When most tellies in the UK already have a Freeview tuner built-in, is there still a reason to buy a dedicated Freeview box? The new Manhattan T3-R 4K Freeview Recorder tries to answer that question – with an exclamation mark.
With a super-fast interface, smart recording of up to 600 hours and the ability to pause live TV, Freeview Play catchup apps and even support for UltraHD (4K), the T3-R is currently the pinnacle of Freeview boxes. As always, there are a few missing features I’m still hoping for, but at this price, this is the Freeview Box to beat.
The main question, of course, is whether this is the right Freeview Box for YOU. I’ll try to answer that question in this review of the Manhattan T3-R.
Manhattan T3-R - Quick Look
Who Is It For: People who are looking for a much-improved Freeview experience, with recordings, apps and a fast interface.
Features And Specs
- Video Quality: 4K (2160p), HDR10 & HLG Support
- Sound: Dolby Digital Plus
- Channels: 70+ SD Freeview Channels, 15 HD, 25+ Radio Stations
- Recording: 300 SD hours on 500GB, 600 SD hours on 1TB version
- Dual Tuners: Record from 2 different channels at the same time
- Apps: BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, Demand 5, UKTV Play, CBS Catchup, Horror Bites, YouTube
- EPG: 8 Days (7 days backwards)
- Connections: HDMI, S/PDIF, Aerial Input
- Internet: Ethernet + WiFi
- Extra Features: “Learning” Remote can control TV, personal on-demand watchlist, YouTube casting from your smartphone.
The best Freeview recording device available today, with support for FreeviewPlay catch-up apps, 4K (which is mostly for the future), and a very fast, slick interface. No Netflix/Amazon apps, so you can’t use it as a complete streaming device.
Table of Contents
Who Is The Manhattan T3-R For?
All TV sets sold in the UK since 2010 already have a Freeview tuner built-in.
But a FreeviewPlay Recorder like the Manhattan T3-R adds two main features that are usually absent from tellies (even “smart” ones) – the ability to record shows from all the Freeview channels, and the ability to watch streaming shows via FreeviewPlay, which is an internet-based catch-up service that integrates with your Freeview Electronic Programme Guide (EPG).
What is Freeview?
Established in 2002, Freeview is the United Kingdom’s digital terrestrial television platform. The service provides access to free-to-air TV channels and radio stations, including more than 70 standard channels and 15 HD channels – and that number keeps growing.
Some of the channels you can find on Freeview are all the BBC channels (including HD), ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, The Food Network, CBS Action, QVC and many others.
And the important part: there’s no monthly cost – you buy the equipment once, and can enjoy the free programming forever. You do, however, need to pay the yearly TV licence fee in most cases.
In order to be able to watch Freeview, you need two main components: A TV Aerial (see the ones I recommend here), and A Freeview Receiver. For Freeview Play, you also need a broadband connection.
With Freeview Play, you get the normal EPG, which you can use to switch between “live” shows – but you can also use that same guide to jump directly into streaming apps like the BBC iPlayer, to watch past programmes on-demand.
The T3-R comes with a number of TV apps pre-installed: all the major TV catch-up apps – BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and more, as well as a YouTube app. Sadly, there are no Pay-TV apps for the time being, so no Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or NOW TV.
And then there’s the recording feature: without it, a Freeview device only lets you watch “live” shows, as they are aired. But with a Freeview Recorder, you can use the EPG to pick programmes to record (just like a TiVO device, if you remember those).
And because the Manhattan T3-R has two tuners, you can record two programmes on two different channels at the same time. And it even lets you record an entire series with a single button press – you pick the show on the EPG, ask to record it as a series, and all future episodes will be recorded automatically.
Another important aspect of the T3-R as opposed to a regular TV with a Freeview tuner, is the speed: Most tellies have an excruciatingly slow interface. And unfortunately, that can also be said for most of the other set-top Freeview boxes out there – they’re slow… and doing anything on the device takes ages (or at least it feels that way, with the speed of technology that we’re used to these days).
Not so with the Manhattan T3-R: it’s the fastest Freeview box I’ve seen to date. It’s even faster than the Manhattan T2-R, which is a recorder without FreeviewPlay that already impressed me with its speed last year. With a quad-core CPU, The T3-R’s speed is comparable to the newest TV streamers out there, and truly feels like a modern device, and not an ancient set-top box like some others do.
