YouView from BT
YouView comes in several flavours. You can walk into a shop on the high street and pick up the YouView box and plug it into your existing aerial and internet connection, or you can buy as part of a wider package. We've already reviewed the hardware, so now it's the turn of BT's offering.
Both BT and TalkTalk are offering YouView, and are looking to appeal to existing customers, as well as attract new ones by presenting a TV service that gives you some of the benefits of Sky or Virgin Media.
Much of what YouView offers, however, is standard. Plug in the box and on both services you'll have the same main features, like the EPG which lets you skip forward and backwards through time, pause, rewind and recording functions. This is combined with catch-up services from BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five.
The difference, however, lies in the additions that different providers bring. In the case of BT, that means rolling in BT Vision services, mirroring much of what is available on its existing TV service.
Before we talk about the BT specifics, we'll spin through the standard features of the Humax DTR-T100 YouView set-top box. It's a pretty standard black box, with little to differentiate it from any other set-top box.
On the front there's a small display that will show you information and a central standby button that changes from orange to blue when you bring the box to life.
Around the back you have a standard array of connections, but it caters more for the generalist rather than the enthusiast. You'll find the important connections in HDMI and the Ethernet socket, along with the aerial input and output.
In addition there are analogue outputs, so if you have an older TV - pre-HDMI - then you're covered, meaning you can update to a digital tuner and IPTV offering in one fell swoop. There's also a SPDIF audio output.
There's a USB connection on the rear of the box, although it doesn't appear to be useful at this point, you certainly can't use the box as media player for your own videos.
Also around the back is a fan that runs when the device is on, with a cooling cycle after the device is put into standby. Whether you can hear this or not depends very much on your set-up and situation: place it on the wrong surface and you'll find it resonates and amplifies.
The result is that in normal viewing you probably won't hear it, but if you turn the volume down, or there's a quiet scene, you'll hear it whirring away.
The Humax box can be rather slow to start, pressing the on button will be followed by several minutes of starting up if you have the eco mode set to high. In this mode it only draws 1W in standby; switching to low eco will see it start in 15 seconds, but then uses 19W in standby.
With the BT box there are no external markings to identify this as a BT device: according to the company the pressures of time meant that customisation wasn’t an option, but this will change in the future. Equally, the remote is standard too: there's no BT branding, but we were previously told by BT that its aim is to have a BT Vision button on the remote for instant access.
The remote is a good size and we're happy with the design and layout of buttons, however they're all rather clicky. It's a picky point, but the constant clicking whenever you press a button is slightly irritating.
It is a universal remote, however, so comes with a button to switch over to TV control. There's a list of manufacturer codes supplied, and we quickly had the remote commanding the main functions of our Samsung test TV.
Some say that YouView is the EPG and that's essentially true. There's a whole range of EPGs out there, with each manufacturer having a different take. We like the EPG: it's clear, easy to find information and lets you skip forward through days, as well as wind backwards, so you get the option to watch most programmes that have already aired.
At the basic level you have a Freeview+HD tuner here, meaning you get the broadcast HD channels, as well as recording to the box's 500GB internal drive. Pause and rewind functions, scheduled recordings, series link and so on are all common to Freeview+HD boxes, which you can buy for around £150-200.
It's the skipping back through the EPG that makes YouView special. If you're late home from work, you can sit yourself down and scroll back to EastEnders and click play to watch it. It sounds great, but what the box does then is break out of the YouView user interface and fire up a BBC iPlayer interface.
It might not sound like a big deal, but it breaks from the seamlessly integrated ideal of YouView, into something that's all the more cobbled together. Yes, it works, but we can't help feeling that uniformity across the catch-up services would make the system much more intuitive and feel like a cohesive offering.
However, there's more to it than just the EPG. You can hit the YouView button and navigate through escalating menus to access content in different ways. You can access the different catch-up players here too, so you could open BBC iPlayer and choose whatever you've missed, favourite a series or just pick something at random.
You have BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5 here, as well as Milkshake for kids' programmes, Now TV, Sky's subscription movie service, and BT Vision. As we've said, each has a different user interface and design. That makes things a little less than perfect when it comes to accessing individual programmes, but the content of those services is at least integrated into YouView's main navigation options.
For example, there is a search function that will flag up content on offer from all these services. It's a little odd, however, as it seems to ignore recorded content and live or future TV, instead returning results from the services listed above.
The content of all these services is also filtered through into types and genre, so you can, for example, move over to TV, comedy, and you've got The Big Bang Theory on 4OD, Outnumbered on BBC iPlayer, Celebrity Juice on ITV Player and so on.
Searching for films is a little less satisfactory, as Now TV dominates with its wide collection of titles that appear whether you have a subscription to that service or not.
Much of this is standard content for YouView boxes, but the BT Vision section is obviously what you get when you take YouView from BT. We'd love to see other services like Netflix or Lovefilm Instant, for example.
