channels (especially the HD ones) look great, in terms of picture quality. But as with every Freeview device, the quality and the number of channels you have available will depend on reception in your area.
When you watch a live channel, the Aura continuously records it, even if you don’t ask it to. So if you see an interesting moment, and you want to rewind or pause the live broadcast – you can. This only works from the moment you turned on the device and switched to that channel, though, and the automatic recording is lost once you switch to a different channel (unless you tell the device to save the recording).
The Freeview Electronic Programmes Guide (EPG), which you can access with a dedicated button, lets you see the TV schedule up to 8 days in advance, with details about every show.
Using and searching the EPG is a joy: you can skip forward to a specific date, search for a programme by name, and even use a “Filter”, which will highlight content that belongs to a certain category – sports, children, movies, etc’.
And with this being a Freeview Play device, the EPG is synchronised with the official catch-up apps (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and more) – so you can even scroll “back in time” (up to 7 days), and jump straight from the guide to programmes you’ve missed.
So, for example, if you look two days back on the guide, and see an interesting programme on BBC One – with the press of a button, you can jump straight to that programme on BBC iPlayer, and stream it.
Recording On The Humax Aura
Once you see an upcoming programme or movie you’re interested in, you can either set a reminder to watch it (which will give you a visual signal at the right time) or ask the device to record it.
If the programme is part of a series, the Aura will ask you whether to record a single episode, or the entire series. It will then find every future episode of that series, and record it for you automatically.
In the settings, you can also control the “padding” time for recordings – how long before and after a scheduled programme should the recording continue (which is useful for live programmes that tend to start late or go on for longer than expected).
The Recordings screen is very straightforward, letting you find programmes you recorded by name, channel, or even day of the week. From there you can also delete things you don’t need anymore, and there’s even a special icon that lets you know a recording didn’t finish properly (because of reception issues, for example).
When you watch recorded content, you can of course rewind and pause – and also fast-forward, which is useful for adverts. Sadly, there’s no “Skip” button which will directly skip 2 or 3 minutes ahead, so you can’t jump over adverts. But you can at least scrub-ahead, or jump to a specific point in the recording.
You can also find things to watch or record on Freeview using the global search. You type down (with the remote – or with your voice!) the name of a programme, and then you will see all the Freeview Play places where that programme is available – whether it’s in the EPG (so you can set to record it), or already available to watch via one of the catch-up apps.
Android TV Apps And Google Chromecast Support
So far, we focused on the Freeview part of the Humax Aura. But, let’s not forget, this is also an Android TV streaming device.
The Android TV platform is a bit confusing. Unlike the Fire TV and Roku systems, Android TV can be a bit different on every device it’s installed on.
So, for example, some Android TV devices have a Netflix app – and the Humax Aura doesn’t. I’m told Humax is still in discussions with Netflix, so hopefully, it will be added in the future – but it’s not here now, which is a shame (And you can’t even cast Netflix from your mobile phone with the Chromecast support).
NOW TV is another strange example – the app is right there, you can install it on the device, but when you run it… you’re told NOW TV isn’t supported on this device.
So, what DO we have on the Humax Aura version of Android TV?
First, as with every Freeview Play device, you get all the major UK catch-up apps. In addition, you get Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, BT Sport, YouTube, Plex (for streaming your own media), Google Play Movies/TV and more.
With this being a 4K/HDR device, some of these services (Prime Video, Disney+ and YouTube, for example) will also give you 4K streaming – and the picture quality is great.
While you can install additional apps from the Google Play Store, don’t expect to find the entire selection you might find on your phone – the current catalogue of Android TV apps available on the Aura is a bit limited, and more will probably be added in time.
In addition to the native Android TV apps, the Aura also supports Chromecast. In a similar fashion to Google’s own Chromecast device, the Aura lets you “cast” content from your mobile phone or laptop – when you use apps that support the Chromecast platform.
So, for example, if you watch a video on your Chrome browser, on your laptop, you can often cast that video directly to the Aura and watch it on your TV.
In addition, there are some apps that don’t have a native app on the Aura – but DO work via Chromecast. The most notable example is BritBox – you won’t find it on the device, but if you install the app on your phone, you can cast the videos to the Aura via the Chromecast.
And the list doesn’t end here – you can also find VPN apps (which you can use to protect your privacy AND potentially unblock US streaming services), productivity apps, a long list of weather apps, and more.
While I still believe the Fire TV and Roku platforms have a wider selection of apps – Android TV (which might become Google TV soon) gives them a decent fight.
The Google Assistant
Last but not least, this being an Android TV device also gives you access to the Google Assistant and its voice capabilities.
The remote has a dedicated Assistant button, and once you press it, you can start “talking” to the Aura – just as you would talk to a Google Home device or the competing Amazon Alexa.
The Assistant can be used, for example, to search for TV programmes to watch – so you can say “Movies with Sean Connery“, and get results from several sources – Freeview, YouTube and Plex.
Disappointingly, the Assistant’s search function doesn’t work with the Prime Video app for now – hopefully this will be added in the future.
You can also use the assistant for everyday stuff, like checking the weather, asking about your calendar (from your connected Google account), ask to hear the news, and the list goes on and on. With this being a TV, the Assistant will talk back to you AND show relevant results on the screen.
With you having to always press a button, this isn’t as easy as having a stand-alone Google Assistant device in the room, but it’s a very nice addition.
The Humax Aura App
The app, while not very pretty in terms of its looks and user interface, is quite useful and has some very nifty features – but it’s not without faults.
First, you need to sign up for a MyHumax account. Then, you need to connect the Aura to the app – with your mobile phone and the Aura being on the same WiFi network.
I ran into some issues here, with the app first refusing to recognise my device – but after I restarted the Aura, things were suddenly OK.
The first nifty feature is that you can set recordings remotely via the app. You see the full Freeview schedule inside the app, and can then choose programmes to record on the Aura.
Then, you can also use the app to stream live content from the Aura to your phone (provided you’re on the same WiFi network – you can’t do this from outside your house).
So, say you’re in the bedroom and the Aura is in the lounge – you can watch live Freeview TV on your phone, which is being streamed from the Aura. And, you can also watch previously recorded programmes, which will also be streamed to your phone.
Additionally, you can download programmes that you recorded on the Aura into your phone, and watch them even without an internet connection.
The app isn’t without bugs – live TV was especially problematic, and didn’t always work. But it’s a nice start, and if they iron out the kinks, this app can be quite useful.
Bottom Line – Is The Humax Aura Worth It?
For years, I’ve been dreaming about a combined device that will give us an excellent Freeview Recorder AND an excellent streaming device.
The Humax Aura comes close. It shows a lot of promise – it already is an excellent Freeview Recorder, with most of the features one would hope for – but it’s not a perfect streaming device, yet.
Yes, it does a very good job with the streaming apps it DOES support – but with Netflix, NOW TV and a few others still missing – the Aura alone can’t fully replace a streaming stick.
For a suggested retail price of £249.00 (for the 1TB version), you could buy a stand-alone Freeview recorder AND a Roku Streaming Stick+, for example – and get the best of both worlds, in two separate devices.
And yet, I do believe the Aura is set to get better. Even now, if Netflix isn’t a deal-breaker for you (because you have it on your smart TV, for example), the Aura is a great future-proof investment, and one you should definitely consider.
Note: The Aura was supplied by the manufacturer for this review. As always, this did not influence my unbiased opinion of the product.