After two years of development, TalkTalk is the first of YouView’s commercial partners to launch a service tied to its broadband service.
Both BT and TalkTalk have promised to add subscription TV channels, music videos and on-demand films to YouView’s hybrid of Freeview and catch-up TV from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.
TalkTalk TV includes entry-level subscription channels like Sky 1, and premium channels like Sky Movies and Sky Sports. Some of the on-demand TV and films even come from sources that aren’t a three letter word that starts with ‘S’ and ends in ‘y’.
TalkTalk's YouView box: Hua and Awei the best
TalkTalk has its own YouView box, the Huawei DN370T, and it's notably different to the Humax DTR-T1000 you can find in the shops. It's free if you susbcribe to a TalkTalk Plus unlimited broadband package.
It’s a good deal smaller - about a third of the size, we reckon - and quieter since there’s no fan inside. There’s also a 350GB hard disc (although the installer thought it was a 1TB box). That’s smaller than the Humax offers and may be too small for some, but on the other hand there's a lot of catch-up that negates the need to record everything.
It’s also a little faster than the Humax box, but at 30-plus seconds it still takes too long to boot up from standby, even without power-saving turned on.
There are USB ports on the rear and side of the DN370T, and on the back panel are a TV aerial input, HDMI port, S/PDIF optical digital audio output, a Scart socket and a loopthrough output for connecting your TV aerial to your TV.
The remote is also a little different to Humax’s, with the YouView button shrunk down an pushed to one side, a large ‘TalkTalk’ button for accessing the TalkTalk Player, and a rubber directional pad that’s quite nice to use.
Unlike a retail box, TalkTalk sends one of its Bright Sparks engineers to fit the box and fine-tune your broadband. This does introduce a delay - there's currently a 4 to 6 week wait for an install, so order now for Christmas.
At the same time, the engineer will make sure you’ve got the latest router and ADSL filters installed. TalkTalk recommends 5Mbps for a reliable YouView experience, but they'll run a speed check on your line before taking an order.
The install can take anything from about 40 minutes to over an hour if you want your router and TV in different locations. If that’s the case, the installer will use a couple of powerline home network extenders to guarantee a decent connection. The YouView box itself still needs to be near a TV aerial connection.
The box itself takes about 10 minutes to set up, and your Bright Spark will ensure the default password is changed, a security question is set up, and your box is registered with TalkTalk.
If you need to buy any TV or film subscriptions, he’ll also walk you through that, since it can be done with the remote control.
TalkTalk Player: More than Sky, less than Sky+
The basic YouView experience is the same as the retail box which we documented on video. It’s a Freeview+ HD recorder with a ‘backwards’ EPG that lets you scroll backwards through the past week and watch any programmes from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 that are marked with the catch-up symbol.
You can also watch directly through the various on-demand players: BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5, plus a special free children’s TV player for Milkshake from Channel 5, and Sky’s Now TV for pay-per-view and subscription films from Sky Movies.
What’s new is the TalkTalk Player. This is basically a second programme guide where you can watch live TV channels streamed over your broadband connection, or stream on-demand TV shows and films from a variety of sources.
You get Sky 1, Sky Living, and the channels you’d expect to see in any pay-TV package like Comedy Central, Disney, Watch, GOLD and FX. Sports fans will be pleased to see all four Sky Sports channels, plus News and F1, and ESPN. It's all standard definition for now (though high quality), although we're assured that HD's on the roadmap.
There are some unusual names: Lovefilm provides the pay-per-view films, charging £3.50 for recent releases like Avengers Assemble, and there are on-demand TV libraries from the US networks ABC, Warner and Sony Entertainment TV, as well as Sony Retro with classics like Married With Children and Charlie’s Angels, and children’s TV library Scamp.
Sadly, one on-demand library TalkTalk hasn’t carried across from the old Tiscali TV service it bought a few years back it the excellent V:MX music service, but we're told they're working on a new music service.
A recent upgrade has made the guide a lot faster, and you can now browse all of the on-demand libraries and live channel while you're watching either a live or on-demand programme on the TalkTalk Player.
One of the main drawbacks of YouView that carries over to the TalkTalk Player is that you can’t record from on-demand or streaming broadband channels. Yes, there’s some catch-up, but none for the Sky channels, which is a quite a gap.
An update in 2013 should fix this, allowing you to record any channel and to include the TalkTalk channels in the main YouView EPG.
We’ve detailed TalkTalk’s TV price plans in detail previously, starting from £5/month for a basic set of Sky Entertainment channels, a set of music channels or a set of kids’ channels - or £10 a month for all three, with a bit of on-demand as well. It’s £15 for a big choice of live TV and on-demand. Sky Movies is £15/month and Sky Sports £30/month, or £40 for both.
That’s competitive for entertainment channels and reasonable for Sky Movies, but very expensive for sports. Unlike Sky, you don’t need a starter entertainment pack to get sports or films, so it could be good value in some cases.
You have to sign up to a TalkTalk Plus unlimited broadband-and-phone package, but the TV bundles are on a 30-day rolling contract that you can chop and change at any time.
TalkTalk has put together a good collection of entertainment channels and on-demand TV at competitive prices, but there’s no HD content yet and no on-demand for the Sky channels. The compact Huawei box is much nicer than the chunky Humax box that looks so 2010.
The real restrictions seem to come from the YouView platform itself: namely that it’s quite slow to start up and to load the various players; and you can’t record the on-demand streaming channels.
As YouView and TalkTalk update their software to make their products faster, and fix that recording oversight, TalkTalk TV could have a real future as a competitor to Sky or Virgin Media.