EE TV Review
Qualifying customers would be crazy not to!
What is the EE TV Box?You can draw comparisons between the EE TV with the likes of Sky HD Boxes, Virgin’s TiV0, the various YouView PVRs and any number of Freeview/Freesat personal video recorders. So it’s a box you connect to your TV which receives TV broadcasts, through an aerial, and also allows you to record them to the built-in 1TB hard drive. It will also let you to pause and rewind ‘Live TV’ and comes with access to various catch-up and video streaming services – more on these later.
Amidst all the available PVRs (Personal Video Recorders), on all the various platforms, it’s fair to question why a company primarily operating in the world of mobiles and smartphones would want to be part of such a competitive arena. Clearly EE wants a bigger slice of the home broadband market and it sees the EE TV box as a compelling attraction for new customers; as well as getting those on their mobile contracts to sign up.
So, what’s special about it?
In essence it’s a Freeview HD recorder so it has access to all the various TV, Radio and connected features the platform provides but it has a few standout features to set it apart. First and foremost, the EE TV platform has been built with smartphones and tablets designed to play a central role. The interface is very mobile led and there’s an app for iOS and Android that interlinks with the box in useful and interesting ways. The EE TV box can also , if you wish, record up to four channels simultaneously or you can opt for two channel recording and take advantage of the Replay feature. Again, we’ll have more on all that later in the review.
Do I need to be an EE customer to get one?
Unfortunately, at this time, yes you do. Specifically, it’s available to any EE, T-Mobile or Orange pay monthly or pay as you go mobile customers, who have a consumer mobile phone plan together with any home broadband plan with a landline. Those fulfilling that criterion can get one for no fee, which is nice, as EE reckons they cost around £300 to produce. The EE TV box is configured only to work with EE’s Bright Box 2 wireless router, so you’ll need to ensure you’re supplied with one of those too. UPDATE: Confirmed working with Bright Box 1. Another prerequisite is that your broadband connection must be capable of 4 Mbps download, to ensure a smooth experience.
The fact the review sample came unlocked to work on any router gives some hope that EE might make it available, for a fee, to non-EE customers; but we wouldn’t advise holding your breath on that one.
Design & ConnectionsWe really like the industrial looks of the EE TV, although it does mean there is no real display panel, so you won’t get feedback on the likes of recordings taking place, channel info or time. That’s not an issue for us but we know some will wish there was one. You do get an indicator light at the font which shines green when the unit is on and red when in standby, but that’s all. The unit is basically a tough black plastic shell, with the electronics on show through a mesh, which allows for cooling.
Considering its technical prowess - including four HD tuners and a 1TB HDD - the EE TV Box has a relatively small footprint at around 40x210x200mm (HxWxD) but it still has room for plenty of connections at the rear. There’s an HDMI out and a nice touch is the fact there is a cable in the box. There’s also Toslink digital and stereo audio outputs, a socket for your aerial connection and a RF loop-through to carry broadcasts to another device; likely your television. Additionally, there’s a LAN port for wired internet but EE TV does have built-in dual band WiFi too.
There is also a USB port, which EE has told us will be unlocked to provide, ' a number of features, to be revealed in due course.' We'd presume one of those might be the ability to upload new firmware and we'd guess at some form of media player but we'll wait and see what EE has up their sleeve. We were a little mystified by the 10 Pin Din connector at the rear, as there is no explanation for it in the provided user guide. Self same pamphlet reports that owners of a TV without a HDMI port can contact EE for a special HDMI>Scart lead but it turns out that the mystery connection is a miniDin to Scart port, so perhaps some revision of the information is needed.
Is it quiet?
The fact there is no fan inside the EE TV box means it is pretty hushed during its day to day operations. We heard a little bit of clicking from the hard drive, from time to time, but if you have it stowed away in a unit, you’re very unlikely to ever hear anything from it. As the vent on the top is crucial for cooling the EE TV, we would strongly advise against stacking anything on top, or covering it in any way.
Has there ever been a slicker set up process?
Setup & User InterfaceThis is one slick little box. Right from the moment you go through a brief setup process and are told your channels have been tuned in the background, upon its completion, you get the idea the software designers have been working very hard – and to great effect! By default, channels are presented as tiles which can be filtered in to genres or by numbers but you can resort to a conventional EPG (Electronic Programme Guide), should you prefer. For planning recordings in the longer term the old-school EPG might be preferable but it’s nowhere near as pretty.
