Equipment Review No. 2   June 2002


Hughes Network Systems’ Platinum HD
High Definition Receiver

Hughes Network Systems
11717 Exploration Lane, Germantown, MD 20876
1-301-428-5500; or visit www.hns.com

Platinum HD Selected Specs:
**S.R.P.: $799.99
**Dimensions: 2.75”H x 13”W x 11”D
**Weight: 4.65 pounds
**Enhanced menu speed
**Supports all ATSC digital broadcast formats
**Multiple screen display format options
**Receives HDTV signals from both DirecTV and terrestrial sources

High definition is the most exciting improvement to consumer television since the advent of color. As prices have become increasingly more affordable on HD-ready televisions, consumers are eager to take full advantage of these new sets’ display capabilities. But in order to do this, a separate HDTV tuner box must added to decode the incoming digital signal. Depending on the manufacturer, these tuner boxes can decode signals from satellite sources, terrestrial sources (land-based, local broadcast stations), or both.

Hughes Network Systems is a leading manufacturer of consumer satellite systems. One of its most recent offerings is the Platinum HD receiver. In addition to being able to receive standard DirecTV programming, this receiver is also capable of displaying HDTV programming from both satellite and terrestrial sources. (Note: consumers must have an elliptical satellite dish and subscribe to DirecTV in order to receive its standard satellite and HDTV programming). Here in Central Florida, four local stations are broadcasting some programming content in high definition (NBC 11, CBS 58, ABC 39, and WB 17). Because this terrestrial type of broadcast is free for everyone to receive (other than the cost of an antenna), I will be taking a look at the Hughes Platinum HD receiver’s performance in displaying these broadcasts. First, however, I shall briefly examine the unit’s features and connections.


Features
The Platinum HD receiver supports NTSC and all ATSC HDTV and DTV broadcast formats. It converts all video signals sent through its component connectors to 1080i and all video signals sent through its composite or S-video connectors to 480i. The receiver also allows the user to select television screen size (4:3 or 16:9) and image shape (full, cropped, letterbox, or side panels). Other notable features include turbo video accelerator technology (resulting in very quick onscreen functionality); an RF/infrared remote control; advanced program guide and Caller ID capability.

Connectivity
The Platinum HD receiver has a variety of connection options sufficient to accommodate almost every home theater setup. On the video side, this unit has one set of component video outputs (Y-Pb-Pr), one S-video output, two sets of composite video outputs, one RF antenna input, and one satellite input with diplexed RF antenna input. On the audio side, the Platinum HD has two sets of analog outputs and one optical digital output. The optical digital output enables Dolby Digital signals to be passed through to an external receiver or processor for decoding.

Performance
I auditioned the Platinum HD receiver with our reference equipment which consists of a Pioneer Elite VSX-33TX A/V receiver, Pioneer SD532-HD5 rear projection HDTV-ready monitor, and BIC America’s V636 5.1 channel speaker system. I had initially encountered some difficulty in receiving terrestrial HDTV signals here in Central Florida. This had nothing to do with Hughes receiver, but rather with the very nature of over-the-air signals. Digital TV reception is an all or nothing prospect in that you either receive a perfect picture or no picture at all. I discovered that when the signal strength for a particular station dropped below 50 (on a scale of 0 to 100), the TV picture would fail to display. After experimenting with several different models of antennas, I was unable to find an outdoor type antenna that would continuously maintain sufficient signal strength for all four HD digital stations simultaneously. One particular indoor antenna, though, was able to pick up all of the stations at a signal strength of 100 after minimal tweaking. This antenna, the Recoton TV800, is a tabletop VHF/UHF powered antenna with separate adjustable gains for both bands.

Once I was able to receive the HDTV signal, the overall resulting picture was nothing short of stunning. Pictures take on a three-dimensional appearance and nearly jump off the screen. Furthermore, contrast is deeper and colors are richer and brighter than anything I had previously witnessed. I found myself watching sitcoms that I would normally never watch simply to marvel at the incredible picture quality of these HDTV broadcasts. That being said, all HDTV broadcasts are not equal. Generally speaking, I found programming that is recorded by a HD camera and played back in a native 1080i format to be far superior to broadcasts that must be upconverted to 1080i. However, despite whether it is a native or upconverted HD signal, the end result is that any form of HDTV blows NTSC signals completely away.

With regard to audio qualities (using the Platinum HD’s digital optical output), I found that some HDTV programming was broadcast in Dolby stereo (which our Pioneer A/V receiver converts to Dolby Pro Logic surround), while other programs were broadcast in full Dolby Digital 5.1 channel surround. Both audio formats had excellent clarity and depth but the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks were more dynamic with better channel separation.

Conclusion
The Hughes Network Systems’ Platinum HD receiver is a great choice whether you are currently the owner of an HDTV-ready television anxious to experience HDTV, or if you are someone who simply wants standard satellite now and HDTV later. This receiver does a superb job decoding local terrestrial digital signals and it provides all of the features and connections necessary to perfectly complement even the most high-end home theater system. Priced at $799 and backed by Hughes’ two-year warranty, it is a solid deal that you can’t afford to pass up. On behalf of Entertainment Gazette, I am proud to include the Platinum HD receiver among our reference home theater equipment.

- Calvin Harding Jr.

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