We review BT’s TV service, taking a look at the hardware, the channels and whether it’s worth bundling in alongside your broadband and phone service.
BT is perhaps better known for broadband and home phone services than digital TV, but that hasn’t stopped it launching premium sports channels and some shiny new set-top boxes.
BT’s new YouView-powered hardware gives you free to air digital TV channels plus the option of Sky Sports, Netflix, BT Sport in high definition and a wealth of free content available from an ever-expanding suite of catch-up services.
With prices starting at zero pounds a month on top of a broadband service, how does BT TV measure up? Here’s our verdict.
BT TV: The hardware
BT’s set-top boxes are miniature stealth fighters – they’re streamlined, discreet and make zero noise.
They borrows some of the design language from BT’s most recent Home Hub routers to the point where the larger of the two even has the same kind of blue LED to indicate that it’s turned on.
Aside from that, there’s very little about BT’s TV box to attract your attention, which is a good thing as we would rather watch the show, not some glitzy display. For what it’s worth though, the box looks like a premium piece of kit.
Like with most predominantly black gadgets, it will get dusty but at least the compact and (mostly) flat shapes make for easy cleaning.
At the back are your usual connection options including an aerial port, HDMI and USB 2.0. It is worth bearing in mind the BT TV box connects to your TV with an HDMI cable – anyone with a SCART-only televisions will have a problem. Although if you’ve still got a SCART-only TV in 2015, then it’s well past time you started thinking about an upgrade.
A pair of digital terrestrial tuners mean that you can record up to two shows at once and store them on the 500GB hard drive.
On paper, this lets you record up to 300 hours of standard definition programmes or 125 hours of HD TV.
The box you get with the Starter or Entertainment packages is driveless, but while you can’t permanently record shows, there is a ‘time buffer’ which lets you pause live HD TV for up to 14 minutes and standard definition for 30 minutes – good for either skipping through ads or reliving last-minute goals.
It’s worth noting the smaller box has one USB 2.0 port while its bigger sibling has two. The BT TV Starter box also doesn’t have an S/PDIF optical output. Aside from that, the two BT TV boxes are practically identical in terms of function.
BT TV: The remote
As remote controls go, BT has kept things dead simple. The layout is logical and there are enough buttons to let you do what you need to do without bamboozling.
At the top in the middle sits a power button for the television so you can easily switch the YouView box on. Below that is a button for BT Player, which is where you can rent or buy content, and below that is a blue YouView button, which lets you scroll between TV, apps and other features.
It helps there is a record button (in red with an ‘R’ on it so fairly self-explanatory) and other playback buttons for pausing, playing, rewinding and fast-forwarding television. Rounding off the design is a number pad that also does letters.
Build quality-wise, the remote feels nice enough although a slightly grippier material would have been nicer, as it’s quite easy to drop.
A few extra shortcut buttons such as straight to BT Sport or Netflix would have been nice, but certainly no deal-breaker for what is otherwise a well designed and sturdy remote.
BT TV: The service
BT TV is a doddle to use. The Guide button lets you delve into the regular EPG (electronic programme guide) in rapid fashion, which is easy to read and the remote is very responsive so you can plough down the list in rapid time.
Then there’s BT Player, which lets you buy and search for films to rent or purchase. A list of options to find what you want is the first menu you get so it’s a hassle-free experience. Usefully, there’s a section called ‘Purchases’ so you can easily pull up whatever you have already paid for.
Most useful is the YouView button. This fires up a letterbox menu that lets you cycle through to Guide (the EPG), on-demand players and apps, BT Player, MyView (recordings and schedules) and Settings.
Within the Guide, you can press up and then select sections like Sport or Film and be taken to the respective part of the EPG. There’s also a Search tool which starts working after three characters have been entered – this is really handy if you’re trying to find a particular piece of content.
Another key feature of BT TV, and in fact all YouView-based services, is the so-called ‘backwards EPG’. By heading to the channel list, you can start scrolling left instead of right to start looking for programmes you’ve missed.
Provided there’s content available via services like BBC iPlayer, you’ll be able to launch them straight from the programme guide. This service isn’t currently replicated by all of the channels, but you get the basics – most of the content from BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and UKTV channels (Dave, Really and Yesterday) can be accessed this way. Plus you get the added bonus of feeling like you’re travelling back in time.