It’s actually quite a brave approach from EE - we’ll look forward to hearing how it goes down with customers - but we think this is at least close to how all television based user interfaces should look in the future. There are five major headings from the Home Page – On Demand, Live TV, Recordings, Replay plus Tools & Help and these simple descriptions are highly effective from an ease-of-use standpoint. The screens all load very quickly too, and we happen to like the turquoise-ish colour scheme; so it’s pretty much win in this department, as far as we are concerned.
EE TV App & Remote ControlBarring the omission of the On Demand services, the interface of the mobile app (iOS & Android) is pretty much identical to that of the box itself. You get to access all the live channels, as well as anything you have recorded and once you have found something to watch, you can do so on the mobile device or you can send it to the TV by using a flicking motion on the touchscreen.
Provided your mobile device is of a Full HD resolution, the app also allows you to stream in High Definition, too. Although that is probably something to consider because if you are planning on taking advantage of the full EE ecosystem, any recordings you make in HD won't be available to your non-Full HD phone or tablet. For now, that's the majority of them so it would be best to check your mobile's specifications.
You can also set recordings and access help topics and the only thing to stop it scoring as highly as the Box UI is the fact it can take quite a while to load up and after long periods of inactivity, it can take a while to pair with the unit; but once it’s up and running, it is very good and the fact it will work when the box is in standby is excellent, although we did sometimes find we had to bring the box out of standby for full functionality to resume.
Whilst it’s clear EE would rather you use your mobile as the ultimate control device, the supplied conventional handset is not too shabby. It features a nice, soft rubberised finish and all the numeric and control buttons one would except, save for the lack of a conventional ‘Stop’ button; it’s all ‘backwards pointing arrow’ nowadays.
Can I use the App when I’m out?
No, not at the moment. We believe EE are involved in discussions with all the relevant content providers to make streaming while you’re not on your home network a reality but, right now, you can’t quite have everything everywhere – did you see what we did there? We’d expect an announcement on this, in due course, but how long that will take is anybody’s guess; although we’d expect it to happen sooner than EE making units available off contract.
Fantastic smartphone and tablet integration
Catch Up & Streaming ServicesThis is an area which shows that EE TV is a service still in its infancy, although there are some good options. Probably the star of the show is the BBC iPlayer, with its new and improved interface plus 30-day catch-up period. You also have Sport and News apps from the BBC and catch-up from Channel 5’s archives, via Demand 5. The near ubiquitous YouTube also makes an appearance and, as you would expect from the EE TV, the app supports ‘casting’ from your phone or tablet, so you can browse for content using your mobile’s app and then send it to the big screen; so much easier than using a remote!
For paid-for video streaming, your choice is limited to Wuaki TV but it does get all the latest movies and TV shows in HD and our test of it, using the HD stream of Edge of Tomorrow, proved it works really well on the EE TV. The quality was about on par with the best HD Netflix can provide but we would definitely like to see the World’s favourite internet TV service added to the ranks, at some point. We assume Wuaki has penned some form of exclusivity deal with EE but these things don’t last for ever. Others we would like to see, in the short term, are the ITV Player and 40D, to bring it closer to parity with YouView.
We know that EE will be announcing new content partners, as the platform continues to develop and as it’s built on HTML5, it should make it relatively easy for the app developers to come up with the goods.
EE TV Video Review
PVR FunctionsOf all the impressive specifications detailed at launch, it was perhaps the EE TVs ability to record four channels simultaneously which caught the eye the most. It does, of course, beg the question of when are there ever three or more programmes worth recording showing on Freeview concurrently? But that’s a question only you can decide on. EE TV does provide you choices, however, so you can revert to a more conventional dual tuner set-up and take advantage of the Replay (see below) feature instead.
The rest are the fairly standard, but well implemented, PVR functionalities most of us have become accustomed to. Meaning, you can do things like set up single or series recordings, although we must note that the software is fairly aggressive in its idea of what constitutes a series. For instance, set up a recording for Match of the Day on a Saturday night and it will record all the various MOTD subsidiary and sister programmes. In one way this is not such a bad thing but if you have lots of series records set up, you may find your library is full of stuff you don’t actually want to view.
Another nice to have feature is ‘Chase Play,’ where you can begin viewing a recording before the programme ends. You can also set up global padding defaults in the Settings Menu, if you’re not fully trusting in the box’s ability to pick up the programme start and end data, that’s sent as part of the broadcast. Our testing indicated that you’re unlikely to need the global padding but you’re at the mercy of the broadcasters ensuring the data is embedded.
As with the rest of the service, the Recordings interface is a pleasure to view, with large tiles making programmes easy to find. There seems to be a small bug where some recordings from the same multiplex display the same image but there’s text information on the tiles too, so it’s not a huge problem.
