Keeping up with modern TV platforms is getting a little tricky. Where once the choice was relatively simple – free-to-air, satellite or cable – there's now a diverse market to consider, with the likes of EE TV, YouView and Freesat Freetime muscling in. How does Freeview meet the challenge of staying relevant? By introducing Freeview Play...

In a nutshell, this is Freeview as everyone knows and loves – free-to-air digital terrestrial TV and radio – reimagined for the VOD generation by offering a backwards/scrollback EPG that integrates network-delivered catchup content from the major players – BBC, ITV, C4 and Five. 'Catch-up made easy' is the Freeview Play slogan.

The usual suspect

First out of the block with a Freeview Play recorder is, almost inevitably, Humax. The STB/PVR specialist has its fingers in so many broadcast platform pies it's probably got diabetes. Panasonic TVs are also available which integrate Freeview Play.

Humax's debut PVR is the FVP-4000T. It comes in 500GB (£200, tested here) and 1TB  (£230) flavours, and in two different casings with a faux-leather top, dubbed 'Mocha' and 'Chocolate' (pictured), which basically equates to light or dark brown. Makes a change from black or white I suppose. Size-wise it's usefully compact at 28cm wide and 20cm deep. Connections run to Ethernet and Wi-Fi (necessary for the catch-up aspect), HDMI, composite AV, optical audio output, USB input and RF in/out.

Setup takes around five minutes, yet I chose to run a suggested software update, which required me to run through the whole process (including Wi-Fi password, T&Cs agreement and channel scan) all over again. Annoying.

The Freeview Play user interface at first feels pretty slick, with neat text and some appealing icons, and the handset proves good here too. Hitting the right arrow key brings up a scrollable window of current and future programming on whatever channel you're watching. Hit the left key and it flips to current and previous programming. Select a catch-up-available show (denoted by a 'play' icon), click 'OK' and you're in catch-up territory. This literally takes seconds to learn.

The same back and forth approach is employed on the Humax's EPG, although this is not quite such a hit. It shows now and next info for only five channels – scroll up or down to see more. In theory, channels are accompanied by an image from the show, but I found much of the time these were missing, replaced by a grey box. Some channels displayed 'no programme information' messages as well for some time. Compared to the swifter, more expansive Sky EPG (the class-leader in my opinion) it falls short.

To make searching easier, you can switch between TV, radio and HD sub-categories, make a favourites channel list, or edit the list to remove unwanted channels.

In addition to the EPG-integrated catchup, the FVP-4000T features an OnDemand hub accessed either via the home page or a button on the handset. This has plenty of throwaway apps (Easy Brunch Recipes 2!) and dedicated portals for iPlayer etc. Some will prefer the familiarity of these to sifting through the EPG.

There's also a section called Humax Apps. At the time of test this offered YouTube, Euronews and Internet Radio. The latter is a great bonus feature on a PVR. Netflix is promised as a future app and may have arrived now.

The killer feature for me of the FVP-4000T is not its over-the-air/IP TV mashup, but the inclusion of three tuners. This immediately elevates it beyond the rest of the Freeview PVR crop, and Sky+HD, too. Recording conflicts with a twin-tuner STB can occur regularly, and cause family meltdowns. Anything that limits this is welcome. Having three tuners means you can generally set recordings without having to worry. And due to some multiplex magic, you can (within limitations) record four channels here and watch a fifth.

You can record directly from the EPG or the pop-up now-and-next panel, but Series Linking is a somewhat hidden talent, requiring you to counter-intuitively ignore the Record button and check out options. It can also be done via the Schedule sub-section menu within the Recordings menu – any future recording here has the option to record the whole series. You can also manually set recordings here and choose to add 'padding' at the beginning and end of shows. Handy.

A final point worth considering about the Humax is media playback. MP3 and JPEG files housed on shared networked devices or USB stick are playable, and some video formats. Furthermore, non-copy-protected recordings can be shunted off the HDD to external storage if you like to archive, and Humax's Live TV app will cast TV from one of the PVR's tuners to your smart device while letting someone else still watch another channel. All useful talents.

Best in class, but...

Overall, this is a decent PVR. The cute design and form factor impress, as does the best-in-class hardware spec. Freeview stalwarts will appreciate the integrated catch-up and its recording flexibility. Usability could be improved however. Recommended, but with caveats.