Youview – it gets my vote

The first Youview device launched a few weeks ago, with a fanfare from the BBC and a lot of talk from Lord Sugar; who contrary to rumour, isn’t actually involved in the production of the device, but is a non-executive chairman of the Youview partnership.

Youview is an IPTV service developed and launched jointly by BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five; together with BT and TalkTalk. Youview have specified what a Youview box should do, to enable it to bear the name, and various set-top box manufacturers will be launching their own boxes, made to that spec. The highlights of the requirement are that it includes dual Freeview tuners, a hard disk recorder, and hosts all 4 channel’s catchup/on demand services. Furthermore, that this functionality should be fully integrated.

Ever since the first box – the Humax YouView DTR-T1000 – launched in July, the internet has been swarming with pundits and naysayers, who – predictably – say it is a load of crap, and – at 300 quid – is a load of expensive crap. They point out that you could do it better with an Xbox or Wii (except not all the channels are available, and what there is are standalone apps), or by making your own gadget using a Raspberry Pi (which is fine, if that is your cup of tea – good luck.).

I’m afraid those guys are probably going to call me a Youview fanboy, because I really like it. I’m actually betting a lot of the naysayers haven’t actually seen one in action, ‘cos I think they might like it too.

For a couple of years, I have been using a Fetch TV hard disk recorder. The spec of this is similar in someways to the Youview box. It has twin tuners, hard disk recording, and access to BBC Iplayer. If it did everything it is designeed to do, I’d be quite happy, but it is prone to overheating (so much so that the plastic case is warped), it has a history of buggy software releases, some of which managed to trash treasured (or unwatched) recordings, and Fetch have recently gone out of business. The current software release is fairly stable, unless I try to do something with the box while it is recording (the whole point of two tuners). As a result, I have been waiting for the Youview box, in order to replace the Fetch box.

The Youview box is a lot more solid. Instead of a plastic case, it is all metal, and sturdy. It has all the normal connectors you might expect, including HDMI. It does not have WiFi, which many people were disappointed about – however, having tried to stream HD TV over WiFi before, I was not bothered by this (I use mains networking devices). I understand a WiFi USB dongle is in the pipeline.

Watching TV live is as you would expect – a good picture, especially so on HD channels. Live TV can be paused, rewound and fast-forwarded, and the action is as smooth and precise as I have ever seen on a set-top box. No jumpy images or skipping, just a good picture at several times speed. Many similar boxes also have a “skip x minutes” function, which the YouView box currently hasn’t, although the remote has buttons for it – I expect an update will introduce this feature.

Pulling up the TV guide will give you todays programmes, with the ability to go forward or back up to a week. Clicking on a programme currently showing will switch to that channel. Clicking on a programme in the future will allow you to record it, as a single programme or as part of a series. As for clicking on a programme in the past…

  • If it is a programme you have previously recorded, you are taken to your recording, and allowed to watch it.
  • If it is a programme that is available on one of the four catchup services, clicking on it will launch the appropriate service, and the selected programme – straight from the guide, without having to navigate the individual catchup service.
  • If it is neither of the above, you are told the programme is unavailable.

Similarly, if a future programme has been previously shown and is available on catchup, then the guide will tell you this programme is available to view now.

It is all very simple, and intuitive, and elegant. And, of course, integrated

In addition to accessing all this through the guide, you can, if you wish, access the individual catchup/on-demand services. There is also a global search, so searching for Films will display any films available on all 4 services.

Similarly, you can access your recordings and recording schedules direct, as well as through the guide, as you would have to if what you want to watch is more than a week old. However, “the one week ahead, one week behind” guide makes life easy for routine use.

The 4 catchup services are all that are present at the moment – disappointingly, no YouTube, no LoveFilms, or similar. However, it is clear by the way the 4 existing services occupy just 4 out of 10 positions on the screen that other channels are planned. Now, I have been caught like that before – my FetchTV box was promised Channel 4 for some time, which never emerged. However, I think YouView is different, in that whereas with other boxes and Smart TV systems, the manufacturers control the software updates, and if they decide not to support an old model, tough; with YouView, the manufacturers are merely providing the compatible box – the software is maintained by YouView themselves, who as the content provider will want as many people to be able to access the service as possible. I expect to see LoveFilms, NetFlix and Sky Go before long.

So at 300 quid, is the Humax too expensive? It is pricey, but for the money you get a good quality box from a name known for reliability. It may be that cheaper models will come out in the future, but I am not at all unhappy with my purchase.

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