T-Box Ready for Primetime?

TelstraClear has started installing its first PVR/home media device in the homes of Wellington, Kapiti and Christchurch customers but is the T-Box ready for primetime?

The telco kindly provided me with a unit to appraise during its beta testing phase.

While I’ve had it to play with for several weeks, the following should be seen as first impressions only, as during that time the telco was still fixing teething issues.

However, it’s disappointing not all of these problems had been resolved before this week’s official T-Box launch.

For instance, over the last few days it’s been dogged by a software bug that can stop you accessing menu options and channels while the T-Box is endlessly “updating”.

And when I check the Planner to see how much storage is left, it tells me the hard drive is “100% free”, even though there are more than 30 HD and SD recordings on it.

Another quirk was in the day or so following changeover to daylight saving, the Series Link function seems to have been confused about which hour to record and so recorded at both the pre- and post-daylight saving times.

During the beta phase, there also was a high incidence of failed recordings but in the last two weeks there was only one.

No doubt Telstra’s technicians soon will have ironed out these niggles but it’s a pity that after such a long and anticipated wait, the T-Box was wanting from day one.

However, it should be remembered that Sky’s HD PVR, My Sky HDi, also had a flaky start but quickly became largely glitch-free.

How does the T-Box compare to MySky HDi? Better in some respects, worse in others.

The menu is stunning, with everything from the Planner, where you can preview or review recordings, to the Settings and TV Guide bursting with colour, clarity and appealing icons.

The interface is far more inviting than My Sky HDi or TiVo’s. Indeed, it’s like comparing Apple’s operating system with Microsoft’s and, after years of Sky’s spartan approach to its EPG, is a feast for the eyes.

The instructions for everything from avoiding a clash of recording times to how many times you want to record a programme are easier to understand and more intuitive than TiVo’s.

But the downside of such intensive graphics is the menu’s more sluggish to operate, with both My Sky HDi and TiVo responding quicker to the push of a remote control key.

It’s also annoying that you can only programme recordings for up to a week ahead, like My Sky HDi, whereas TiVo has a two-week capability.

MySky HDi and TiVo also are more flexible in their recording options. With My Sky HDi, you can extend a programme’s recording time by 20 minutes to avoid it being cut short should the channel run late.

The T-Box will allow “padder buffinh” up to 15 minutes but, annoyingly, it applies to both the start and end of the programme. You can’t just add it to the end of the scheduled recording.

Another drawback is it can’t be told to record only the first airing of programmes that repeat several times a day or week on some channels. For instance, set it to record Media7 at 9.10pm Thursdays on TVNZ7, and it also will record every other screening that week.

TiVo, on the other hand, can be set up to record just the original airing.

The T-Box’s excellent remote control is bulkier than TiVo’s but lighter and smaller, yet no less comprehensive, than My Sky HDi’s. It also can be used to operate a TV and a DVD player or video recorder.

Its layout resembles My Sky HDi’s, with a few subtle changes, the biggest improvement being how easy it is to change the batteries (Sky’s remote control should be bundled with an instruction manual explaining how to flip open the Fort Knox of a battery compartment).

It also can access channels with fewer inputs. TV One, for instance, can be summoned by pressing the ‘1’ key rather than the ‘0-0-1’ succession of keys you need to press on My Sky HDi.

In most other respects, T-Box’s functionality is the same as My Sky HDi’s, from recording two programmes simultaneously while watching a third to the management of recordings, series linking, and pausing and rewinding live TV.

Indeed, given T-Box passes essentially passes through the same linear content as My Sky HDi, its real test will be whether Telstra can fulfill its promise of delivering exclusive content, either in the form of new channels or IPTV offerings.

Whether it’s worth having installed will depend on if you’re already a Sky customer — in which case, it’s not — or a TelstraClear customer, in which case, it is, given the triple-play package deals the telco can offer.

For Telstra’s response to some of the criticism raised here, see this post; it’s also promising a software update tonight to fix the highlighted bugs.

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3 Responses to “T-Box Ready for Primetime?”

  1. Here here, we are having major problems with TV freezing, black screen, no response to power button on remote or TBox, pixilated images…the list goes on. Telstra are unable to get a technician to us for days. In the meantime one set top box has completely frozen and has had its plug pulled from the wall.

  2. I have a T-box and it is crap. Do not get a T-box. Screen freeze, pixilated images all the time. You have to have Freeview as a back up. Stick to Sky.

  3. The only thing better than a T-Box under the TV, is a T-Box in the fire. Appalling machine – bung straight out of the box. Frustrating to the point of being laughable. I see TelstraClear have begun giving ’em away – true, see for yourselves – (TelstraClear Website today: two years free rental on T-boxes). Trust me, they’re hours of your life you’ll never get back. You’ll kick yourself, shortly before you drop-kick the T-Box! It will make sewing look fun. Don’t do it!

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