Hidden within the settings of the YouView box is the option to connect to a YouView app. We've heard rumours about an app, but so far there it hasn't materialised. With the box ready to connect, we suspect it will be along soon.
In terms of performance, at times we found it could be a little slow to skip through the various levels of the menus and the speed at which catch-up services start playing could be better. Netflix's instant start system is much better, but here you not only have a delay as the player loads, but also again when streaming starts.
Streaming performance, including HD streaming, is good with one minor exception. We found that 4OD would occasionally tell us we didn't have the bandwidth to view the programme. When testing the network, we found that BT Infinity had no problems, so we can only assume that this was a problem at 4OD's end, presumably something to do with server load.
BT Vision: It's for YouView
Hit the BT Vision option in the menu and you are taken through to a section that's very similar, visually, to BT's existing TV package. It's split logically into sections, so you can browse around content in various different ways.
There are two packages on offer: Essential and Unlimited. Unlimited get the majority of this content for free; Essential customers get a section of titles picked out for them that are free, but the vast majority comes on a pay-per-view basis.
BT Vision offers you a curated selection of TV and films, along with "box office" titles, that would basically replace a trip to the DVD rental shop. Here you'll find the likes of The Dark Night Rises, for example, but it will cost you £3.50 to rent.
There is a whole range of other content available, with a reasonable back catalogue of film and TV titles. Here you can find things like Grey's Anatomy or special selections, like all the Only Fools and Horses Christmas specials.
All the BT Vision content is fast enough to navigate, but it's a little slow at times. You can bookmark titles so save something you like the look of to watch later, as well as setting up a custom playlist of music videos. If you're part way through watching something, you can quickly find it and resume.
If you want a selection of content to watch at your leisure, including a wide selection of pop music videos, then the Unlimited package is the way to go, however at £12.50, it's much more pricey than the equivalent services from Netflix or Lovefilm. That leads us nicely into cost.
Show me the money
As a standalone product, you'll have to pay £249.95 to somewhere like John Lewis to get the 500GB Humax DTR-T100 YouView box. John Lewis also offers the 1TB box for £299.95.
That's a fairly hefty sum, which BT appears to sidestep by offering the YouView box for free. But this is where it gets a little complicated. It's only free to new customers taking out a new TV package from BT, and that comes with a 12-month contract. As a new customer you'll also have to take out an internet contract, which is 18 months.
So free really equates to over a year's commitment to a BT bundle.
If you are an existing BT customer, ie, with a BT Broadband or BT Infinity contract already, you can get the box for £49. You'll then have to take the 12-month TV package, as well as renewing your broadband agreement. In addition, you'll have to be outside the minimum term of your existing BT broadband contract to get the box for that discounted price.
So again, that's a discount, but again over a year's renewed commitment to BT.
Still with us? As for the TV packages, there are two on offer: Essential is £5 a month, Unlimited is £12.50 a month. These reflect the content of BT's existing TV service BT Vision, and is branded as such within those sections of the EPG.
The big difference between the two packages is that Unlimited gives you all BT's added TV options in the subscription cost, except Box Office movies, which are £3.50 on both packages. Essential then gives you access to shows that you get in Unlimited, but on a pay-per-view basis, so will cost you from 50p to watch them.
So, although "free" sounds good, the effective minimum costs you'll encounter for YouView from BT is £60 a year on Essential or £150 a year on Unlimited.
If you want to maintain BT's TV offering in the subsequent years you'll have to continue paying your monthly costs, but if you cancel after the initial 12 months, you'll get to keep the box. You'll still have all the normal Freeview+ HD functions and YouView's clever EPG, along with the standard bundled catch-up TV services.
We've been living with YouView from BT for more than a month and during that time we've found the YouView is actually a very good idea. Combining broadcast live TV, PVR functions and catch-up is a great idea and certainly where everything is moving for the future.
Of course there are alternatives: Sky and Virgin Media both offer similar services, but you pay a lot more and get a lot more content back. Taking YouView from BT certainly looks to lower the barrier of acquiring YouView: buying a £299 box is a substantial outlay, but parting with £5 a month seems a much more affordable route.
But then there are other PVRs around that will offer you many of the same functions for around £150 and the rise of smart TVs, Blu-ray players and gaming consoles that will offer you catch-up TV and streaming movie options too.
If you're a multimedia fan then you might find that YouView from BT isn't for you. YouView needs more integrated services, or at least the option of integrated services to make it really compelling. That may come in time, but offering only the Now TV service, you're facing a hefty extra cost.
If however, you find yourself in the position where you want integrated catch-up TV services, without having to resort to watching on a PC or tablet, then YouView from BT may well be the way to go. For that £5 a month you're getting a pretty respectable piece of hardware and lots of functionality.
As the final word, YouView from BT is certainly worthy of consideration if you're looking to boost your TV set-up. There are some things about the YouView service that could be improved, but as a core offering with a distributed cost, YouView from BT looks good if you're also going to be a regular broadband user.