We do think the tiles might become a bit of a chore to wade through once you have accumulated a lot of recordings, so EE might want to consider adding some organisational options; although it’s difficult to visualise what they might be, as folders probably wouldn’t look too good. That’s one for EE to work out but simpler for them to implement would be the option of hiding channels from the EPG and 'Live' tiles. You do have the option of hiding adult channels but not other dross such as the numerous shopping services.
All in all, this is an excellent implementation of core Freeview HD PVR functionalities – especially for a first attempt.
The Replay feature is genius
EE TV ReplayJust to be clear, you can’t use the Replay feature if you elect to go for four channel recording during the setup process. You can, of course, switch it on at any time in the Settings Menu, and after the realisation that, for us, there would hardly ever be an instance where two tuner recording wasn’t sufficient, that’s exactly what we did.
Replay offers you the opportunity automatically record up to an entire day’s worth of programming from up to six nominated channels. For technical reasons, EE has to limit the choice but all of the ‘main’ channels are present. In some ways this excellent aggregation feature makes up for the absence of catch up players from ITV and Channel 4 as they are amongst the available channels.
At present, Replay is limited to SD channels only, despite there being an HD option in the Settings Menu. EE says they will unlock HD to Replay once more mobile devices with the needed resolution are on the market. We think they should unlock it now, for those using Replay on a TV!
Replay has its own special area on the homepage but when viewing the live TV roster or EPG, If you see a currently running programme with a green logo depicting an arrow travelling anti-clockwise, hitting the Play button on the remote will immediately take you to the start – very neat!
We would definitely rate Replay as a much more desirable feature to use than four tuner recording and it’s one that sets the EE TV apart from every other Freeview recorder out there.
EE TV ProblemsThe only real issue we experienced using the EE TV review unit was with HDMI ‘handshaking’ where we sometimes couldn’t get the connected TV to produce pictures or sound, after either bringing the unit and/or the TV out of standby. We ruled out the possibility it was HDMI cable related, by trying three different ones and we hooked up the EE TV to three separate TVs, so it was more than coincidence. The quickest fix is to whip out the power cable from the back of the EE TV and re-plug after a few seconds but we wouldn’t advise that as healthy, so you’ll need to try combinations of rebooting the box and TV, as well as plugging and unplugging HDMI leads. Strangely, with two of the TVs, putting the lead in to a different HDMI port from the one it had just been occupying brought instant success.
We've since spoken to EE about the issue and they say their engineers are now working on a fix which will be available soon.
- Unrivalled mobile integration
- Superb user interface
- Replay is great
- Solid PVR features
- Very quiet
- Free to EE customers
- Not available off-contract
- HDMI handshaking problems
- Replay is only in SD for now
- A few software bugs
EE TV Review
Should I get the EE TV Box?
If you are already a qualifying EE customer, you’d be bonkers not to grab one of these nifty little boxes, whilst they are available for nothing! Even if you don’t yet feel it has quite enough content to be your living room box, it’s a fantastic option for another room. The user interface is refreshing and the integration with phones and tablets is superb.
As a Freeview HD recorder it performs the nuts and bolts with aplomb but it’s with the unique Replay feature where it sets itself apart. Replay aggregates up to a whole day’s worth of programmes, from six nominated channels, and it might just change the way you view TV. In fact, you could say that of the entire package, with its ability to stream four different programmes to four separate devices, simultaneously.
We would like to see more streaming apps added; ITV Player, 4OD and Netflix would be a good start. You do, of course, have to remember this is a service just launched, and it’s evident from its implementation that EE means business, so we’re optimistic we’ll see rapid improvement here. There are also a couple of software issues that need attention but we know they are being worked on, so we have no problems in giving the EE TV an AVForums Highly Recommended Award. It’s just a shame you can’t get a one off-contract!
What else is there?
Assuming you’re ignoring subscription based TV packages, the nearest competition, in our estimation, comes from the TalkTalk and BT branded YouView boxes. Like the EE TV, you can get one for nothing with certain contracts, and they also give you access to all the Freeview services, as well as various video streaming apps. YouView is, without doubt, better supported in terms of catch-up players, at this time, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see EE playing a little catch-up of their own, in that department, in the near future. EE TV has far better integration with mobile devices, however, and the Replay feature plus the superb user interface really sets it apart from the rest of the Freeview pack - not just YouView.
Ease of Use Menus/GUI9
Picture Quality HD9
Picture Quality SD8
Value for Money10
Our Review Ethos
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