KBOX K1 PROdigy Detailed Review
Thanks goes to ZT3D for this review.
The Emergence of IKS
The satellite security transition in North America from N2 to N3 has led to an increase in popularity for IKS-based brands of FTA receivers. One of the emerging brands is known as KBOX and their most recent model is the K1 PROdigy, a standard definition FTA receiver with a USB 2.0 port and PVR capabilities. It's also compatible with the K-HUB network module which allows the receiver to communicate online for things like local weather updates and more. As with any new FTA receiver, there's a lot to discover about the KBOX K1 PROdigy and this review will cover a number of topics about this model so let's begin.
What's In The Box
Aside from the receiver, the package includes a 26-page user manual, a universal remote control, a pair of AAA batteries and a set of RCA cables that provide composite video and stereo sound. A lot of the basic features of the hardware and menus are clearly explained in the user manual and an electronic copy of that manual is available on the official KBOX Team web site.
The K1 PROdigy comes with a full-sized universal remote which can control not only the STB but also a TV, VCR and DVD player. It offers the usual variety of buttons you'd find on a satellite receiver remote but if you've been using another brand's remote for a while, the KBOX design can take some getting used to. It's a fairly large remote which offers additional buttons near the middle that are used for PVR navigation.
Handling The Hardware
Aside from the usual connectivity options at the back of the receiver, the right side of the front panel opens up to provide access the USB 2.0 port used for things like software downloads, uploads and connectivity for devices like external hard drives which enable the PVR functions. The RS-232 serial port on the back of the unit is what allows it to communicate with the black KHUB network module which is powered by the receiver. It can be plugged directly in to the serial port or a straight-through serial cable can be used as long as one end has male connectors and the other end has female connectors.
Settings Things Up
The KBOX PROdigy has what you'd you'd expect from a standard definition receiver when it comes to connectivity options. My preferred connection method is s-video since I find that it gives me noticeably better picture quality on my TVs when compared to basic composite video. There are also component video outputs available but you probably won't see much of a difference with that method unless you're using a high definition receiver which obviously isn't the case here.
The receiver comes loaded with KBOX factory software that can be used for true free-to-air reception. The latest factory software is also available on the KBOX Team web site. After the satellite and switch settings have been configured, you're able to scan in and watch a variety of true free-to-air content found on satellites like Galaxy 19 (97°W) and other satellites. Once the K-HUB has been connected and the network settings have been configured, the module is able to download and provide local weather infromation for a variety of cities in North America. This feature provides the current temperature and conditions along with a forecast of the next day's weather includings its high and low estimates. It is able to display temperatures in both fahrenheit and celcius formats.
For those who buy these receivers to watch more than just true FTA channels, there are third party updates available which enable support for providers like DN, BTV and Telefonica. Once the receiver is flashed with the latest third party firmware and the K-HUB module is flashed or "activated" for IKS functionality, the user is able to scan in and watch channels which are encrypted with the current generation of N3 security. Since this method relies on a regular supply of control words from an outside server, the only viewable channels are those which are subscribed to or PPV events that have been purchased on a card that's sharing the authorization keys. As such, this means that PPV movie and porn channels are not regularly viewable unless a true N3 stand-alone hack surfaces.
After the receiver's antenna settings have been configured (and network connectivity has been established for IKS) you're able to start watching channels on the receiver. The channel decoding speed on encrypted channels is usually fairly quick with most channels displaying video within a couple of seconds, but there are random delays that can result in decoding time between 5 to 10 seconds in some cases. The channels that aren't authorized for viewing display a "connecting... please wait" message that remains on the screen until the channel is changed. In some instances, this message may indicate a connection problem that either has to do with the user's network configuration or temporary technical difficulties with the IKS server.
Examining The EPG
The Electronic Program Guide (EPG) is generally blue in color and is nicely organized. Interestingly enough, it bears some resemblance to the EPG found on CoolSat FTA receivers. It includes the usual variety of information which includes 5 lines of channel information at once with one-and-a-half hour of program information displayed at a time. The upper left panel of the EPG includes a large preview window and just to the right of that is an information box that provides details for the program that's currently selected in the EPG. If you're watching a channel and hit the EPG or OK button on your remote, the receiver displays a fancy graphical effect to move the full-screen video in to a preview window and vice-versa. I've noticed, however, that doing this often can result in noticeable lagging which can even cause the active channel's audio and video to go out of sync (a problem that's only resolved once the channel is changed).
