YouView pictures and hands-on
Pocket-lint first wrote about Project Canvas, YouView's orginal working title, in 2009, and Project Kangaroo, a former failed attempt by the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV to offer a unified on-demand service, in 2007, so to say that YouView has suffered a few delays would be like saying Greece is a bit skint at the moment.
So we attended today's YouView press event - with non-executive chairman Lord Sugar in attendance - with some trepidation. Were we being gathered to be told, as some speculated, that while it was still progressing nicely, YouView wouldn't be making an appearance in time for the Olympics? Distracting us with coffee and croissants to literally sweeten the blow.
No. No, we weren't.
Not only is YouView finally ready, we've actually had a full demonstration of the first set-top-box to hit the market, the Humax DTR-T1000. And it won't miss the Olympics at all, being as it'll be available in all good consumer electronics retailers in late July.
Aesthetically, the Humax box isn't a million miles away from the manufacturer's Freeview and Freesat PVRs. It's a long, flat rectangular box with lights and digital read-out. We've been told that the BT and TalkTalk STBs - both of which are partners in the venture - will look different, but inside they'll be exactly the same.
The DTR-T1000 features a 500GB hard drive (Humax told us a 1TB premium version could soon become an option), two DVB-T2 tuners for Freeview HD viewing and recording, conventional aerial input, and Ethernet and HDMI outputs. Surprisingly, there's no Wi-Fi inbuilt in the first box, but a wireless internet dongle will be available as an optional extra as there are two USB ports (one front, one rear).
But YouView isn't really about the box it plays through, it's about the service itself, and much effort has been made to simplify the TV and on-demand experience for users who, perhaps, have always been put-off from subscribing to Sky or Virgin Media because the interface can be too much for them.
While some of us relish options and multiple media streams available to us at all times, there's a large chunk of the British public who want to interact with a user interface that offers little in the way of deviation.
From our initial impressions, YouView's definitely succeeds in that area. The 14-day electronic programme guide scrolls both forwards and back (something that YouView insists is "new", even though Virgin Media's TiVo box has done it for around a year) allowing you to both see what's coming up and to access catch-up TV without having to jump into a different menu system.
In addition, a lot of the navigation is done through a bottom menu bar. For example, if you want to search for a film or TV show, you pull up the bottom bar, start your search (through the remote) and as you enter letters, suggested results will pop up on a horizontal list. Click the one you want and a different horizontal list will offer thumbnails of shows that are either directly relevant or one step removed (feature the same actor, etc).
It's essentially similar to other offerings in the TV tech world, but by far the smoothest implementation we've seen to date.
It also will pop up over content that is currently playing, whether it's being streamed through the box's internet connection or live TV. This is actually more of a revelation than you'd think as, take Virgin Media's TiVo as one example, many other offerings would have you leave a catch-up show first before you can jump to another. Often, BBC iPlayer is featured as a separate app, but here it is fully integrated (thanks to the BBC's heavy involvement in YouView).
That's not to say you can't jump straight into a typical BBC iPlayer environment. All of the major channel catch-up services are offered as individually accessible portals, as on many other set-top-boxes, it's just that it is not necessary to do so.
Ultimately, this typifies YouView's approach and mantra. The idea is that it provides a television viewing experience that is rich in content, both over-the-air and streamed via internet (IPTV) but without its users making those distinctions. If YouView is working as it should, they will watch whatever content, whenever they want to, and not care how it gets to their TV. And from what we've seen so far, it's got that part right.
Admittedly, the price may put many off. The Humax DTR-T1000 will be a hefty £299 when it hits shops later this month, but whether it is worth the price will have to wait until we review the first box in full. Until then though, we're just happy to have finally seen a working YouView product. Although not as happy as the partners are, we bet.
Are you impressed by YouView? Is £300 too much? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below...