Fun fact: BT has actually been in the pay TV business since 2006. For whatever reasons, BT Vision never really won the hearts and minds of the great British public, but the new YouView-based hardware could change that.
This experience will be familiar to anyone who has had Virgin Media TiVo before. But coming from a Freeview or regular non-TiVo Virgin experience, BT TV feels refreshingly uncluttered. Those who have had to grapple with the maze-like menus of some of the older smart TVs will also appreciate the more streamlined user-interface here.
BT TV: Remote viewing
TV Everywhere is a remote viewing service that’s available to subscribers of BT’s higher end TV bundles (Entertainment Plus and Entertainment Max).
This lets you watch TV on a tablet, smartphone or computer. This means you can watch TV on the way to work or from work, or at home, if someone else is hogging the family TV.
You can access live streams of all the BT Sport channels, as well as Comedy Central, MTV, SyFy and more. Kids channels including Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon can be viewed through TV Everywhere, as can movies bought or rented through BT Box Office and now even shows like Game of Thrones are up for grabs on a buy-to-own basis.
Download the BT TV app on the device you are using ─ iOS and Android are supported but sadly no Windows Phone ─ and away you go.
Unlike EE TV, which requires a broadband connection, you can stream content over a 3G or 4G connection, meaning on your phone where ever you are.
You can also get TV Everywhere when paying for an Extra Box multiroom subscription, which gives you another BT TV box of an extra £5/month.
BT TV: What’s on?
Here’s where things can get a little confusing, thanks mainly to BT’s byzantine pricing structure. Luckily for you, we’ve made things as simple as possible.
How many TV channels you can get with BT TV depends on whether or not you can get (or can afford) a BT Infinity service.
If you can only get basic BT Broadband, that’s old-school, ADSL-type broadband, then you’re limited to getting either the BT TV Starter or Essential deal.
In terms of channels, what’s on offer here is the same – the only difference is that Starter comes with the entry-level YouView box and Essential comes with YouView+ hardware, which gives you a 500GB hard drive.
In addition to the 70+ digital terrestrial TV channels – the same ones you’d get with a Freeview HD box – you get BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2 and ESPN in standard definition for no extra cost.
You’ve also got the option here of adding Kids on-demand content, music videos and Sky Movies. You also have the option of signing up for Netflix through BT TV, home to Better Call Saul, House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black.
Although the prices are the same as they are on standard Netflix, you have the option of paying for everything under one consolidated bill.
If you can get superfast BT Infinity in your area, then you’ve got considerably more BT TV options at your disposal.
BT Infinity uses FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) technology to deliver superfast broadband and is, at the time of writing, available in 22 million premises across the UK.
Armed with BT Infinity, you’re able to order the Entertainment Starter and Entertainment Plus packages.
In addition to the 70+ terrestrial channels, these give you an extra 20 (Entertainment Starter) or 25 (Entertainment Plus) channels including MTV, Gold, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Movies 24, Comedy Central and more.
If you want to get any of these premium Entertainment channels or HD content with BT TV, you’re going to need BT Infinity. This is because BT TV delivers its premium content over the Internet – and to get TV in HD you’re going to need some extra bandwidth. That said, due to bandwidth restrictions, roughly 2 per cent of customers with Infinity can’t actually order the Entertainment channels.
Paying for the HD Extra bolt-on sees you getting all of the BT Sport channels in high definition, plus channels like FOX HD, Nat Geo Wild HD, Comedy Central HD and MTV HD.
Perhaps crucially for sports fans, BT Infinity also opens the doors to the Sky Sports channels – you can get Sky Sports 1 and/or 2 with BT TV which, combined with BT Sport, means you can get the complete run of all Premier League games for the next three seasons.
Unfortunately, you can only get Sky Sports 1 and 2 from BT TV and right now, these are not available in high definition. Should you opt for an Extra TV box, you should also note that the Sky Sports (and Sky Movies) channels won’t be available to watch on that second box.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that existing BT TV customers with BT Infinity can order Entertainment Max, which adds every available channel including 13 HD and nine Kids channels. This offer is only available to current customers as an upgrade, so unless that applies to you, you won’t be able to order it from BT.
BT TV: The cost?
Starter and Essentials with BT Broadband
The basic BT TV Starter deal costs nothing for the first 12 months and is £5/month thereafter.
Essentials costs £5/month and is only available if you take an ADSL broadband service from BT. Both of these packages come with a one-off £35 activation fee.