In terms of populating the guide, there are certain channels that the receiver can be left on (such as 200 or 239) to make this happen but this can take some time and the results are not very consistent. Some channels populate more fully than others but the guide information doesn't load as quickly or as smoothly as it does on ViewSat receivers, for example, even though that other brand obviously isn't as popular in sales today as they used to be during the N2 era.
Speaking of ViewSat receivers, there are certain options they provide which KBOX has yet to offer. The PROdigy has no options to customize the look or style of the EPG. The most glaring deficiency with KBOX, in my opinion, is that it does not allow you to rename channels. This is a basic feature that just about every other brand of FTA receiver includes from the start and for KBOX to leave this function out is incredibly disappointing. You might think that renaming channels is not an important feature but when you scan in true FTA channels that come with incorrect channel names (such as a number of channels on Galaxy 19), the ability to rename channels is critical to having a proper and organized channel list. This isn't necessarily a big issue for the DN and BTV satellites since the receiver comes with an option to display the "default channel name" which displays long channel names up to 19 characters in length. This may seem convenient to most users but there are numerous instances where these default channel names are completely incorrect (such as channels 211, 212, 601, 606, 610, 651) or have no channel name whatsoever (such as channels 134, 155, 206, 230, 267, 298, 470, 574, 602, 654, 655, 664, 712, 751, 775). You might think that turning the "default channel name" option off might help but unfortunately, doing this only makes things worse because channels scanned in without the default name show up as a nothing but the channel number and transponder frequency.
I'm going to suggest to the KBOX coders that having the "default channel name" option turned off should allow the receiver to scan in the proper 5-character-maximum channel names available through the satellite provider's data stream. The ViewSat receivers are capable of doing this and it's quite ideal for having the latest and proper channel names on hand. The fact that the KBOX PROdigy doesn't use a more efficient method for scanning in channel names and doesn't allow you to rename any of its channels are among the things I find most frustrating about this receiver.
It's convenient that the KBOX PROdigy allows you to upload your satellite and channel information from your receiver on to a USB stick for backup purposes, but there's no channel management software that I'm aware of which can open up the .kdb format so it makes editing the file contents practically impossible. It would be nice to see Channel Master support for this brand and receiver but that software hasn't been updated in almost a year, unfortunately.
Summarizing The Stability
The KBOX viewing experience is pretty smooth when things work... which is most of the time. If your dish antenna and network configuration is problem-free then you can generally expect FTA and IKS-authorized channels to come in and work without issues. There can be temporary connection issues here and there but these are usually solved with a hard reset using the power switch on the back of the receiver. It's important to note that with IKS receivers, there are more variables involved such as the user's Internet connection and the networking hardware used to connect the receiver. The D-Link DIR-655 router seems to work well with this receiver and authorization keys require minimal bandwidth so even if you're downloading files from the Internet at full speed, it shouldn't have any effect on your IKS viewing experience with KBOX. It should also be mentioned that while power line network adapters are convenient to use when your IKS receiver and router are in different rooms, these adapters must be plugged directly in to electrical outlets (and not in to surge protectors) in order for them to work correctly and transmit network data through your power lines.
Aside from the questionable EPG performance and out-of-sync issues that I mentioned earlier, I've noticed that my KBOX PROdigy experiences a random problem where it fails to start up after being turned on from the rear power switch but the K-HUB light turns on for some reason. I don't think this is a common problem, however, and chances are that I'll be replacing this unit soon enough since it appears to be a hardware defect.
The KBOX PROdigy is a pretty good standard definition FTA receiver that, when combined with the K-HUB, allows you to conveniently receive local weather updates and view a variety of programming on numerous satellites. The list of authorized channels is fairly extensive and a current list of those channels can always be found in the sticky posts near the top of the KBOX discussion forum at FTABINs.net. The fact that the receiver does not allow you to rename channels, however, is quite disappointing and reason enough for me to recommend another brand like ViewSat if all you're interested in is true FTA programming. As much as the KBOX PROdigy offers at this time, there's still room for improvement and it remains to be seen whether or not future firmware updates provide those improvements when it comes to things like basic functionality and EPG performance. The product comes with a 2-year warranty that the web site states is backed by authorized dealers so chances are you won't run in to much trouble if you experience problems within that time frame. I give the KBOX PROdigy a 7.5 out of 10 based on its performance at this time and continuing support from the KBOX Team.