YouView isn't standing still and the YouView hardware supplied by BT isn't either. The Freeview PVR and catch-up TV service set-top box needs to keep evolving in the face of both Sky's and Virgin's formidable - albeit expensive - services, and that's where the Humax DTR-T2100 comes in.
The first generation of box - the Humax DTR-T1000 - coped well enough, but had problems from the start: it was slow to respond, which detracted from the overall experience, and the fan was pretty noisy too. In its latest generation form, the new YouView+ box from BT is again manufactured by Humax, but looks to change and improve the YouView offering.
However, the YouView platform is still the same, so whether you have the new box or old one it won't make a difference to what you can watch. We won't dwell too much on the nuts and bolts of what YouView offers, except where needed for clarity and completeness.
We've been living with the new Humax box upgrade to see whether it makes BT's YouView experience more compelling than before. In the world of so many catch-up and set-top box solutions does it make sense?
Designed with BT in mind
If you're a BT customer, you'll know that BT has been working on refining its hardware offering for the Home Hub and that's reflected in the design of the new BT YouView box.
It's much smaller than the previous generation, for starters, which is good news for those who don't want to their entertainment setup to include a huge shiny black box. It measures 237 x 152 x 43mm, which is about the size of a hardback book.
That's partly down to having an external power brick, so you'll need more space around your plug sockets, and this presumably helps with heat management, as the new box also has no fan, so it's much quieter than the old one. The only noises you really hear are from the internal hard disk.
The new box is now complete with BT branding front and centre, which BT is probably rather pleased about and you most probably don't give a hoot about. The design matches that of the latest generation Home Hub 5.
Like the Home Hub the new BT YouView+ box gets an array of illuminations on the front. These are quite bright and if you have this in a room you want blacked-out for movies, or in a bedroom, you might find them irritating. The three lights will let you know when it is recording, that you're connected to your broadband network, and if the box is on or in standby.
The light also highlights when you're in "low" energy saving mode with a purple light illumination. You'll need to be in this standby mode if you want the RF loop through to work.
The older Humax box had an LCD display on the front which is absent from the latest DTR-T2100. In fact, there's no display at all. That helps keep the size down and when this information is only a button press away, that probably won't be too much of a problem to you.
But even though this box is now much smaller, the physical controls are much better. The previous box featured tiny dot button controls, the new box has larger clickable controls on the top, so if you find yourself wanting manual control when the remote goes walkies temporarily, it now at least feels possible, whereas before it was uncomfortable at best. There's a record button, as well as a YouView EPG (electronic programme guide) button and a navigation controller.
Hardware and connections
Around the back of the T2100 box you'll find the aerial in and out (with support for loop through which needs to be toggled in the menu), analogue video and audio outputs, optical audio output, SCART and HDMI. There's also the Ethernet connection, USB and a power on to the back. They're the same connections as the old YouView box, so if you're swapping one for the other, it's literally a case of swapping the cables over and plugging it in.
There's an HDMI cable supplied, along with a 10m Ethernet cable to help you get setup. It's a flat cable too, so many could probably run it under the carpet for a direct line into the router for the best results - it's also a necessity for some of the internet-delivered channels.
We've used the BT-supplied Powerline adapter for the Ethernet connection too, which works well enough for most of the catch-up services. You'll need the connection to your router to enable all the connected services that YouView offers, but things can get a little temperamental if the connection isn't great. A direct line into your router will mean less buffering and faster playback of catch-up and internet TV channels.
There's no Wi-Fi connection, which for some might be an inconvenience, but we prefer a wired connection for AV devices as it tends to be consistently reliable, whereas Wi-Fi's occasional blips can be a problem.
As you'd expect, the broadcast Freeview HD TV comes in via the aerial and then you have a choice of connections for output. Most modern users will opt for HDMI, but the inclusion of SCART and analogue connections means this box is still compatible with many older televisions, although there are no cables supplied for these.
The optical audio output gives the option to split off the audio for those who have a separate speaker system. If you are taking audio through the HDMI into a receiver, then there's an option in the menus to enable Dolby Digital Plus "surround" sound; the same option is there for the optical connection too.
There's a USB port on the rear and another to the side, but they don't do much. They are powered, however, should you want to charge something up on the side, but that's about as far as they go for now. In the future there could be scope for functionality expansion.
Remote control, app control
The supplied remote has been redesigned for this new box too. We like the heft of it: it's the sort of remote you can use day-in day-out and it now has buttons to take you direct to BT services, as well as the more useful YouView button.
You can programme the remote to control your TV, but it only has TV codes preinstalled. This isn't a universal remote so there might be some fiddling around if you have other boxes, such as an amp, connected to your TV.
There's also the smartphone app (we've been using the Android version) and this will allow you to connect/pair your smartphone and then browse the EPG and schedule recordings. This can be done over the mobile network, so while you are away from home you can still browse the TV schedules on the train and set recordings on your box at home without being there in person.
At the moment that's all the app will do. There's potential to make it far more exciting by offering controls over the network, for example, so you wouldn't need to grab the remote, or to offer wider second-screen choices. Sadly, at the moment it's just about scheduling recordings.