So to summarise, if you watch a lot of programmes on Freeview channels, and you’re looking to upgrade your experience with a faster interface, the ability to record shows, and a convenient integration with the UK’s popular catch-up apps, the T3-R fits the bill.
It can’t fully replace a TV streamer or a Smart TV at this point (without a Netflix/Amazon app), and it’s not a cheap device – but in its category, the T3-R offers excellent value for money.
Setting Up The Manhattan T3-R
Connecting the Manhattan T3-R is easy, and the installation is pretty straight forward. The device is rather small (265x53x207mm) and light (678g), and while it won’t exactly be the centrepiece of your living room, its shiny all-black design will fit nicely on your TV cabinet.
In the box, you’ll also find a 1.2m HDMI cable (which supports 4K), a remote control (and batteries!), a power adapter and a ‘Get Started’ guide (which you can also find on Manhattan’s website). It doesn’t come with an aerial cable – but those usually come when you buy an aerial.
On the back of the device, you have the power socket, Ethernet and USB ports, an HDMI port, an optical audio port (to connect directly to speakers/a soundbar), an aerial socket where you plug a coaxial TV aerial cable (from your indoor or outdoor antenna), and a loop-out port (so you can connect a second Freeview receiver if you want).
There are no SCART or RCA connections. Their other model, the Manhattan T2-R, has an AV minijack which you can use with an analogue converter kit to connect a SCART cable, but there’s no such minijack on the T3-R.
So while you can buy a separate HDMI to SCART converter, you will be missing some of the features, mainly 4K. So at this point, if your TV doesn’t have an HDMI port, I would say it’s time to upgrade (or otherwise not get the T3-R for the time being).
The USB port is a bit of a disappointment, as it can only be used for software upgrades. And since software upgrades are easier to do via WiFI or Ethernet, the USB port is all but useless at this point- maybe we’ll get more out of it in the future.
Connecting the T3-R to the internet is essential for using its FreeviewPlay and streaming features, and that can be done either with an Ethernet cable (connected directly to your router or via a Powerline Adapter) or via WiFi (802b/g/n). If your device is located far away from your router, you might want to look into a WiFi range booster.
Both WiFi and Ethernet worked fine for me – even with 4K videos. Generally speaking, a direct Ethernet-cable connection is faster and more stable than WiFi – but if your WiFi signal is strong, it’ll be enough.
Using The Manhattan T3-R
Being so dependant on the internet, the first thing you see when you turn on the T3-R, is the screen that asks you to connect the device to the internet. If you go with WiFi, you’ll have to enter the password using the remote, and at that point, the T3-R will also check for software updates.
Next comes the Freeview part, and assuming you have an aerial connected, the T3-R will start scanning for Freeview channels (both TV and radio stations).
As with every Freeview device, the number of channels it can find depends mainly on your aerial and on the Freeview signal and reception in your house. Once the scanning is finished, it’ll jump straight into Channel 001, which is, in most cases, BBC 1.
Reviewing picture quality in a Freeview device is tricky, because that is also dependant on the signal in your area. Bad reception can and will affect the picture quality, but I can at least say that in my area, where reception is decent, the picture and sound quality – especially on the HD channels – were excellent.
The same goes for the internet-based streaming shows (which we’ll touch upon in a second) – those have nothing to do with the Freeview signal, and they look excellent on the T3-R.
The remote is easy to use and easy to hold – though it’s a bit long, so handling it with one hand means you’ll have to keep sliding back and forth.
The buttons are well-placed, and even though there are A LOT of buttons (that’s the price of having so many features), their placement is logical, and you’ll soon remember where everything is. I kind of miss the days of remotes with backlighting – but it seems hardly anyone makes those anymore…
There’s a dedicated button for FreeviewPlay on the remote, which takes you to the main apps menu, and a “Recordings” buttons where you’ll find all the programmes/series you recorded. The remote can also be used as a Smart Remote, by teaching it your TV’s basic functions – on/off, volume control and input selection.
The first thing you’ll notice when you start moving between screens on the T3-R is the speed. Or rather, you WON’T notice it – we’re used to things working fast, and when they do, we take it for granted these days. It’s only when things chug along (try to operate your Telly’s built-in Freeview interface!), that we notice how slow they are.
