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BT Ultra HD YouView Box User Review

  • jjgreenwood
    Is the Ultra HD BT Service worth it?
    Review of BT Ultra HD YouView Box personal video recorder by jjgreenwood, Apr 9, 2016.
    What is the BT UHD Youview Box

    This BT Youview box is a PVR with a couple of clever tricks up its sleeve. It works exactly as any other youview box but also has the capability to receive and display 4K video in 10 bit colour at 50fps. It comes equipped with a 1tb hard disc - twice as large as most its competitors. It is small and comes with a comprehensive remote control that is very easy to use. During the review I did not notice it make any noise but others have had different experiences so YMMV. I do have the PVR in an enclosed cabinet so this may have made a difference. The box is small and gloss black with lights on the front which show you what it is doing, purple is sleep mode, blue is when its on and a combination of these with red shows when it is recording. The box is only available from BT when you take a total entertainment package which is currently discounted to £13 a month. The box comes for free with this service.

    Setup

    Firstly you will need a solid internet connection through BT to be able to order one of these in the first place. BT states you need at least 44mpbs, 29mbps for the UHD service and the balance for recording a second HD channel. Assuming you have the required speed BT will then want to send an engineer out to make sure the box is physically connected to the router via ethernet - a 10m cable comes in the box. Some (including myself) have managed to avoid this visit but some haven't. I installed the unit by using Devolo 1200 powerline adapters which worked perfectly. You will then need a 4k TV with a HDMI 2.0 port and HDCP 2.2, the box comes with a high speed HDMI lead capable of over 18mbps and this should then be connected to your HDMI 2.0 port. The other connection required is an aerial for the freeview channels - this box cannot use satellite.

    Once connected the box runs through setup which is very easy, first it tunes the channels and at this point I realised it was picking up fewer channels than my TV including missing all HD channels. After fiddling around I found this was caused by HDMI interference from the PC and Xbox so switching these off resumed normal service. Worth noting though if like me you are used to Satellite or using the aerial through the TV. The box then establishes an internet connection and setup is done so very straightforward. In the menus there is a setting to increase the box to output 10bit colour from 8bit colour if your TV can display it, it shows you this as you go through setup. My TV can display this so this is the option I chose.

    BT TV Services

    BT provides a selection of its own channels on the device which are sent over the internet. Most of these are SD but there is a decent selection of HD channels also available on most other services of this kind. It's easier to state the channels than are missing compared to other services so I'm afraid to say no Sky 1, no Fox, no Sky Atlantic, no Watch HD, no Dave HD, no Alibi HD, no C5 HD, no Film4 HD in fact there is very little in the way of drama other than that on freeview. BT's own exclusive AMC channel is included but content is very limited and only broadcasts after 7pm, so can't be considered an alternative. There is, however, plenty of documentary and nature channels, comedy central and music channels. There also seems to be a reasonable selection for children.

    There are several BT Sport channels, all of which show a wide variety of content. Picture quality on all channels seems as good as other HD services with the Sports channels perhaps being slightly better through the box than a Sky system. Sky sports is also available but I haven't subscribed so cannot comment on picture quality vs the Sky system or Virgin. While you get the whole BT Sport package inclusive in the £13 a month Sky Sports HD costs £27 a month and only gives you Sky Sports 1&2. This means that you would get all the football but Golf, Cricket, F1 and so on might still be unavailable. That said the BT Sports channels do deliver such a large amount of content unless you especially wanted to watch those Sports in particular you should always find live sport to watch on the service.

    The UHD service has its own BT Sport Channel, and it is limited to sport there is no films or other content. Picture quality through this channel is excellent with the image being very crisp. The channel is solid despite being streamed over the internet, occasionally I did encounter the sound to drop out - usually when the box started to record something on another channel. This is rare though, and I can't say it spoils the experience. Content is very limited with usually only 1 or 2 football matches being shown in a week. I've yet to see anything else other than football shown but assume that other events BT carries such as Rugby or MotoGP will be shown if there is no football that week. The higher resolution often allows for the camera to be set further back during the football allowing you to see the play of the whole pitch or at least a much larger section vs standard definition. This is very effective and shows greater tactical play in the game vs normal HD services and, of course, the picture remains pin sharp due to the additional detail available. BT recommends a TV no smaller than 55" and its easy to see why when you see it in action. It's refreshing to see BT use the extra resolution to create a different viewing experience not possible with HD coverage. There is no need to worry about the drama of the football as BT still has plenty of close ups of set plays and dramatic moments in the match. Without a doubt this is the clearest way to watch a football match and it is just a shame that the channel shows so few, and just displays an advertising reel when live events are not on - even repeats of previous matches or other sport would be preferable to constant adverts.

