Lord Sugar's YouView set-top box is a letdown
Filed under: TV, Phone & Broadband
Lord Sugar is one of the UK's best-known entrepreneurs, but his latest venture, YouView, is attracting lots of negative coverage from technology pundits.
In order to enjoy YouView, you will need three things:
- Good digital TV coverage in your area. These days, this includes most of the mainland.
- A decent broadband connection. YouView recommends a minimum speed of 3Mb.
- A YouView set-top box. This currently costs £299 and will be available from retailers (including Amazon, Argos, Comet, Currys, Dixons, Euronics, John Lewis, Richer Sounds and Tesco) from the end of this month.
With YouView, you can watch more than 100 digital TV and radio channels, plus seven-day catch-up and on-demand services. However, unlike other digital-television services, YouView is subscription-free, so you pay only for the box and not for programme content.
Alternatively, you can sign up to a YouView package from broadband providers BT or TalkTalk. This involves paying less for a set-top box, but adds a monthly subscription fee. Also, any on-demand and catch-up content -- delivered via your Internet connection -- will count against your monthly data download allowance, if any.
What's great about YouView is that it combines the best of catch-up and live programming, all on your main TV. It also has a clever electronic programme guide (EPG) that allows you to rewind seven days to catch up on programmes you've missed. You watch in HD and can record, pause and rewind live TV. Also, a simple search lets you find on-demand content by programme, channel or even actor's name.
So armed with a broadband internet connection, your usual television aerial and a YouView set-top box, you can enjoy a whole new viewing experience. However, is this worth the near-£300 price tag?
Two years too late
YouView's biggest problem is that this service was supposed to launch in 2010, but has been delayed by two years.
A lot has happened in the intervening two years and, as a result, 'fully integrated TV' is widely available these days. In fact, I get a broadly similar service as part of my monthly Virgin Media cable subscription, with both Sky and BT Vision promoting similar packages.
Then again, YouView has been welcomed for being "easy to set up and use", and trials involving over 2,000 homes have been "very encouraging". What's more, YouView's service is set to evolve and expand as new content partners join and more functionality is added.
Nevertheless, I can't imagine that I'd want to spend nearly £300 on what is essentially a Humax 500GB personal video recorder (PVR) with twin tuners. Similar PVRs are available for about half this price. Also, YouView may be better than competing products, but it's far from unique.
Best Buy bundles
Furthermore, it's worth noting that YouView doesn't offer premium channels (such as Sky One, Sky Atlantic, etc.) as standard. And we don't yet know what to expect from BT and TalkTalk, as these ISPs have yet to reveal details of their YouView pricing. However, a cheaper box subsidised by monthly fees is a certainty.
Looking at alternatives, some TVs already allow a superior viewing experience known as 'Smart TV', including sets from LG, Samsung and Sony.
Apple TV allows owners of Apple Macs, iPads and iPhones to watch 1080p HD content on widescreen TVs. For £99, this service gives Apple fans access to blockbuster films, TV programmes, sport, music, photos and more. Likewise, Google TV is set to hit these shores later this year, aimed at seamlessly integrating online content with live TV.
Finally, if you want to watch the Olympics in glorious HD or 3D, then you have only until 26 July to sign up and get plugged into digital TV, ready for the opening ceremony on 27 July.
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