What is the VBox TV Gateway?
This isn’t the first VBox we’ve looked at, in fact, the predecessor of this model, the XTi 3340, was a promising device but lacked the tools necessary for the UK market. There was no support for Freeview HD channels, for one, the default programme guide was disorganised and nor could you schedule series recordings, plus there were a number of other shortcomings when compared to the usual PVR experience; it all just felt a bit unrefined and unready. The XTi 3342 carries a suggested retail price of £129.95 (November 2015) and, naturally, we’re expecting improvements from it on some of those fronts, and more besides, so let’s see if the new VBox TV Gateway is now ready for UK primetime…
Design & Connections
Once you’ve taken care of those necessaries - and powered up the VBox - it’s time to tune in the channels and perform a few other necessary steps. Before starting – and this is unavoidably a bit technical - you’ll need to ensure your PC and router are configured to use the UPnP protocol, although most are by default. Sorry, but if you encounter difficulties, you’ll have to check your router’s instructions for help. Whilst it is possible to use the Android or iOS app for initial setup, we would advise using a PC in case you need to troubleshoot, not to mention the fact touchscreen interfaces aren’t necessarily the best for this type of procedure.
Perhaps the fact we’ve had to devote so much page space to the set up section is telling; certainly, in terms of getting up and running - and subsequently having the wherewithal to deal with any issues - a certain ‘PC-savviness’ is required although, once done, the feature-set and applications definitely have mass appeal and, as we’re about to find out, simple to use.
The user interface is consistent over the Android and iOS mobile devices and although it isn’t the prettiest, it is functional. The Home Screen shows you your most viewed channels there’s a shortcut bar at the bottom with icons for ‘Home’, ‘Guide’, ‘Live TV’, ‘My Zone’ and ‘Settings’. The Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) presents the channels run vertically down the left hand side of the screen, whilst the programme listings run horizontally to the right. It’s a standard EPG layout then and by tapping (or mouse clicking) on a programme, it’s possible to set recordings – including series link - and watch timers, as well as viewing currently running events.
Clicking on Live TV takes you to the last watched station but from here you also get an onscreen remote which lets you channel surf and shows extended programme information. The settings menu allows you to add timer paddings - ranging from 2 minutes before and after the scheduled start, up to 20 minutes either side – which we liked - and recordings were solidly & reliably made. One thing to note is that if you want to record to network attached storage, rather than a local USB device, you will need to specify that from the browser interface as there is no facility to do so in the apps or from KODI. The software is sophisticated enough to let you begin watching recordings before the programme has ended and, in theory, the number of devices connected to the VBox is limited only by the available bandwidth on your home network.There are two tuners built-in, meaning you can watch one programme (or a recording) but in practise we found that any more than 2 with HD channels - or 3 with a mixture of high and standard definition and we’d all start hitting the buffers.
It should be noted that there are two separate apps for Android, with a dedicated one for TV Boxes available which has a remote friendly interface and the whole presentation is more attractive. The Minix performed markedly better with that, naturally, and if you check the ‘Use Native Player’ option in the app settings, you can make it output 50Hz (which UK broadcasts are) rather than the 60Hz of the mobile app; it doesn’t look so bad on a tablet or phone but the mismatch between the framerate of the content (25 frames per second) and the output frequency is glaringly obvious on the big screen. It should also be noted that most Android TV Boxes aren’t capable of automatic frequency switching, especially with 50Hz, so the Minix devices are a fairly rare breed in doing so and you’ll need to manually adjust the display settings of the device to get the right signal to your TV.
In terms of accessing the VBox XTi 3342 through a web browser we found the best bet to be Firefox. There used to be a Chrome plug-in but Google has pulled support for the Net Space API (NPAPI) which means you’re now unable to view programmes through it. We also had no luck with Internet Explorer, although that is supposed to work, according to VBox. Owners of Samsung Smart TVs from 2013 and 2014 get a dedicated app available through the Samsung app store but owners of the 2015 Tizen Smart TVs will have to wait on a new app being released (it is in the works), again, we’ll update the review once we’ve had a chance to try that out.
The VBox also has a couple of other nifty features; by setting up 'Remote Access,' you are able to access and schedule recordings wherever you have an internet connection, via the apps, KODI or a browser and users of the Android app can download their recorded content to their device to allow for those times when an internet connection isn't available. All in all, the number of ways you can watch both live and recorded is very impressive and lives up to the name TV Gateway.
VBox TV Gateway KODI
Update: since publishing, we were provided a beta release of Minix XBMC (manufacturer's tailored version of KODI) and all the issues described above completely vanished so the issue is definitely within mainline KODI; with the new version installed, picture quality via the X8-H Plus rivalled that of the Chromebox.
- Fairly easy to set up
- Works with almost all networked devices
- Series record & other good PVR features
- Broadcast quality pictures (with the right device)
- Recording to networked storage available
- Great integration with KODI - mostly
- Some missing EPG data (fix coming)
VBox Home TV Gateway (XTi 3342) Review
Should I buy the VBox XTi 3342 TV Gateway?This device definitely has a place in the connected home. The VBox TV Gateway offers a fairly simple - and highly flexible - means of getting live and recorded broadcast TV content to virtually any device on your home network, including smartphones, tablets, PCs, media boxes, Samsung TVs and anything running KODI. For some, it may have some slightly restrictive installation requirements – ideally your router and primary TV aerial connection will be close together, your wireless home network is recommended to be a minimum of 802.11n and setup isn’t as simple as a typical PVR.
Once you have got the VBox up and running, however, it is a very user friendly system capable of sending broadcast quality live TV and recordings, including HD, all around the home with dedicated apps for iOS and Android, including a special one for Android TV boxes which is remote friendly. You can use USB or networked (NAS) storage to keep your recordings, and the VBox also plays extremely nice with KODI, with its own dedicated PVR add-on available. It doesn’t work quite so well with Android as it does on other platforms, although perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by that given the diversity of hardware. There is an issue with missing data for HD channels, on all platforms but a fix for that is incoming soon, at which point there will be no other obvious flaws.
Overall this a product we’ve really enjoyed using and we have no hesitation in giving it an AVForums Recommended Award.
Picture Quality HD
Picture Quality SD
Value for Money
Our Review Ethos
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