If you’re a TalkTalk customer, chances are you’ve already been offered the opportunity to get a ‘free’ YouView box in return for continuing your contract. Is it a wise move?
It certainly isn’t difficult to take up the offer, and once you’ve done so you’ll be charged £15.50 a month on top of your home phone line rental, which includes unlimited broadband and access to a select range of TalkTalk TV channels, in the form of ‘Boosts’ (something you won’t get on the standalone box you can buy on the high street) on top of the Freeview channels obtained via an aerial and a range of on-demand services accessed via the net.
In order to stream high definition content, you’ll need a broadband connection that can offer a stable 5-6 megabit connection. TalkTalk will do all the necessary checks before confirming your delivery date. You can find out more about the YouView service itself here.
You can now opt to skip TalkTalk’s previously compulsory £50 installation fee and do it yourself instead, keeping a bit of money in your pocket instead. It’s really not that hard to set up on your own, although with no Wi-Fi on the YouView box itself, you’ll either need to position it near to your router, run a cable to the box or buy a powerline adapter that routes. TalkTalk will sell you these, or else you can simply pick one up from PC World, Argos or online from Amazon.
Depending on your current setup, you might also be given a new router to install. This will bit a little more complicated, but you’ll be given full instructions and you can even obtain your broadband password by calling a freephone number on your home phone.
Don’t get carried away by pressing DELete to remove a whole series of shows you have chosen not to watch. Sure, try pressing the exact number of times but get it wrong and watch it leave the folder and start deleting anything else in its path.
Unlike the latest Sky+ HD box software, there’s no undelete and this could be one of the most annoying functions. That and not being able to easily remove an entire folder in the first place.
The rather interestingly shaped YouView box is fairly slim and light, complete with a series of lights that keep with the TalkTalk branding. There’s a 500GB hard drive for storing programmes, and USB ports for future use (one of which should be to allow the connection of external hard drives to further expand your storage). Software updates can be set to be done automatically and the first thing your box will do before letting you get going is check for the latest firmware to make sure everything is up to date from day one.
The Huawei built box is, for the most part, quick and responsive but there are times that it slows down. One such time is using the YouView planner to find programmes to watch. It can be slow to scroll through channels and forward (and back) in time, although the ability to go back in time – by up to seven days – and view programmes that have already been shown is one of the coolest bits about YouView.
It’s worth noting that it isn’t every Freeview channel covered by the catch-up service, and due to rights issues not everything that has been shown on the main channels (BBC 1 to Channel 5, as well as BBC Three and Four) will be viewable again either. This particularly applies to news broadcasts, which is actually a bit of a disappointment but no different to what is available from the relevant ‘catch-up’ services available online or other boxes and Smart TVs.
A lag is also noticeable when looking through your own ‘MyView’ guide of recorded broadcasts, although that’s not as frustrating as scrolling through any list of programmes and not being given a synopsis of the content. To get information on any show, pre-recorded or not, you must press the Info button and then again to be able to continue scrolling.
Having no information is most certainly not useful when you’ve accumulated 60 episodes and counting of Family Guy on BBC Three and must individually check each one in turn to see which episode is which.
There are definitely some improvements that could be made to the guide here, even if it is just an option added to turn a programme synopsis on and off at the expense of a couple of channels shown on one screen.
It’s also great to have tight regulations on power consumption as energy prices continue to rocket, but setting the box to completely shut down to save power is likely to be something you’ll quickly disable. Booting from scratch takes upwards of a minute, which will prove too frustrating for most users.
Even when disabled, you’ll still wait around 15-20 seconds to come out of standby, but this is at least about acceptable.
The layout of the buttons on the remote control (arguably the most important part of the whole system) are a bit haphazard, looking like an attempt to combine the functions of two different boxes into one – namely a standalone YouView box and one that accesses the TalkTalk TV service. It’s clear that TalkTalk will be hoping you’ll spend additional money on buying ‘Boosts’ (premium channel packages) and on-demand content, thus helping to justify giving the box away free of charge.
Naturally, it’s merely a case of getting used to the remote and once you know where things are without looking, you’ll be happily operating things even in the dark. That’s just as well given the use of mostly black keys on a black remote, with no backlight for anything other than the TalkTalk button.
The TalkTalk button is massive compared to everything else, even though it’s not a button you’ll likely be using as often as the smaller YouView button, tucked down below, or the Guide button to the right. There isn’t even a button to take you straight to your recorded programmes either, meaning you must press the ‘Y’ button and then select MyView, or scroll to find the On Demand services.
For all the work done to integrate iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD etc into the main programme guide, a lot of things are still rather tricky and time consuming to find. That said, the search button can solve a lot of your navigation problems. Enter the name of something you’re looking for and you’ll be told where it is and can quickly skip straight to the relevant section to watch live, download or purchase. The latest software update has vastly improved searching, making this one of the best features of the box.
Then there’s the ability to find earlier episodes of a programme that you’re already watching, simply by hitting Info and selecting ‘more episodes’. Another good feature that compensates for some of the other niggles.
Clearly there’s some great value in being able to easily add and remove additional channels as monthly packs, without being locked in to a lengthy contract, as you might with Sky or Virgin. However, you cannot record programmes as you can with the terrestrial broadcasts. It’s a feature that might be added in the future.
There’s also a possible confusion between Sky channels being available as ‘Boosts’, or Sky Movies (and soon sport channels too) being available on an On Demand basis via the Now TV service, also operated by Sky, which is found in another menu altogether. Now TV has a flat-rate charge to access Sky movies, including a sizable back catalogue, while the Boosts give live access to Sky channels as if you had a satellite dish.
TalkTalk also offers some free content of its own, including access to a back catalogue of shows from the likes of Sony Pictures, such as Married with Children and Diff’rent Strokes, music videos and films. There’s also an adult section, which is PIN protected, although it currently stands empty.
Well, we had to look.
Even as a Freeview+ box, the YouView interface makes it one of the best around. The integration of all the terrestrial catch-up services within the programme guide makes it even better still. Adding in access to Sky channels and TalkTalk’s own content makes it hard to not take up the offer to get a box if you’re already with TalkTalk – or indeed consider a move to TalkTalk to take up the offer.
However, some user interface issues could do with some tweaking in future software updates, along with turning on support for external storage expansion. 500GB might not be enough for everyone, especially if this is going to be finding its way into the living room and not a spare room.