How much TV do you watch? And how much of that is what is actually being broadcast at the time? I know that in our household the answer I'd give to those questions are very different to if I'd been asked them a couple of years ago.
It's rare that Mr C and I watch a TV programme live – only on the rare occassion that there's something specific that we want to watch and it happens to be on at the time we want to sit down and watch it. Most of the time we use one of the many TV catch up services – iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD etc. The Internet has really changed my viewing habits, even more so since we got a TV that was connected to the Internet and had iPlayer built in to it. In those days we ended up watching lots of BBC stuff as we had iPlayer right there in front of our sofa, and we definitely noticed that we watched less Channel 4 than we used to.
Since then we've moved on to a set top box that also gave us access to 4OD and ITV Player as well as on demand services like Love Film and Netflix and again that's changed how we watch things. When I heard that YouView were looking for bloggers to review their boxes and service I jumped at the chance. Both Mr C and I are somewhat picky about the technology we use, especially when it comes to user interfaces and we were really keen to see how it compared and whether or not it lived up to all the hype that we'd heard.
The Humax DTR-T1010 YouView box that we were sent to review not only has an internet connection (wired only – not WiFi) but also a built in hard drive so that you can record programmes straight to the hard drive – either in standard or high definition (HD). There's enough space to record up to 300 hours of television and it's also possible to record two channels at once (whose stupid decision was it at the BBC To schedule Call the Midwife and Top Gear to be on at the same time?)
The special thing about YouView is that they've partnered with the likes of BBC iPlayer, 4OD etc so that you get one programme guide (often referred to as the Electronic Programme Guide or EPG) which links into all these players meaning that you don't need to go into the player itself to find what you want to watch – you just go direct to the programme from the EPG itself. And it's the same for programmes that you've recorded.
Here, let me show you.
If you're watching TV through your YouView box then you can also pause or rewind live TV – a genius invention for busy parents who have to jump up and deal with a small child who suddenly needs something right at the most important part of your favourite TV programme.
We were rather impressed by the programme guide user interface. It's clear and easy to use, and I particularly like the fact that you get a small version of the channel you were watching in the top corner of the screen – meaning you can keep an eye on what you're watching whilst searching for something else. However, it is slow. At times painfully so, be it navigating the EPG (maybe it's very slowly loading the contents from the internet) or launching a programme. I know it's doing quite a bit behind the scenes in terms of launching the right catch up player etc. and saving you having to do it manually, but whilst waiting it can seem like an age. Even just pressing the button to launch the EPG can sometimes result in nothing happening (or so it appears), so you press the button again and find that actually it was happeneing, just very slowly, so you've now suceeded in cancelling what you were trying to do.
As well as the Guide user interface you can also go into the individual On Demand services and browse through what they have to offer in exactly the same way as you might have done on another internet ready televison or box.
An added extra that YouView gives you is their mobile app. I downloaded this to my iPhone and it means that I can browse through the programme guide whilst away from home and set my box to record something in the future. Again, it's a nice clear interface and I particularly like the way that the look mirrors what you see on the television – giving the whole YouView brand a nice unified feel.
I tend to talk to friends about the things that I'm reviewing at the time and the YouView box is no different. One question I was asked today that I thought worthwhile answering here is why you would want to record something when you have all these On Demand services available to you. I can actually see a couple of reasons why you might do this. If you have a broadband contract which only gives you a limited download per month then recording a programme from the over-the-air transmission rather than streaming it over the Internet will help reduce the amount you're downloading. You also guarantee top-notch HD quality which isn't always available from the streaming services and don't suffer the dreaded streaming drop-outs. It's a sign of the times that our three year old regularly shouts "Mummy, it's buffering" whilst watching iPlayer or streaming film services, and we have decent 40MB broadband. Some on demand services (especially BBC iPlayer) don't keep shows available forever, so if you're on a two week holiday, programmes you've missed might not still be available on your return. There are also some channels which don't yet have an on demand or catch up service – so recording programmes from these channels is your only option.
In addition to what I would normally refer to as the "usual channels and catch up services" (BBC, Channel 4, ITV etc) YouView is also linked with Now TV, the pay TV service that is powered by Sky. If you have a Now TV Sky Movies Pass then this enables you to use your YouView box to watch unlimited movies, or you can pay for the Entertainment Pass instead for access to 10 of the best pay TV channels. Also, if you're a TalkTalk or BT customer who subscribes to their TV services then you should also get additional TV channels and on demand content, but sadly this doesn't work for us. It looks like it's because we're using a different router instead of BT's HomeHub, which is a pain.
The one main drawback that we identified with YouView is that it's not partnered with either LoveFilm (now renamed as Amazon Instant Video) or Netflix. Both of these services have lots of users and if you have an existing box which supports them (like we do) it feels like a bit of a backwards step to lost that service that you might already pay for. In our case Amazon Instant Video has some great kids content and I know the kids would miss it if we got rid of our subscription. Admittedly we might find other content on YouView, but as any parent knows persuading a screaming child to watch something different to what they want isn't always easy! I realise that they've chosen to partner with Now TV instead, but I'm yet to find a friend with Now TV, yet know plenty who use Netflix or LoveFilm. It's sad that commercial 'deals' mean the end-user can't have the best of all worlds and get everything on the one box.
I'm finding it hard to give an overall opinion on YouView. There are some things about it that I like – the layout of the EPG and having all the catch up services linked from it – but there are other things which annoy me – the slow response and lack of Netflix and LoveFilm. We'll definitely continue using it for catch up TV and recording programmes from normal TV, but we also plan to keep our existing box and LoveFilm subscription too, simply because YouView doesn't do everything we want it to.
It somehow seems like a bit of a compromise solution though.
Disclaimer: We were sent a YouView box for the purposes of this review.