Following on from their successful range of audio products, Pure has entered the TV arena with its Avalon 300R Connect Freeview+ HD box with BBC iPlayer, YouTube and PURE Connect access.
Available in two configurations; a 500GB model for £300 and a 1TB (as reviewed here) model for £350, the Avalon 300 is a departure from the norm with fast and snazzy animations and channel-changing transitions.
Most set top boxes are usually only as fast as deemed necessary to provide a service, with the chipsets being ancient and slow. We’ve all become used to pressing buttons on the remote and waiting for the system to catch up.
The speed boost on the Pure box is thanks in part to being part of Imagination Technologies, the same company that produces the PowerVR graphic processors, meaning it is faster and more responsive than a lot of devices on the market.
It also allows some rather ‘interesting’ animated transitions when changing menus or even changing channels, as well as other 3D effects that can be seen when using the picture-in-picture mode to view another channel in a small inset image while scrolling through channels on the now & next box.
The box is set up to offer access to Freeview+ HD content, recording up to two broadcasts at any one time, while also giving access to on demand content from the BBC and YouTube.
Thanks to Pure’s heritage in music and radio, there’s access to the Pure Connect service that gives access to Internet radio, on demand content, podcasts, and music tracks available via an optional Pure Music subscription.
Once connected to your TV, you can then connect other HDMI devices into the back of the Pure box – which comes with a staggering four inputs!
If your TV only has the one input, this saves on the need to buy a separate switcher box and is another big benefit.
It means that in addition to the box itself, you have plenty of room for another set top box (e.g. Sky), Blu-ray player or game console.
In order to benefit from the Internet based content, you will of course need to get your box connected to the net. On the back of the unit you’ll find an Ethernet port, but the Avalon also includes Wi-Fi.
This is a real plus over the YouView boxes that lack this increasingly essential connection method, forcing you to run cables or buy extra hardware (such as a powerline adapter) if the box is nowhere near your router.
You’ll also find other ports, including stereo audio out (phono connectors), the obligatory antenna connectors (in and out) and two digital output connectors, optical and coaxial.
The one thing you’ll be using a lot more than anything else is the remote control, and the Pure remote has a lot of shortcut keys, which is always useful, but also makes for a rather cluttered remote.
It’s certainly not a remote that Apple would have designed, although it’s fair to say that Apple has probabably gone too far to the other extreme with its Apple TV remote!
However, over time it does begin to grow on you and you will appreciate quick access to the on demand applications, or to your music and radio.
The remote is light too, although the dark design makes usage in the dark a little tricky as there’s no key illumination or glow-in-the-dark decals.
I suspect a lot of Freeview boxes will be secondary boxes for spare rooms and bedrooms, often with Sky or Virgin Media boxes in the main living room, so designers should consider the fact that many remotes are going to be used in dark environments a lot of the time.
It’s pretty easy to navigate around the box, with a clear menu that scrolls left and right. Within the planner you’ll find a fairly standard Freeview+ guide, while the box also does useful things like tell you if there’s an HD broadcast of the same programme (not a unique feature, sure, but still worthy of a mention). The usefulness of this is of course limited by the lack of HD channels in the UK at the moment, which might be changing later in the year.
The imapact of conflicts, which might happen fairly often at ‘prime time’ (given there’s only two tuners on the box) can be reduced as the box will seek out future broadcasts and recommend recording those instead, allowing you to ensure you don’t miss something that is only shown once.
When watching a problem, the info key presents the synopsis of the show. It’s here that the choice of text size is rather odd, with tiny text that will make the use of this box on a bedroom TV of say, 24 or 26-inches, quite a challenge. The pastel colours also makes it harder to read than it otherwise might have been.
Given the use of large graphic boxes and menus elsewhere, which are perhaps too large and will look rather silly if you’ve got it running on a 55-inch LCD. It might have been good to have seen some more settings to customise the screen layouts, in addition to being able to manage the animations.
Nevertheless, the picture quality overall is as good as you can expect from some heavily compressed Freeview channels and it’s quick to change channel and move around. All things considered, you won’t have any real issues once you get fully accustomed to the user interface.