Well, no such problems with the T3-R – it’s blazingly fast, even when running full apps like BBC iPlayer. Flipping between channels is also quite fast, though it’s not instant – there’s still a delay of a second or two between each channel.
Another ‘speedy’ element of the T3-R is waking it up – it has a “Sleep Mode”, which lets the device ‘wake up’ almost instantly when you turn it on, while maintaining low power consumption.
Recording With The Electronic Programme Guide
The EPG lets you see the TV schedule up to 8 days in advance, with details about every show. Once you see an upcoming show you’re interested in, you can either set a reminder for it (which will turn on the device – if you wish – and switch to the right channel), or ask the device to record it. If the programme is part of a series, the T3-R will ask you whether to record that single episode, or the whole series. It will then find every future episode of that series, and record it for you automatically.
Do note that recording a series depends on its correct tagging by the people behind the Freeview EPG. Occasionally, they mis-tag shows, and episodes from a series you’re recording might get skipped. Thankfully, the T3-R is smart enough to know that an episode is missing, and IF there’s another airing of that episode at a different date (AND it’s tagged correctly), the device will try to record it again.
The T3-R has a few “smart” recording tricks. If you ask it to record a show on an SD channel, and that channel has an HD equivalent, it can automatically record the HD version of the show instead.
Additionally, with two tuners, you can record two shows on two separate channels at the same time – but if you then want to record a third show, which is on at the same time, the T3-R will automatically look for another airing of the show, and will record it at that time.
And when you’re watching a live show, you can also pause it. So let’s say you get a phone call in the middle of a live broadcast – just press the “Pause” button on the remote, and the show will wait for you. When you resume, you can also skip forward (and rewind) within the time-frame you recorded. (At that point you can also ask the device to record the show, and it’ll be kept in the ‘Recordings’ section).
And there’s another nifty ‘live’ trick – the T3-R continuously records the channel you’re on right now (up to two hours), even if you don’t ask it to. So if you see a particularly interesting moment, and you want to rewind the live show – you can. Or you can simply rewind and start the show/movie from the beginning. (Note, however, that once you switch to a different channel, that two hour ‘buffer’ is deleted and recording starts again – for the new channel you’re on).
Just remember that recording – just like watching live shows – depends on your Freeview reception. So if you have bad reception, or if someone accidentally moved the indoor aerial, you might find out later that you have a garbled recording.
Watching your recorded content is easy – you press the “Recordings” button on the remote, and jump to the dedicated screen, where you’ll see all the content you recorded. It’s even categorised separately into tabs of ‘Series’ (where you can see all the episodes of a specific series you recorded) and ‘Movies’.
When you play recorded content, you can of course fast forward and rewind, and by pressing the “Right” button you can also instantly jump 30 seconds ahead – which is great for skipping those annoying adverts. If you keep pressing that button, playback will jump ahead in bigger increments.
Skipping forward and back is very smooth, and playback will only stutter for a second. Additionally, a “Go To” button lets you jump to an exact point in the recorded content – very useful if you’re looking for something specific.
The T3-R also has great support for subtitles and audio descriptions – if you watch a show with subtitles (which can be turned on and off easily with a dedicated button), recording that show will keep the subtitles available – and you can again turn them on and off with the press of a button. The same goes for Audio Description, when available.
When you delete a recorded programme, it doesn’t disappear automatically – instead, it goes into a ‘Trash’ folder, where it can still be ‘saved’ if you change your mind later. Programmes from the ‘Trash’ folder will be deleted automatically if your device is running low on space, and once that’s empty, it will also start deleting older programmes. You can mark specific content as ‘Protected’ so it will never be deleted automatically.
FreeviewPlay Apps: TV Catchup And YouTube
Being a FreeviewPlay device, the T3-R has a number of TV catch-up apps that let you stream content via the internet. The beauty here is that these apps are integrated into the EPG, so you can ‘go back in time’.
So not only can you check the EPG 8 days ahead and mark shows for recording – you can also check the EPG up to 7 days backwards. And if a show/movie that aired last week is available on one of the catchup-apps, you can immediately jump to it and start watching from within the EPG.
Furthermore, if you stumble upon a live show that you’re interested, and that show is available on one of the catchup apps, you’ll see a notification that lets you press a button and start that show from the beginning, using the appropriate app.
