YouView, with its seven-day catch-up EPG and forever-delayed launch was one of the few exciting things to happen in the UK set-top box scene when it eventually arrived in 2012. But it wasn't perfect, with early boxes at times feeling sluggish under the weight of its advanced interface. The new Humax-built BT YouView+ DTR-T2100 looks to right that wrong (and shrink the whole unit down), but adds some weird bugs along the way.
A set top box with catch-up services at its core. Connecting to the internet for on-demand streaming as well as offering live digital programming, the YouView+ box allows you to scroll back seven days into the past with its TV guide and be brought immediately to the appropriate catch-up version of a missed show, direct from the EPG. It'll also let you record two live TV shows at once, and offers series link recordings for ongoing programmes.
Forgetful types that don't know how to get iPlayer up on their computers. BT customers that want their TV package in the same bill as their broadband. Those that want the option to access Sky TV programming alongside free terrestrial shows, but don't want to have to take out a pricey subscription with Murdoch's empire.
Compared to the first range of YouView boxes, the ickle DTR-T2100 is just about two-thirds of the size. Measuring 23.7cm x 4.3cm x 15.2 cm and weighing just 0.76kg, you can easily balance it in the palm of your hand, making it far easier to slip into a small slot in your AV cabinet. This reduction in size has been achieved by putting the power supply into a separate external adapter, which in turn keeps the whole box cooler and facilitates the removal of the older box's fan.
Equipped with a 500GB hard-drive and dual tuners, on the rear you'll find a power switch, HDMI (outputting 1080p/1080i/720p/576p/576i video), scart and analogue video and audio connections, an optical audio port, Ethernet and aerial loop through ports. There are USB sockets both on the rear and on the side, but at present these seem to serve no purpose. Navigation and sleep buttons sit on the top, while three lights indicate power, broadband and recording status on the box's front edge, replacing the all-but-useless scrolling LCD display on earlier models.
And yep, you read that right, there's still no Wi-Fi connection -- the YouView team still wants a wired web connection to make sure all the box's internet features run smoothly, so you'd better invest in some powerline adapters or make sure your router is housed near your telly.
As for its new look, I'm not sold. The downsizing is impressive, but the top-mounted venting, matte black plastic finish and grey lower trim look cheap, as does the prominent BT logo. It's meant to be a complementary look to BT's HomeHub 4 and HomeHub 5 routers, which it is. But the HomeHub line has never complemented anyone's living room decor -- I hide mine away behind the TV. The unintrusive glossy black finish of the DTR-T1000 model is far more preferable in my opinion.
The redesigned remote control however is a much more successful reworking. Using a navigation pad that doesn't click loudly like its annoying predecessor, it also moves the dedicated playback buttons into a more central position, making for far more comfortable regular use.
I'm a big fan of the YouView interface, and that returns here pretty much unaltered. It's built to accommodate changing TV viewing habits, where catch-up and time-shifted TV is now the norm. We've written extensively about YouView in the past, so I'll give just a quick overview of how it all works rather than bore you with the details again.
Rather than a standard forward-looking "What's On" guide, YouView lets you scroll seven days into the past as well as seven days into the future. Any shows that fit into this missed time period can be watched straight from the EPG, providing they have a catch-up service associated. With YouView housing iPlayer, 4oD, ITV Player, Dave and Demand 5 (as well as premium players such as Now TV and the Sky Store) pretty much any missed show can be viewed this way. If you'd prefer to browse each catch-up service individually, each is offered up in a player designed for easy use on a TV. Finally, you can use YouView's universal search button to search through all of the content available on the service at any point, across past and forthcoming live TV and within catch-up players and premium content libraries by using the alpha-numeric keys at the bottom of the remote. It's comprehensive in the number of browsing options it provides you with, which is handy considering it can receive as many as 200 stations alongside the streaming content.
As with a standard PVR, live TV can be recorded to a local hard drive to be played back whenever you wish. These saved shows and movies are stored in the MyView area, a list of all your recordings that can be filtered by watched and unwatched shows, as well as giving you access to your scheduled recordings. Series link options let you set up whole seasons of programmes to be recorded every time a new episode is aired.
Alongside the catch-up EPG, catch-up players, recordings and live TV, BT's YouView also offers up a host of premium viewing content that can be bought or rented, streamed straight to the box. On demand movies from Sky sit alongside new-release TV and film boxsets from BT's own library in the BT Player hub. These vary in pricing, but, thanks to the Explore Curzon application, you can even access classy arthouse and indie films that are currently doing the rounds at cinemas. Expect to pay £5 for a new release HD rental and £3.50 for the SD versions, while the Curzon selection will cost about the same as a cinema ticket -- a far cheaper option than a night out if you split the cost with a gang of mates huddled around the TV.
This has pretty much all been available in previous YouView boxes, but what's different here is the speed through which it can all be navigated. While neither Humax nor BT have shared the specific internal upgrade improvements hidden away inside the DTR-T2100, everything is notably zippier, from pulling up the catch-up players to whizzing back through the EPG. Start up times are faster too: While the low-power mode will still see the box take over a minute to start up, put it onto the less eco-friendly setting and you'll be watching the telly in just a few seconds.
But these improvements come at a cost.
The lack of Wi-Fi will be a real killer for some people. While I understand the box's reliance on a steady internet connection is important to the overall experience, those with reliable wireless connections will find having the YouView+ box tethered to the router a hassle.
-- Whether it was part of the aforementioned problems or otherwise, the majority of Demand 5 content from Channel 5 was only intermittently viewable, despite being listed as available in the player's library. It's a good thing that most of it is rubbish anyway.
-- The YouView mobile app is great, letting you breezily browse the next week's worth of shows and remotely set your set top box to record them. It's easily navigated, and the descriptions and pictures of each show make it perhaps the best way to check what's coming up on the gogglebox soon. Its one flaw however is that it doesn't allow you to see your recording queue in full. It's so easy to spam the record button in the app with things you'd like to watch that you'd easily be able to cause too many overlapping recordings, leading to some of them failing. It's a shame you can't edit what's set to record from inside the app to prevent this while on-the-go.
-- With YouView allowing for universal search across all of its content providers, it's frustrating that there still isn't a way to filter down into just free movies and shows. You'll often encounter enticing shows or films in the universal search view, only to be faced with a rental fee once you enter their individual pages. That's no good for my bank balance, but at least the range of available programming is strong.
-- There's still no Netflix or LoveFilm Instant (sorry, Amazon Prime Instant Video) integration. It's understandable -- BT wants you to spend your money in its stores, not on rival streaming platforms. But it does mean you'll need a games console, tablet or Smart TV to hand if you want comprehensive streaming coverage.
Not yet (see the updated "This is Weird" section of this review). The YouView interface is superb, with easy access to integrated players, missed shows and premium on-demand content. But while this new box is smaller and speedier, it's also buggier. I'm confident that a software update could fix the problems I experienced, but for the time being older models are a safer bet. Those looking to upgrade from earlier YouView models should hold fire, while some may just find the new aesthetic less attractive than previous YouView boxes regardless.
Price: £220 at retail; £35 plus £5 or £7 a month with BT broadband and BT TV bundles. Add-on channel bolt-ons start at £3 extra a month, with Sky Movies an additional £16 per month.
Dual Tuners: Yes
Screen Output: 1080p/1080i/720p/576p/576i
Dimensions: 23.7cm x 4.3cm x 15.2 cm