The RTE Digital TV Switchover and a Xoro DTV-M5 Review

I recently wrote about our switch away from Sky and on to Freesat and Saorview using the Ariva 120 Combo box. After initial success I can no longer recommend that box to anyone. It crashes constantly, it loses channels and its recording features are worse than agricultural. Actually, I’ve come to the conclusion that it must be faulty it’s that bad, so I’m returning for repair and will report back.

However, it it critically important that anyone who relies on their standard roof aerial to get RTE, TV3 etc knows what is happening on Dec 31st 2012. Whilst there have been Saorview flyers in the post and the Dept of Communications has put together this horror of a web-site, I have severe doubts that those whom it will affect most are even aware of the analogue TV shutdown. My biggest concern is that older people are the ones most likely to be still using non-digital TV and they simply won’t know that the switchover is happening.

I strongly recommend that if you know anyone who is not on Sky/UPC/etc and is still using a roof aerial to get their small set of channels, let them know they need to move to a digital receiver in the next 12 months. In fact they can move now, since the Saorview service is working really well.

Given the dire financial situation in the country, any extra cost on people is going to be a strain so I was thrilled when Barry from tvtrade.ie contacted me about the Xoro DTV-M5 Digital TV Receiver. He had read my review of the Ariva and wondered if I would review their inexpensive Xoro box for them. At €49 for a fully-functional Irish Terrestrial DTV box, of course I said yes. He shot me down a review unit for free a couple of days later and I’ve been beating it up for the past few weeks.

Short aside: I need to clarify the difference between “Saorview” and Irish DTT. You will see a lot of boxes on the market like the Xoro that are labelled Irish DTT or Irish Digital TV but which are not Saorview-certified. You shouldn’t worry about this in the slightest. Either the boxes obey the relevant standards that Saorview uses or they don’t. If they don’t, you simply return the box for a full refund. It’s a bit like saying your PC is certified to access the internet. That’s why we have Standards in the tech world. The key thing with Saorview is that the box can decode MPEG-4 video and can display the Programme Guide (EPG). The Xoro does both perfectly.

First the basics. The really nice thing about Saorview is that if you have an alright RTE aerial signal now, you literally unplug the aerial lead from the back of your TV, plug it into the Xoro box, plug a Scart or HDMI lead from the Xoro back to your TV and you should now be receiving RTE, TV3, TG4 and some other stations (not UK) in crystal clear digital. You also get a bunch of Irish radio stations in digital too. It really is that simple. In fact, even if you have a buzzy RTE signal, it’ll probably work perfectly and fuzz-free for Saorview.

Now on to the Xoro box itself. It’s tiny! I love getting neat units like this which can fit into the smallest nook or cranny. The front panel has just Power, Channnel+, Channel- and USB. I really wish all the box manufacturers would put the USB on the side or the back but most have it on the front. More on USB later.

This picture shows its size compared to an XBOX (excuse the messy cable setup, I moved it quickly between rooms last night so the kids could watch the Toy Show):

Usage is dead simple simple and the box goes from off to showing a TV programme in a couple of seconds. You can channel change up/down as you’d expect and Saorview has a 7-day Programme Guide, so you can see what’s coming-up on-screen. You can use Scart (for older TVs) or HDMI (for LCD/Plasma) to connect to the TV. It handles all the various picture resolutions up to 1080p but I’m pretty sure nothing on Saorview is at that high-res yet. There is teletext handling there too but as it’s not 1987, I didn’t bother check. The remote is fiddly compared to a Sky+ one but is fine and you get used to it in a few minutes.

Like all Irish DTT boxes, the TV channel list is as follows:

  • RTE One
  • RTE Two HD
  • TV3
  • TG4
  • 3e
  • RTE News Now
  • RTE Jr
  • RTE One +1
  • RTE Aertel Radio is as follows:

  • RTE Radio 1

  • RTE 2fm

  • RTE Lyric fm

  • RTE Radio na Gaeltachta

  • RTE 2XM

  • RTE Choice

  • RTEjr

  • RTE Gold

  • RTE Pulse

  • RTE Radio 1 Extra The bit that really impresses me with the Xoro is the USB/PVR. Basically you plug a portable USB harddisk into it and you now have the ability to pause/play/record/timer-record anything that is being broadcast. The overall setup is similar to Sky+ but obviously isn’t going to be as slick. Unlike the hell that is the Ariva 120, it all works really well including getting the programme name right (helllllo Ferguson, can you sort that out?).

I did have issues with one harddisk but it turns out that this is a very common problem. Harddisks of around 500GB capacity that are USB-powered struggle to get enough juice from many USB ports. In fact my troublesome one doesn’t work on any of my PC’s USB hubs either, I have to use a split-cable for it. The same split-cable trick worked on the Xoro. In general (not Xoro specific) you should either use a smaller less power-hungry HDD, which are hard to get, or use one that has it’s own power supply. Also these set-top-boxes prefer to format the harddrive themselves. It only takes a second.

If you have a bunch of media files (movies, tv, music), you can copy them onto the harddisk and the media player on the Xoro should be able to handle them no matter what the format. I tried an SD AVI, a 720p x264 MKV and a 1080p AVI and they all worked perfectly.

There’s not much more to say. It’s a very impressive piece of kit at a shockingly low price and no-one should have any hassle figuring out how to use it. If anyone asks me to recommend an Irish DTT box from now on, I’ll point them to the Xoro.

And please, let older relatives and neighbours know that the switchover is coming and they need to get a DTT box. In the UK they are doing information days and a travelling roadshow across the country to let people know. What are they doing here?

 

 

Conor O'Neill

Tech guy who likes running slowly

Bandon, Cork, Ireland http://conoroneill.com