You can also add shows to a special ‘Watchlist’, where all the catchup-shows you regularly watch – from different apps – will be waiting for you.
If you want to find specific shows to watch, you can do so via the global search button. You enter the name of a show (or even just a part of the name), and the T3-R searches within all the catch-up apps, and lets you see all the available episodes. When you select an episode, the appropriate app will automatically start with the right episode ready to play.
(Sadly, the search function doesn’t support searching within the EPG or the recorded shows, for now. Manhattan are saying they are aiming to launch this feature by the end of the year).
You can also access the streaming apps directly – most of them require free registration, though you’re better off registering on your PC or phone, and then just sign-in on the TV.
The apps vary in how easy to use they are – these are all “official” apps that are available on other devices as well. BBC iPlayer is wonderful to use, the ITV Hub is also quite decent, but All 4 and Demand 5 could use some work. With the upcoming launch of the BBC and ITV’s BritBox, it’ll be interesting to see whether their app will find its way to the T3-R.
It’s important to remember one major difference between recording a programme and watching it via a catchup app – the adverts. You can’t skip them when you watch via an app. So you’re going to have plenty of ad breaks on the apps of channels like ITV and Channel 5.
In addition to the TV catchup apps, you also get a YouTube app and a YouTube Kids app. If you then sign in to your YouTube account, you will be able to use your smartphone to find videos or playlists to watch, and “cast” them from the phone directly to the TV screen.
And even though the T3-R doesn’t have a full “Google Play” app, there’s a nifty workaround – you can use the YouTube app to watch content you purchased on Google Play. So you can buy a film/TV Programme from Google Play on your phone or PC, and then watch it on the T3-R via YouTube.
4K UltraHD On The Manhattan T3-R
The Manhattan T3-R supports 4K (UltraHD) and HDR content, but for the time being, you won’t get to use it much.
Last year, the BBC ran a trial with some 4K content on iPlayer – namely World Cup games, Wimbledon matches, as well as Blue Planet II and Dynasties. While these looked spectacular, those trials are now over, and you can’t even watch the archived versions of Blue Planet II and Dynasties in 4K.
And while the BBC is promising more trials in the future, we’re not there yet. So as of this writing, the only 4K content you can watch from the BBC, is a 7-minute test clip you can find hiding in the app’s settings. It looks great, yes – but it’s pointless.
So that just leaves YouTube. If you search for “4K” on YouTube, you’ll find some interesting content – mostly nature clips and 4K movie trailers. It all looks stunning, but it’s mainly a screensaver replacement and not content you’re actually going to sit down and watch.
One exception is the Google Play/YouTube workaround I mentioned, so you can also buy 4K films on Google Play – and watch them here, in 4K, via the YouTube app.
Ultimately, buying a Freeview device with 4K support is sort of future-proofing your purchase. We hope the BBC (and other channels) will start offering more 4K content. And if Manhattan does manage to add Netflix and Amazon Video apps to the mix at some point, you’ll instantly have a big library of 4K films and TV programmes to watch.
Bottom Line – Is The Manhattan T3-R For Me?
With the release of the T3-R, Manhattan now have a device in every Freeview category:
- A cheap entry-level Freeview box, the Manhattan T1.
- A Freeview Recorder box without apps, the Manhattan T2-R.
- A Freeview Play box that also serves as a (limited) streaming device, but with no recording capabilities – the Manhattan T3.
And now – the T3-R, which combines ALL these features in one very affordable device. So at this point, if you’re looking for a Freeview box, I would say the real decision is whether you want something cheap and basic – like the T1 – or a full-featured box that will upgrade your Freeview experience, like the T3-R.
The interface is a joy to use, the “smart” recording capabilities make it easy to record content, and the slick integration between the regular EPG and the catchup apps makes you feel “in control” of all the Freeview content out there.
I still wish the T3-R could serve as a complete streaming solution, with the inclusion of apps like Netflix – but combining this device with a Smart TV or a cheap streaming stick, will solve that problem for now.
As of this writing, this is the best Freeview experience you can get – assuming you’re interested in content from Freeview channels, and are willing to pay the one-time price of the device.
Note: The T3-R was supplied by the manufacturer for this review. As always, this did not influence my unbiased opinion of the product.