YouView review – hands-on

YouView is here, and readying itself to become the only on-demand box you'll ever need. But is it up to the job? We get hands on to find out

YouView – design and build

The Humax YouView box is – externally, at least – pretty much identical to the HDR-Fox T2 Freeview PVR. That means you get a sleek black box sporting a row of controls, concealed USB port, LCD display and a large glowing blue circle on the front – along with that all-important YouView logo. Round the back, there are HDMI outs, an ethernet port (currently vital for accessing YouView's services) and a USB port for a Wi-Fi dongle that’s promised in the not too distant future.

YouView – setup

Setup is pretty simple – plug in the aerial, power and ethernet connections and switch on. Yup, no Wi-fi connections here (for the time being) – you'll need Powerline adapters if your router's located on the other side of the house. The first time you switch on, it'll take around two minutes to boot up – from standby it'll launch in around 20 seconds. An eco mode is available, which reverts to the two-minute boot time – so it depends whether you're more interested in nature documentaries now or nature.

YouView – PVR

The YouView box has all the functions you'd expect of a PVR: live pause, record, series link, seven-day EPG and programme information. It packs twin tuners and a 500GB HDD (a 1TB model is coming soon after launch), so you can watch one programme while recording another (under certain conditions it'll let you record two other programmes). Try to record too many programmes at once, and YouView will suggest swapping one of your recordings over to a +1 channel if there's one available. It'll also recommend switching to HD where available.

YouView – user interface

The UI is pretty slick, painted in shades of blue, with the programme guide stretching off seven days into the future – and the past. Zip back through past programmes and you'll see icons marking which ones you've recorded and which are available to view on demand. Programmes that aren't available on demand are greyed out. There tends to be a slight pause while it downloads information as you skip through the EPG, but it's no worse than you'd get from a Sky+ box. A picture-in-picture player defaults to the most recent live channel.

YouView – programme guide

Programme information is impressively comprehensive – aggregated from the content providers and served up by YouView, you get thumbnail images, programme information and a "more episodes" button, which flags up other episodes available live and on-demand. This feature isn't comprehensive – Top Gear on Dave won't show up links to other episodes on the rival BBC channels or iPlayer, for example – but it's clever all the same.

More after the break...

YouView – remote

The remote is your standard Humax model with one or two additions. It's a slightly plasticky affair, but feels comfortable in the hand, with all the usual buttons present and correct (though not backlit). In the middle is a tell-tale blue YouView button – tap that and the fun begins.

YouView review – hands-on - YouView – remote 2

Tapping the blue YouView button brings up the YouView user interface, a grey bar at the bottom of the screen sporting Search, Guide, MyView – covering your recorded and scheduled programmes – On Demand and Settings.

YouView – on demand

On-demand programming can be reached from the YouView menu, or directly from the EPG by clicking on a programme that's available to view on demand.

YouView review – hands-on - YouView – on demand 2

Clicking the on-demand button brings up a sub-menu with Players, TV, Radio and Films buttons. Players takes you directly to a carousel showing the various players supported by your system – at launch, this includes iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and 5 on demand. Cleverly, the YouView box will recognise what sort of phone line it's plugged into and automatically add the relevant on-demand channels from your internet provider, but only if you're on BT Vision or TalkTalk. There are also some tantalising empty slots – YouView notes that it's had 300 applications for third-party VoD services on the platform, with Sky's Now TV and STV launching on YouView in the summer.

The other three buttons bring up programme carousels showing the most popular episodes in each category – a small icon in the botton right of each image indicates which VoD service they're available on. Genres (and sub-genres) are listed within each category, so fire up comedy and you're able to dip into stand-up, sitcoms and so forth. Click on a programme and you're treated to a Cover Flow-style carousel of programme thumbnails, with programme info appearing on the right. Programmes are divided up by series, which appear along the bottom.

YouView – search

YouView's search function covers programme info as well as titles, and can be filtered by TV shows, radio or music videos. Search results are determined by popularity and appear in an unobtrusive bar at the bottom of the screen.

YouView review – hands-on - YouView – search 2

Tap on a programme in the EPG that's available to view on demand and the box will – after checking to see that you've downloaded the relevant player – fire up the appropriate VoD service. Things get a little strange here, as the YouView UI gives way to, for example, the iPlayer interface. All your PVR controls work as normal – YouView's issued guidelines to the providers so that the progress bar looks the same across the different VoD services, with ad breaks flagged up and remaining advert time listed in the same place, whether you're watching 4oD or ITV Player.

YouView – parental controls

Parental controls are easy to set up – you create a single PIN within the YouView interface, and it works across all the different VoD services.

YouView review – hands-on - YouView – parental controls 2

Tapping the YouView button brings up the familiar grey UI. There's a slightly odd disconnect here, as the YouView UI overlays the existing interface, but it works pretty well. Another strange omission is that YouView won't aggregate your iPlayer favourites within the YouView UI – so you'll have to access the iPlayer through the Players menu to get at them.

YouView – price and availability

The YouView PVR will be priced £300 at launch, and will be available from the end of July. It's also available as part of a package from BT and TalkTalk.

YouView – verdict

It's difficult to see who the Humax YouView PVR is aimed at. Those looking for a one-stop solution for on-demand content – who haven't already signed up to a pay-TV service – will likely balk at the £300 price tag.

YouView review – hands-on - YouView – verdict 2

YouView's USP is simply bringing together all those on-demand services in a single interface. TV addicts likely to drop £300 on a PVR will probably already have all the kit they need to view iPlayer, ITV Player and the rest in their living rooms. As a platform, YouView definitely has a future as the successor to Freeview – but in this package it's a bit of a tough sell.

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