The cheapest BT broadband service you can bundle in with BT TV costs £8/month plus line rental (£16.99/month at the standard rate). This is an unlimited ADSL service that gives you top download speeds of 17Mbps.
Combined with BT TV Starter and BT TV Essential, this works out at £24.99/month or £29.99/month in total. There’s also a £6.95 charge for delivery of a free BT Home Hub wireless router, but this is optional.
Starter, Entertainment Starter and Entertainment Plus with BT Infinity
Related: BT line rental saver price changes as of May 18, 2015 With BT Infinity, you’ve got the option of BT TV Starter (free for 12 months, £5/month thereafter), Entertainment Starter (£5/month) or Entertainment Plus (£10/month).
The cheapest BT Infinity deal you can add to BT TV costs £7.50/month plus line rental. This gives you BT Infinity 1, which offers download speeds of up to 38Mbps but comes with a 20GB usage cap.
Combined with line rental, these three services plus BT Infinity 1 work out at £24.49/month (Starter) £29.49/month (Entertainment Starter) and £34.49/month (Entertainment Plus). One-off installation and activation fees with BT Infinity total £49. Again, a one-off £6.95 postage charge for the BT Home Hub applies, if you want one.
If you want an unlimited Infinity service to go with your TV, the best option is to opt for the £15/month Unlimited Infinity 1 bundle – which gives you the same maximum download speed, plus unlimited downloads.
With standard line rental applied, BT TV packages with unlimited BT Infinity 1 work out at £31.99 (Starter), £36.99 (Entertainment Starter) and £41.99 (Entertainment Plus).
How much is HD Extra, Sky Movies and Sky Sports?
Still with us? That’s the basic costs covered – now for the optional extras.
Kids on-demand (£3/month) music (£3/month) and Sky Movies on-demand (£13.50/month) are the only optional extras non-Infinity customers can get. These don’t give you any extra channels, but do give you access to content libraries that you can stream on your TV.
You can’t get the live Sky Movies channels and you don’t have the option of watching any non-terrestrial channels in HD.
If you’ve got BT Infinity, then you can order the HD Extra channel pack. This lets you watch BT Sport and the like in high definition, for an extra £3/month.
Sky Sports 1 and 2 cost £16.50/month extra each or can be taken together as a bundle for £22/month. You can’t get Sky Sports in HD on BT TV.
Sky Movies costs £13.50/month which gives you 11 Sky Movies channels plus access to on-demand content.
Kids on-demand channels can be added for an extra £3/month. If you’re getting the Entertainment Plus package, you’ll also get an additional nine children’s channels with this add-on.
On-demand music videos and karaoke services can be added for £3/month.
BT Box Office lets you order movies on a pay-per-view or buy-to-own basis starting from £3.50. In the future you’ll also be able to order episodes and whole seasons of TV shows from HBO including Game of Thrones and True Detective.
BT TV: How does it compare?
BT TV is competitively priced against its competitors. A TalkTalk Essentials TV package with unlimited broadband up to 17Mbps is £7.50/month for six months and £10 for the remaining 12 months. Bear in mind you will also have to pay line rental as well, which TalkTalk currently charges at £16.70/month for the standard rate.
EE TV (which comprises up to 70 TV channels) and broadband can be had from just £4.95 for the first six months and then £12.95 for the remaining 12 months plus £16.40 line rental every month. While relatively cheap, you do need an existing monthly pay as you go or pay monthly account with EE, Orange or T-Mobile, but at least the set-top box works with older SCART televisions.
Compared to premium pay TV providers, BT’s prices are slightly cheaper, but without being able to offer Sky Sports content in high definition, football fans might be better off sticking to Sky or Virgin Media.
BT TV: Verdict
BT offers a number of broadband services ranging from standard to superfast, to which you can now add an easy to use and inexpensive television package. Whichever combination of services you pick, BT Sport comes along for the ride as standard.
BT Sport channels for free, plus the regular 70-odd Freeview HD channels will be more than enough for most. Throw in a slick user-interface, easy to use remote and a growing selection of on-demand content and we doubt you will be disappointed.
In terms of value for money it sits somewhere in between what the big players offer in terms of choice and above the higher end of connected Freeview and Freesat devices.
Depending on how you feel about pay TV, it’s worth considering especially if you already have a BT broadband service.