Once upon a time there was a planned TV service in the United Kingdom known as Project Canvas. It was a venture that was to be made by a partnership of companies that included broadcasters the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Channel 5 and three other companies Arqiva, BT and TalkTalk. The plan was to provide a PVR system with on-demand services that connected to the internet and Freeview to offer content. The project itself ran into troubles and was much delayed; these delays included a name change to YouView and also new management in Alan Sugar, also known as Sir Sugar, the star of the UK version of the Apprentice as well as multi-millionaire business man.
Now after the years of delays and troubles YouView is finally ready and promising to offer users a new PVR system with seven days catch-up as well as the promised on demand services. Promising to be a revolutionary service the aim is to offer it free (after buying the initial box) and for it to compete with the PVR systems already available, but can it do this?
Humax are a relatively well known company that provide PVR systems in the United Kingdom and are known to normally provide boxes that look smart and well made. The YouView box is has a sleek glossy finish with the buttons on the front being easy to understand and use, although most of the work will undoubtedly be done by your remote control. For what it is, the Humax casing provides adequate looks that will easily fit into your living room.
As well as the promised High Definition picture quality (for HD channels of course) the main selling point is the catch-up and on demand service provided through the internet connection. The functionality allows you to look back seven days into the past and select anything that you want to view. As long as it’s either recorded or available through the YouView internet service you should be able to watch it instantly (although your internet connection will have to be an adequate speed of course).
The problem with this of course is back in the days of Project Canvas this may have seemed like a unique selling point. There are bigger companies available now that will offer the exact same service. Virgin Media for example and their new TiVo service offers all of this and more, it’s a service you have to pay for but it’s arguably far better than YouView can provide.
In terms of actual content there are 70 channels available which are a mixture of radio and TV channels. HD are available which are the freeview HD channels. If the YouView box is used in conjunction with BT or TalkTalk services there are also extra on demand services which include those provided by Sky.
On the back of the Humax box the connections are limited to the minimum required. As well as the one HDMI connection to the TV there is an Ethernet connection and USB port that is used for a Wi-fi dongle that has to be provided by Humax themselves. On top of these there are scart connections, AV phono outputs and optical digital outputs. Although these are minimal when comparing it to the Virginmedia Tivo box there is little difference.
Perhaps surprisingly, especially with the internet content the picture quality is actually high and noticeably the best performing area of the YouView system. Streaming is well handled, again dependant on your internet connection (must be 3Mbps or more). Caching has been added to make sure that the actual playback is as smooth as possible. As always with picture quality it has to be noted that to get true High Definition the input has to be HD, so only HD channels will provide the best image.
For people who do not have services such as Sky satellite or Virginmedia’s cable service the YouView’s offering is actually a very good service, especially when you consider that to get most of the functionality you are only paying for the box. The PVR itself has 500 GB of recording space which is plenty to offer (even though Virgin’s Tivo again offers a 1TB PVR system) and with the known Humax reliability users should have little to worry about. It should also be noted that although the USB slot is saved for a wi-fi dongle this is not available yet, this is for the future (and it will cost extra for it).
The big question of course is that as good as the specs are is it worth the asking price? The price is £299 (around $470) this is a costly box for what is in essence a Freeview HD box with PVR and internet functionality. For people with no desire to buy into Sky or Virgin’s subscription based schemes this may be a route to go down, but if it was a choice between the Tivo system and this for example? I do think people would go for the Tivo option. YouView may not be the revolution that is promised, but more an alternative route for those who don’t want to choose subscription offers.