YouView user interface
The YouView user interface here is the same as you'll find on the old BT box, as well as on unbranded boxes, or that from rivals TalkTalk. The actual BT element only really impacts on the experience when you step into the sections that BT adds to the mix.
The YouView EPG that allows you scroll forward and backwards in time, which is one of the great selling points of the service. If you want to watch something you've missed, you can scroll back to it, select the programme and the catch-up player you need will open to play that specific content.
That makes YouView more dynamic than some offerings, where catch-up TV is a separate element where you navigate to that app, then select what you want to watch. YouView offers that too, of course, but we really like the integration of catch-up services in YouView's EPG.
Searching is still especially useful because it draws results from a mixture of sources, both on-demand and from the broadcast schedules. Finding content is extra easy because you also have a search button on the remote, so you can just tap in what you're after and then pick how you view it. When you access an on-demand service from the EPG or through search you skip most of the UI and head straight to that programme, with only a short loading pause before it starts playing.
The biggest change with the T2100, however, is that the YouView EPG is much faster than it was on the T1000. It opens faster, it's faster to navigate: you're not left waiting for things to happen like before. It's so much slicker and smoother, the change is refreshing, because it makes day-to-day use better. That's important in the world of Sky and Virgin we think.
Of course, there will be times when the delay is caused by your connection: if you head into a catch-up or on-demand service and your home broadband happens to be playing the goat, then things slow down. That's unavoidable whatever setup you might use, but it's just one of those things.
YouView will enable you to schedule recordings and there's nothing different about the process on the T2100 compared to the T1000. That means a full range of PVR functions, including pause, rewind and record. There's a 500GB hard drive, so plenty of space in the MyView section to series link your favourites, providing 300 hours of SD content, or 125 hours of HD content.
There are also twin tuners, so you can record one, watch another, or record two and watch something recorded or on catch-up at the same time. However, you can't record three shows that are on at the same time.
Catch-up TV and internet services
Although many boxes now offer catch-up and internet TV services, the way they're integrated into the EPG on YouView makes them more exciting. Not everything is there, as you don't get the full palette of Freeview HD broadcast channels, but the main domestic services are. If you've used catch-up services online, then you'll know what to expect.
However, the menu system also allows fast access to those services, so if you fancy watching Eastenders, you can just head straight to BBC iPlayer.
Each of the different platforms is developed by the parent channel, so there's a different look and feel to each. That's something we can live with as we're used to from using catch-up services on PC and in mobile apps.
There are additional services outside of the free catch-up TV services that BT also adds to the mix. Aside from the Freeview HD channels from YouView itself, BT has Extra TV options including the Entertainment and Unlimited Extra packages, BT Sport and Sky Movies.
These are designated by three blue dots under the channel name, such at BT Sport, which is free for BT Infinity and BT Broadband customers, and sits in the EPG ready for you to watch, along with ESPN.
There's also Now TV Sky Movies access, but you'll need to sign up and pay for the service if you want it. The full raft of Sky's catch-up channel services aren't available here, so no Entertainment package for those American aces such as Game of Thrones, for example. There's no sign of Netflix or Lovefilm integration either.
Sitting on a button on the remote, as well as in the menu, is a BT Player button. This takes you through to additional TV offered by BT. This is broken down into categories, but essentially there's a range of subscription or on-demand content accessed via this route too.
It's a little confusing because it feels like an entirely separate service from everything thing else on the YouView platform and to a certain extent that's true. It's here that you'll find a huge range of BT TV subscription content, as well as pay-per-view movies.
The prices are pretty much in line with other movie services, and this side of the YouView from BT offering is entirely optional. You might find that you rarely feel the need to access these additional paid-for services.
The new BT YouView box is a big step forward from the original. Once you've slipped the T2100 in amongst your other home entertainment paraphernalia you'll barely notice it, as it's far smaller and quieter than the original box.
The physical controls on top of the T2100 are welcome should you lose the new-and-improved remote control from time to time, and the box offers ample connections to appeal to new TV owners or those looking to use an old TV lacking a digital tuner. It's slick and fast in operation and no slouch when it comes to firing up and delivering those on-demand services.
There's still plenty of confusion around what you might have to pay for, though, as well as the integration of BT TV services with wider YouView staples. The important thing is to ensure you know what you're getting from the outset and make sure you don't end up paying for TV services you don't need.
If you're an existing BT YouView customer then the T2100 is certainly worth the upgrade (at the £35 offer) because the box and the experience is better all round. If you're not a BT customer, however, then the full BT package isn't necessarily going to save you heaps of cash compared to alternatives. That's something to mull over, as you'll be tied into an initial contract for the provider's overall package just like you would be with Sky, Virgin or any other provider.
That said, the YouView+ experience from BT is not only sleeker and faster than before, it offers more channels and more catch-up content than before too. This is YouView coming of age and with the BT channels thrown into the mix it's the strongest YouView package out there right now. It's well worth it.