    Menus and Interface

    EPG

    The electronic program guide is the same for all youview devices. Its very easy to use and its simple to navigate to types of channels including HD channels. This device has the fastest EPG I have ever used - there is zero lag anywhere and it is exceptionally responsive. I would say this is the best EPG experience I have had on any platform and I've experienced all major services.

    Youview & Settings

    The youview menu can be accessed by pressing the youview button on the remote. This lets you access the guide, the BT player, the settings menus and the other players and apps. The settings menu itself lets you choose between stereo and surround for the HDMI & optical ports. There are also accessibility controls for assisted audio & subtitles and settings for the tuning & picture. It is all laid out in a sensible fashion and is easy to use. It works very quickly with no lag.

    Features and Apps

    All youview devices have the full roster of catchup services with iplayer, itv on demand and channel 4 on demand. These services work well on this box with no lag at all which is an achievement as normally iplayer will lag on pretty much anything other than a PC.

    This box also carries Netflix which can be activated by paying the Netflix subscription. This gives the ability to add some much needed drama and entertainment to the package starting from £5.99 a month. As this is a UHD box the player can play Netflix in 4k which costs £8.99 a month this gives access to Netflix's reasonable 4k library of content such as House of Cards & Jessica Jones. Picture quality on Netflix 4k is good through the box but I felt it may be slightly better through my 4K TV - and as most 4K TV's come with the app then for ultimate quality perhaps some will decide it's inclusion irrelevant. I did find myself using the app more on the box than the TV just because it was more convenient. Like the rest of the content on the box the Netflix app was also very fast with zero lag.

    There is a BT Player app with content and the BT store where you can buy TV series and Films. I watched the Hunger Games Catching Fire 2 and picture quality was of a reasonable standard - certainly comparable to HD Netflix content but not as good as Bluray. There are no 4K films available to rent or buy and it cost £4.99 to rent this new release in HD. TV series cost depends on amount of episodes but for example the Night Manager is £12.99 in HD which is the same as Amazon. There are app's for the phone & tablet so if you buy content you can watch it on the go. There is catchup for the BT channels and the sport channels have the most impressive lineup of catchup content. The mobile apps allow you to play live tv as well and send record requests to the box remotely much like the sky+ app. There is a 4k section but this has a very limited library of content from Red Bull which is disappointing.

    There is a NowTV app but it seems to only be for Sky movies which all appear to be in SD. New releases are in the BT store so I would stick to that. Its disappointing Sky's entertainment & Sports offering is not available through the box. Probably so Sky can charge a lot for its Sports channels via the EPG. There is no Amazon app for the device so its not possible to use prime streaming either, presumably so Amazon doesn't compete with the BT store. This is a shame as Amazon offer a reasonable range of 4K movies and content which would enhance the BT offering.

    Recording

    Recording works as you would expect. I haven't had any failed recordings other than when I've been using the PC and the HDMI interference issue has reared its head. The recordings sit in their own section and are labled with what was recorded along with the program description. You can record 1 live channel and another internet channel at the same time. 1TB of space means you can have a huge amount of recorded content on the box and features like series link work but sometimes link into SD content when you've selected HD content causing it to request 2 recordings but the box seems to record the HD content anyway.

    Conclusion

    BT's TV platform is a bit of a mixed bag. It is obviously very good value for money at £13 a month with the hardware thrown in for nothing. The hardware is hard to fault, on all metrics it is essentially reference from it small appearance, excellent remote and menu system, processing power and picture quality. It is a shame then that BT fail to play to the strengths of the platform. Lack of blockbuster entertainment is perhaps a given at the price BT is charging when the sports offering is so strong, but why doesn't it make its archive of 4K sport available on demand, why doesn't it offer repeats of content on the channel? BT store has a lot of content but why isn't this also available in 4k? Amazon offers 4K films on its service so its obviously possible so its a mystery why BT ignores this obvious line of revenue.

