BT TV is part-way through updating its YouView set top boxes with new HTML5 and cloud-based software that brings the platform’s look and feel bang up to date.
I’ve been having a play with an updated box for the past couple of weeks and have largely been impressed with what’s on offer.
The differences between the original and ‘Next Generation’ software are instantly noticeable – top is the previous look which had scarcely changed since launch:
and here is the main menu on the updated software:
As you’ll have spotted, the menu bar has been upgraded to immediately start providing you with content as soon as it’s brought up on screen and, as you scroll left or right, switches between short cuts for currently on air shows, recent recordings, catch-up players, or BT’s own video on demand player.
The new look, which has been applied throughout, adopts transparent backgrounds so that you can always follow the onscreen action.
Here’s how the EPG changes between original (top) and new (bottom) software:
The most radical change is on the recordings screens which drops the dull list format for a colourful, image-tile approach which displays the most recent recording as a large image with older recordings listed left to right:
If you have multiple episodes of the same series, these are stored in a ‘series folder’ which you can access by clicking the relevant tile and then selecting the episode you want to watch.
Taking its cue from streaming services such as Netflix, the change has been controversial with some existing users who claim a preference for the lists of yesterday but I prefer the vibrant and bright approach taken by the update.
That said, the large tile makes less sense once you’ve moved past the first page and it’s a shame that during the update the option to key in a given number of minutes and watch a recording from that moment has been lost. The EPG has also lost the ability to hide channels – though any hidden with the the old software should stay gone.
YouView and BT say removed features will reappear in a subsequent update but it’s a shame they weren’t ready for the initial roll-out as this has dented the overall experience for some users.
The make-over has also been extended to BT’s video on demand and catch-up player app which now feels like a more integrated part of the overall experience. The player has had a number of updates over the past couple of years, but this is by far the most dramatic.
As with the recordings menu, this has seen a shift away from a text-heavy approach and the embracing of the image-led look of rival services such as Netflix and Apple’s iTunes store:
Any shows that you’ve rented or bought are displayed in a handy tab, with the main screens used to highlight and showcase a mix of free catch-up content and those which carry an extra charge.
So, for example, films from BT’s exclusive AMC channel are located in the film section alongside recent Hollywood films you might want to rent or buy. But, if you just want to see the content which is free for you, this can be done by tapping the green button.
Any purchases you make can also be watched on a tablet or smartphone via the BT TV app however if you want to watch on a TV, you’re restricted to watching via the set top box you used to make the purchase, even if you have BT’s multi-room service.
This is common across all providers and is down to the way Hollywood and broadcaster’s license content but it’s still a shame you can’t finish watching purchases and rentals in another room.
I’d also have liked any half-watched paid-for content to show up in the BT Player tab on the main box menu rather than, as is the case, just the shows and films BT thinks you’ll like or wants you to watch.
BT’s current line-up of set boxes, which includes a non-recording ‘zapper box’, a HD recorder and the flagship UHD recording model (pictured above), have always been decent performers but when coupled with the new software they offer a solid user experience and, at last, the modern styling of the boxes is now matched by the UI.
For those with a compatible TV, the 4K box is definitely the model to go for – it’s well-built, speedy – even outperforming both of its stablemates – and its 1TB hard drive should provide enough storage space for most TV and sports fans.
It’s also the only way to get the full suite of BT’s channels, including the BT Sport 4K channel which, as shown below, is increasingly important to the firm’s TV strategy.
Unveiled alongside, but not dependent on, the new software BT TV has also gained Dolby Atmos sound on selected 4K UHD content and a new partnership with boxing promotor Frank Warren is bringing major-league fights to the platform, including some in UHD.
And 2017 is set to be the year when BT’s tie-up with US drama brand AMC really starts to pay off.
Until now the channel has largely relied on the availability of Fear The Walking Dead, its only other first-run content being the already axed David Schwimmer series Feed The Beast, and Manhattan.
Otherwise the channel has offered repeats of Mad Men and Weeds, or shows such as Into the Badlands and Hap & Leonard which, while new to the channel, had their debut on Amazon Prime Video because the rights were pre-sold before the UK version of the channel launched.
This year that includes the Pierce Brosnan western epic The Son, which debuts in April, and later in the year The Terror, an adaption of the bestselling Simmons novel about a Royal Navy ship which is attacked by a mysterious predator that stalks the ships and their crew in a suspenseful and desperate game of survival.
Coupled with its share of the Premier League, Australian cricket rights (including the next Ashes), renewed European football deal and the Warren tie-up, this is a compelling line-up on content.
With BT’s top tier, 4K, package available for just £18 per month (BT TV is only available with BT’s broadband so you’ll need to factor in these costs too if you’re not already a customer), the platform is an increasingly attractive option for those looking for more than just Freeview but who want to avoid the wallet-busting prices charged by some rival providers.