The one issue with the box, perhaps the first thing that starts to put a dampener on the whole system, is that once you’ve gone into the interactive services menu you’ll only see two choices. BBC iPlayer, which is probably regarded as one of the most important, and YouTube.
YouTube might be fine for checking out the millionth Harlem Shake video, but what about access to the other terrestrial broadcaster catch up services? What about Now TV? What about Netflix?
Whether you regard the BBC as being a prestigious broadcaster or not, there are definitely going to be broadcasts from ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 that you’ll also want access to. And if you’ve got a subscription to one of the many services that gives unlimited access to huge libraries of movies and TV series, this box will leave you wanting.
Nor does the box allow you to easily view iPlayer broadcasts within the main guide, as you can with a YouView box. There’s no ability to go ‘back in time’ and so iPlayer is very much an add-on that isn’t really integrated particularly well.
The only consolation is that with so many HDMI inputs, you can easily hook up another box to the back – such as a Roku, Apple TV (for Netflix) or Google TV and satisfy your viewing needs that way.
Back to the start
Like with many other boxes where iPlayer is an application that runs on top, it’s all too easy to make the mistake of assuming you can manage playback like a normal TV broadcast. If you should find yourself wanting to change channel to check on something else, or simply go into the menu, you must re-load iPlayer to continue.
This then requires scrolling through the menus, or doing a search to find the programme you were watching, which then gives you the chance to resume from the moment you left.
It’s a mistake you hopefully won’t make too often, and although it is perhaps unfair to single out this box for doing something almost every box does, it would have been nice to see some attempt made at improving on an issue that affects most on demand services.
By comparison, Sky integrates the iPlayer and other content into the standard programme guide so you can resume just like any other broadcast (something even YouView boxes can’t yet manage).
A Pure experience
If you’ve got a Pure Connect account, you’re in for a bit of a treat. Android or iOS users can benefit even more by downloading the free app to access and share music from your smartphone or tablet to the box too.
Pure Connect is an account that allows you to save your favourite radio stations (from a huge list of Internet-based and live broadcast radio stations) and subscribe to premium services, like Pure Music. This offers access to streamed music with millions of tracks to choose from.
On the radio side, something where Pure has established a strong reputation, you can easily scroll through a huge range of radio stations and also listen to highlighted events and shows with the catch-up feature.
It might seem to many to be odd to listen to the radio through a television, a feeling that has existed for as long as digital receivers have offered access to radio, but there is far more information available on what’s on via a TV than a normal radio.
In addition, the use of the app makes it even more useful and it would be great to see Pure working on making the rest of the box controlled via the app, such as scheduling recordings or even using the app as a virtual remote control.
The lack of services beyond iPlayer and YouTube does impact on the overall appeal of this box over competitor products, but the addition of Pure Connect offers access to the unrivalled music service from a company that knows a thing or two about digital radio and music.
It seems like Pure has had little trouble progressing into the world of TV, but despite having the powerful processor and GPU features, the user interface actually isn’t as great as I hoped.
The transitions are pretty tacky, harking back to the late 1980s when everyone was amazed not by the transitions, but the fact that they were even possible. Then in the 1990s, such effects were ridiculed by the likes of The Day Today and they’re no less tacky today.
Once turned off (or you opt for a more basic one, like a simple fade), you are left with a box that performs well even if some of the text is a little small and the remote control a little fiddly.
Four HDMI inputs makes this an ideal bridge between a collection of HD devices and a TV that might only have the one or two inputs. An easily accessible USB port to access your own media is another benefit, while the inclusion of Wi-Fi negates the need to buy any extra hardware or run long cables to your router. All big pluses that help justify the higher price tag of far cheaper, and more basic, boxes on the market.
That makes the Pure Avalon 300 a good choice that, with some future software upgrades and new services added to the on demand menu, could become even better. And for anyone that already uses Pure Connect with other Pure products, there’s probably little reason to hang around waiting at all.
PURE Avalon 300R Website
Prices (at launch)