    As for alternatives I think the BT TV price makes it better value than buying a freeview or freesat box given the extras you get, and the fact the hardware is better. Sky is a better bet if you want their sports or value their entertainment offering but obviously costs a lot more, and Sky+HD box is not as good as the BT UHD box. SkyQ is even more expensive still but is more aimed at multiroom customers, of which I am not one so cannot comment but you can buy a lot in BT store every month for the extra money. Virgin has more content and is similar in terms of price when you factor in broadband and phone line but the hardware is dated and doesn't have UHD.

    The service combined with Netflix gives a good selection of 4K material and picture quality on normal HD is as good as anything else I'd seen. So considering the hardware is the best of its type, and the groundbreaking nature of the UHD channel I have to say I can recommend BT TV UHD. BT needs to deliver 4K movies, better entertainment options and provide more on its 4K channel, even if just repeats, to get a 10.

    Review Notes

    Type of household: Couple, 1 TV
    Tested on: LG 55EF950V OLED 4K Display, Sonos Playbar & Sub, BT FTTP 200mbps connection
    Previous unit: Sky+HD Complete Package
    This item was purchased for £13 a month from BT Retail in 2016. The reviewer still owns this product.

    Pros

    • Excellent hardware
    • Excellent Sports Package
    • UHD Channel a new experience

    Cons

    • Entertainment Content Limited
    • Sky Sports Expensive and Limited on the Service
    • Too much content is in SD

    Build Quality

    9

    Design

    10

    Connectivity Audio/Video

    9

    Remote Control

    9

    Ease of Use Menus/GUI

    10

    EPG

    10

    Recording Flexibility

    10

    Recording Reliability

    8

    Picture Quality HD

    10

    Picture Quality SD

    6

    Catch-up/VOD Services

    7

    Other Features

    8

    Value for Money

    10

    Verdict

    8
    • Mallett94
      Can I please make a request. I am interested in upgrading to the Ultra HD box even though I only have a 1080p tv. The main reason for this is because the UHD channnel is broadcast at 50 fps progressive. Therefore, (1), the 4K image downscaled to 1080p will automatically be better than the 3/4 1080i broadcast of the multicast HD channels. But mainly (2), the frame rate is literally double that of the normal HD channels, 25 fps.

      If it isn't too much trouble, could you set the output on the UHD box to 1080p, and then watch the UHD channel and see if it keeps the 50fps framerate?

      Thanks.
    • jjgreenwood
      Sadly I don't think I have any way to measure the framerate coming out of the box, but I see no reason why it wouldn't work downscaled to 1080p.

      I think I'm right in saying that sky & BT sports is 50fps anyway so I doubt there would be a huge improvement other than the bitrate.
    • ant_j
      Super review.
      I have had my box for just over a week, total entertainment with Netflix bolt on. The box is great and agree with all your comments, but can't describe the uhd content, as my TV is not 4k.
      My only couple of issues.
      A- I'm missing a few hd channels, cbeebies hd, bbc news hd and bbc 4hd. No biggie and may be transmission related (though my signal strength is 70% and quality 100%)
      B- The box doesn't seem to work with hdmi pass through via my amp (pioneer vsx lx53). Due to this, the yv box is connected by hdmi to tv, optical to amp.
      However, Netflix does not output from yv to amp in 5.1 via optical, it does via hdmi though, so a little annoyed about this.
      Other than that it's meeting the expectations of an ex-sky customer.
      Thanks again for the review
    • nonsoloinglese
      I am toying with the idea of getting the UHD box. I have a UHD tv but I want to be able to plug it into my AV receiver/HDMi distribution. Issue here is that my PJ is 1080p but my TV is 4K. Ideally I do not want the engineer in. I will end up moving things around in a month or so so it would be a waste of time having him in.
    No comments have been posted on this review yet.
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