The concept is simple enough, one set-top box that does pretty much everything you could want now and for the foreseeable future.
Everything, in the case of the Evesham iPlayer, means rather a lot. How about a Freeview box with 80GB hard drive for personal video recorder functionality via an integrated 7 day electronic programme guide. And then there’s the ability to connect to a broadband internet connection to access IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) services and access whatever content they provide, including television programming and movie downloads.
You could make use of the 10/100Mbps Ethernet connectivity to hook the iPlayer up to your home network to access your videos, digital photography and music collection from your PC. And don’t forget the Internet browsing, email functionality (both send and receive) and even a podcast playing capability.
Did we mention that a built-in upscaler, coupled with a HDMI output, means that this is a high definition ready device that can boost non-HD programming to take advantage of that HD ready flat screen you’ve got?
The future-proofing comes into play because the iPlayer will happily handle high definition Freeview programming just as soon as they become available, and it’s a subscription free box so there’s no advance premium to pay while you are waiting for the programming to arrive. All with the same time-shifting TV functionality of a Sky+ box, apart from the ability to record one show while watching another that is, or set up an automatic series link for recording more than one show without additional input.
There’s also a card slot for TopUpTV content, support for CatchUPTV and the Sigma chipset will support decoding of 1080i H.264 streams should terrestrial HDTV become a reality, although you will have to wait for Evesham to unlock that capability should it be required. One thing that Sigma chipset does now, by the way, is make the display of Freeview text a pleasantly speedy experience. Far and away the quickest we have seen, it has to be said.
On the downside there’s no component output and only a single tuner (hence no watch one record another PVR facility) but you do get a USB connection so, in theory at least, you should never run out of recording space if you connect it to an external storage source.
Which is just as well because, truth be told, an 80GB internal hard drive really does not cut the mustard these days. Twice that is really what we would consider a minimum spec for a PVR.
While the iPlayer looks nice, in that rounded awkward way that set-top box designers seem to like, the build quality could be better as it feels distinctly plasticky, this extends to the remote control that suffers from the same difficult to use design as the one that accompanied the original Netgem iPlayer we still have from many years ago now. We would have hoped that user feedback might have resulted in a sturdier, easier to use remote by now.
And that’s the real problem with this Jack of All Trades set-top box, it manages to do a lot of things now, and will add more functionality as services become available, but it does none of them hugely better than any other device out there.
If you are interested in the here and now rather than the future maybes, then there are alternatives which offer better build quality, dual tuners and more storage for less money.
If you want a perfectly adequate HD ready solution that will not need replacing for many years to come, the value for money equation starts to make more sense.
A lot of features for a lot of money, but the lack of some expected functionality (such as twin tuners for simultaneous watch and record capability) spoil the iPlayer party.