It's probably fair to say that the much-hyped Freesat initiative has been something of a fiasco so far.

Much of the promised hardware has not yet materialised and, as a result, supply has failed to meet demand.

However, there are alternatives – especially if you're specifically interested in getting hi-def for free.

Freesat alternatives

Indeed, distributor Turbosat has been promoting the MVision HD200 – and its 'Combo' bigger brother, which adds Freeview DTT reception and is the subject of this review – as Freesat alternatives.

Although these receivers don't support uniquely Freesat features like the EPG, they are ready for free-to-air, hi-def channels. That means BBC HD and, thanks to a firmware tweak, the ITV HD channel that was hitherto a Freesat 'exclusive'.

In terms of other features, though, the HD200 duo goes far beyond the average Freesat offering. You get common interface capability, Conax CAM emulation and DiSEqC 1.2 dish control. And all of this for not much more than the price of one of those elusive Freesat boxes.

Solid build

The midi-sized HD200 Combo is quite distinctive-looking, with a front panel that gently slopes inwards towards a slightly recessed centre section – thereby guiding your attention to the controls and green channel-number display that live there.

Sensibly, basic menu control is available from these buttons and so day-to-day operation doesn't have to rely on the handset.

The latter is of far better quality than is the norm with satellite receivers, owing to a solid feel, good layout and the pre-programmed ability to operate many third-party TVs, VCRs and DVD players.

The same handset is used with some other MVision receivers and so some of the labelled buttons (notably DivX playback, which is sadly not supported here) have no effect.

Versatile connectivity

Behind a flap located on the receiver's right 'cheek' reside the viewing-card slot for the built-in CAM and a single CI slot. On the rear panel are a battery of terminals that nod to the Combo's flexibility.

These include HDMI and analogue component (both of which will convey 'native' hi-def or upscaled standard-def video up to 1080i), the single satellite tuner's LNB input and loopthrough output, VCR and (RGB-compatible) TV Scarts, coaxial/optical digital audio and a USB 2.0 port.

The latter is provided for firmware updates, MP3/JPEG playback and the 'back-up' or installation of channel databases from memory devices.

Turbosat told us that a future firmware version will add USB PVR functionality, if a FAT32-formatted USB hard drive is plugged in. This should be available by the time you read this.

No hi-def Freeview

Exclusive to the 'Combo' version are a terrestrial aerial input and output for the DTT tuner which, it should be made clear, is DVB-T only and will thus be incompatible with the proposed Freeview hi-def channels (which are likely to employ DVB-T2).

Internal construction – which partners a Samsung tuner with the powerful STi7100 chipset – is neat, if a little busy. Unfortunately, the receiver runs very warm; under no circumstances should its cooling vents be obstructed.

Straightforward menus

The main menus that configure the unit are nicely presented, animated gaming console-style icons being used to select one of the five main sections. As is the norm nowadays, the handset's 'coloured' buttons access relevant submenus,thereby reducing superfl uous onscreen clutter.

For the most part the menus are well-organised. There are exceptions to the rule; why the item that switches the digital audio output between PCM and AC3 (Dolby Digital bitstreams) is in the OSD setup menu is anyone's guess.