What is the EE TV Box?
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 & Connections
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.
Setup & User Interface
EE TV App & Remote Control
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.
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.
Catch Up & Streaming Services
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
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.
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.
EE TV Replay
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.
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 Problems
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/GUI
Picture Quality HD
Picture Quality SD
Value for Money
Our Review Ethos
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