Looks nice review.
Every once in while something comes along in the world of electronics and promises to be a game changer.
You've had miniature marvels that turn things upside down and inside out and have their competitors running in fear. Sony once did it with the Walkman, Apple did it with an iPod (and then later again with the iPhone).... and so it now comes to the world of satellite.
VU+ gives you the Solo2
For those already familiar with VU+ models, this is their latest and new shrunk to size powerhouse of a receiver.
The packaging is pretty much the same as always. A friendly recyclable cardboard box with a commitment emblazoned upon it to make a donation from their profits to children's welfare institutions.
You will notice the sticker that the outer box wears. It's a 'badge of pride'. The receiver unashamedly professes to be the fastest twin pvr satellite receiver on Earth. The package may appear deceptively diminutive on the outside but that claim certainly alludes to what lies within.
As you can see everything comes very neatly and professionally packaged.
It's a handsome receiver. Beauty is not just skin deep though as this is undoubtedly a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Profile view makes a style statement.... like a smiling assassin
The rear of the box harbours all the AV connections. You'll notice the all important twin tuners, Ethernet, HDMI, USB socketry. The Solo2 also heralds a first for the VU+ range which is an external PSU socket.
The departure from an internal PSU has it's pro's and cons. Internal means everything is housed in a singular package. An external PSU has many upsides though. There is no unnecessary heat build up within the machine and should your PSU ever fail on you, it's a far simpler job getting an external replacement for sure.
The Solo2 draws 3.5A on 12V.
Onto the accessories, here you get an external PSU, HDMI & SATA cable, remote control and some batteries thrown in for good measure. You will also notice a small pack of HDD mounting screws. The Solo2 has the ability to mount an internal 2.5" HDD, something it's predecessor could not do. This really makes the Solo2 a very competent PVR proposal for satellite enthusiasts.
The receiver retains much of the Solo's original footprint. For those not familiar with it's sizing here is how it ranks alongside a genuine Dreambox DM800HDSE
Another size comparison for you to marvel at. The best of technology harnessed in the smallest of packages
The VU+ remote is the same as the programmable type supplied with the Solo and Duo. This is no bad thing. It is perfectly sized and very tactile. If you thought the Solo, Duo or Ultimo were responsive (and they are) you've got another thing coming here for sure. In short the VU+ remote and the Solo2 are very responsive indeed.
The only other tactile remote that I personally favour is the Dreambox Omikron, that however is of course for Dreamboxes only.
Whilst there are two USB2 ports at the rear of the machine, you will find another one behind the front drop down flap. You can for example attach an external HDD on the rear USB's. The front USB is especially handy when you plan to upgrade the firmware and images. In time you will come to appreciate this accessibility. There is of course a twin card reader built into the Solo2.
The front flap is held in place magnetically. It feels robust and is in pretty much the same ilk as that found on the Ultimo.
There are 3 screws on the rear panel and a screw on either side panel. If my maths is correct, that makes 5 to remove in total ?
et Voila...Pandora's box reveals all. It's as beautifully clean on the inside as it's lines on the outside suggest
As you can see very efficient and clean. You can see the HDD mounting tray. This is seated by 3 holding screws. Unlike many other receivers such as the Dreamboxes the HDD tray in the VU's always feels more solid and workmanlike. This is no exception. Just above the heatsink you will see the SATA port to connect your HDD to. To the left of it are four Nanya chips (presumably the 1Gb DDR) surface mounted to the main board. Under the heatsink you will find the dual core 1.3Ghz Broadcom processor. Size makes for nothing without speed and agility. This is the real powerhouse at the heart of this receiver and this processor takes this tiny box to gargantuan heights. Satellite enthusiasts will soon come to appreciate the watershed that this marks. We are entering a whole new era of power and performance.
Believe me we are talking the stuff that legends are made of....
Removing the tray makes it a simple task to install a 2.5" HDD. Choose yourself a decently sized 5400RPM HDD and install carefully. It's worth getting a decent reliable brand. After all much of your media within the machine will reside here and it's best to go with something that is reliable from the outset.
From the flick of the power switch, the time taken to cycle to boot up to the splash set up screen was a mere 34 secs (pre-installed image). This thing is like Usain Bolt on a mission....
Other than a blinking LED the Original Solo was a 'blind' machine. Thankfully, the Solo2 has a rather more informative 12-digit VFD display. It's not in the league of the Ultimo but it's a welcome addition nonetheless.
HDD installation and mounting is a breeze. As you place the HDD tray back there are raised guides on the mount points....nice touch VU+. It is here you'll begin to appreciate the finer qualities and attention to detail of the Solo2.
Plug the HDD power connector into the socket on the board behind the power switch (it is also guided to prevent foolproof installation). Plug the SATA connector onto the main board and the connector assembly into the HDD itself....everything goes in with a re-assuring click and has the feel of a quality product throughout.
Placing the lid back on the receiver you'll feel the guides on the sides of the chassis. The side panels ease over the lip and the lid then slides gently back into place.
Those of you who may have built PC's before will appreciate the well thought out chassis and pay a homage to those clever chaps at VU+. This is a receiver built with some deep know how. We are talking real attention to detail. The build quality is superb.
Whilst the pre-loaded VU experimental image will get you up and running, the more adventurous amongst you will head for Blackhole and the like to reach all that an E2 Linux box like this can offer.
Transfer your chosen image file to USB, plug in and hard reboot the receiver. The box asks you to confirm so by tapping the touch sensitive standby button. It then goes on to do it's thing and reboots itself into life once the flash procedure is done.
I was able to load the very latest BH 1.7.9 v3 via USB from boot to update to reboot in about 1 minute. To put that into perspective that's a chunky 103Mb fully loaded HbbTv image booted and loaded into flash, ready to go in around a minute. That's pretty impressive.
Thankfully you are not shortchanged in the performance stakes. It runs at a blistering 1.305 Ghz and 869.37 BogoMIPS.
Barely having time to get my breath back I find BH are already using updated drivers. The support for the machine is flying almost as fast as the machine itself and although it's early days transcoding on the fly is already enabled. This bodes well for the future for those looking to stream to external devices on the fly.
A quick gander at some of the ARD HD channels on 19.2E also confirms that HbbTv is working fine. HbbTv can be a resource strain and only 28% of memory appeared being utilised at the time. The Solo2 just laps it all up in it's stride. It also plays 1080p MKV's very smoothly. It runs a Gigabit LAN adaptor and on my network I was able to transfer an 8gb file to the machine in around 10mins.
The combination of price, support and hardware is very likely to become a marriage made in heaven....probably irresistible to many. New features and further stability is pretty much assured. Furthermore if VU's recent track record is anything to go by then this is simply going on to become a phenomenal machine.
It is labelled as the 'Multi-Talented Twin HD PVR' and the 'Fastest Twin Tuner PVR on Earth'...to be honest both are a bit of a mouthful and I'll sum up the box a little more succinctly...it's a Game Changer
A very well done must also go to the BH team. They are truly on it. They've got HbbTv working off the bat and in as many days VU have released them updated drivers and the much vaunted transcoding feature has been enabled. That's pretty good going by all accounts.
Hopefully my brief review has been useful and whetted the appetite for one of the most eagerly sought after satellite receivers there has been for a long, long while.