YouView beta testers got their boxes last week, and this morning it was the turn of the press to find out more about the long-delayed service, with a launch at the Movie Museum (formerly the hallowed portals of County Hall, on the South Bank).
There are plenty of pieces around the web talking about various aspects of it – see RegHardware’s take, and Pocket Lint if you want lots of photos. And yes, there are plenty of questions to ask – not least that £299 price tag for the Humax box. But as Lord Sugar pointed out, it’s likely to come down quite a lot in the next couple of years; when the first Freeview HD recorders appeared, those too were around the £300 mark, as were the first decent standard def models a few years beforehand. So, this is very much the early adopter price tag, and as long as it does fall – I’d not be surprised if we see it around the £250 mark before Christmas – then that’s not too outrageous.
And, there’s no doubt that the box does a good job of integrating the various catch-up content, with its backwards scrolling EPG, so you can easily launch an iPlayer version of something you missed, going directly to the appropriate episode. For a lot of people, that functionality will almost mean there’s no need to actually record on the hard drive – though it’s worth noting that not all shows do appear. For example, Undercover Boss from earlier in the week didn’t appear on the catch-up list. (As an aside, wouldn’t it be clever if you could give priority in recordings to those shows that won’t be on catch-up, in case there are clashes?)
One niggle I’ve seen people making is that the box doesn’t have WiFi built in; personally, I think that’s a blessed relief, and it’s a waste of money including it in products like this; you can read why in this post from 2010.
I can see that for some people, a YouView box is exactly the sort of thing they’d give to the less technical members of the family – no need to get to grips with the different navigation options on iPlayer, 4OD and ITV Player, when it’s all nicely unified, plus a decent Freeview HD PVR as well.
But for some of us, that’s not quite enough. If you have broadband from one of the partner ISPs, then there’ll be extra content available via their services – that’s BT or TalkTalk. And the STV Player will be coming soon, which is welcome news for those of us cruelly deprived of Taggart, along with Now TV, from Sky, which will provide access to Sky Movies and other pay content.
What was missing was more remarkable – for a connected TV product to launch in the UK without iPlayer would be unthinkable, and of course YouView has that more than covered. But for there to be no LoveFilm, NetFlix or AceTrax means that, for a lot of users, there’s not going to be the extra content that they’d expect. Sure, lots of people will have one or more of those services via their TV, or something like a Roku box. But if you’re going to spend £300 on a new piece of kit, then I think you’d really like it to be able to do everything, wouldn’t you?
To be fair, this was only launch day, and during the presentation, they did say there have been expressions of interest from over 300 partners, though whether an expression of interest is much more than saying “Could you pop a brochure in the post” is an interesting question. One thing that struck me, though, was the statement that the procedure for signing up those partners is just getting started. Given that the project has been delayed for technical reasons, I have to say that I think it’s a bit odd that more partner agreements weren’t available on launch day, and I do hope that some of those key extra services do become available soon.
That, perhaps, is one of the big issues facing YouView; with much of Europe going down the route of HbbTV instead, will the likes of AceTrax, LoveFilm and NetFlix want to work with a UK-only system, or will they prefer to build out their services for HbbTV?
There’s no doubt that the hardware is there; it’s a great looking box, and the software looks slick and incredibly easy to use – far better than messing around with the cluttered ‘Smart TV’ interfaces that afflict many modern TV sets. And that in itself will be a great selling point; but for me, I’d want to know I could access some of those other services too, for extra content. And that’s something where we’re just going to have to wait and see.