If you’re a Foxtel subscriber you’re not alone in thinking “this is the ugliest user interface I’ve seen” every night when you turn on the TV, and if you don’t have Foxtel you might just have been turned off by it if you’ve seen it at a friend’s place. All that is changing, dramatically – IQ3 has arrived.
Lets face it, the user interface wasn’t the only thing that needed updating. The current IQ2 (Black HD Box) that’s in the market was launched in 2008 and while there might have been some software upgrades to enable some internet content, in the eyes of the paying users at home its not much better than it ever was.
IQ3 is a million miles ahead. A million.
This new box has been designed from the ground up, it’s not a repurposed version of the English SKY box which is what we’ve had to date.
Foxtel CEO Richard Freudenstein described it perfectly as, “our smartest, most powerful set-top box, ever. iQ3 represents a revolutionary step forward for Australian TV viewers that brings with it exciting new ways to search, discover and experience the shows they’re passionate about.”
It’s not some simple free upgrade though – iQ3 is available today (Monday March 23) for $125 plus $25 for a self-installation kit; or $125* plus $75* for installation by a Foxtel technician.
While that may seem a bit steep to some, the fact is for any comparable set-top-box or PVR you’re paying two or three times that, and lets face it Foxtel customers are paying cash every month, they’re the most likely to have this amount available.
So, why upgrade?
It’s actually not as wide as the current IQ and IQ2 boxes, but it’s taller – “fatter” if you like:) Looks a bit strange, I was actually imagining something much smaller – but to pack the tech inside that they’ve managed it had to be big and well ventilated.
On-Screen Look and Usability
The interface is without question the best thing about this on any level – it’s been designed to make the most use of the channel logos, show poster-art and a modern sleek design.
Browsing channels shows a logo for every channel down the left hand side of the screen, like a carousel for you to browse through, and perhaps most importantly you’re looking at a fresh clean font – not that boxy pixellated view on current Foxtel boxes.
Perhaps the most radical of all the new features, Start Over is not a new thing, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it executed like this in Australia.
If you open a program guide, or browse to a channel and find that a program has already started that you wanted to watch it can be most frustrating. Foxtel customers might be used to flicking over to the +2 channel to find the same show scheduled in two hours, and set a recording for that time instead.
Well with Start Over you now just need to tune into the channel, if the show started 5, 10 or 45 mins earlier (It doesn’t matter), you press “play” and the program starts at the beginning.
The program you’re watching then is streamed off the internet, you’re basically watching the catch-up version of the program before the program is even finished in its schedule slot.
Start Over is not available on all shows, it depends on the rights Foxtel have, but you’ll find it on a majority of shows and that will grow over time..
Available already on existing Foxtel boxes, Look Back is enhanced quite substantially with a new program guide interface allowing you to browse back up to 24 hours to find shows you might have missed.
The idea that the IQ3 box learns your favourite programs is nothing new in content recommendation circles, it’s key to services like Netflix, Stan and Presto. However, the majority of Aussies have not experienced a situation where their TV starts recommending shows for them to watch.
There are two areas in the new on-screen menu : Suggested and Trending.
Trending will offer you a snapshot of the most popular content being watched right now, almost like having real-time ratings to make sure you don’t miss out on that show everyone will be discussing at the water-cooler tomorrow.
Suggested is a much more personal experience. No two Foxtel homes will see the same content on this screen. It learns from every show you watch and over time will quite possibly grow to be the best feature of this box.
In theory you’ll never need to browse for TV shows again – Foxtel will suggest shows that you actually want to watch. It’s a proven concept globally for video and online content and should increase the average number of viewing hours per week for every Foxtel home.
The Tech Inside
First and foremost the new iQ3 has WiFi. Gone are the power line ethernet connections or long blue cables across the lounge room floor. Get yourself a solid WiFi router and this box will do all it needs to via WiFi. The IQ3 box is 802.11ac so it’s the fastest you can get.
There’s a bunch of storage space inside. Enough for 172 hours of HD content or 345 hours of SD content.
Bluetooth is how the remote communicates with the IQ3 box. While Infra-red is still available if you’ve got a universal remote you want to connect to it, but the Bluetooth means the IQ3 can live in a cupboard, no need for a glass door for the infra-red to work through.
Eight or Ten tuners – Cable connected homes will get a box with eight tuners, while Satellite homes will get ten. In Satellite homes the extra two are free-t0-air tuners because the free-to-air channels are not distributed via Foxtel satellite.
In Cable homes, the eight tuners will allow you to record three programs while you watch a fourth. Interestingly that only uses half the tuners. Turns out the other four are for a mix of non-broadcast technology (like Metadata) and for future use. They’ve really tried to make this thing future proof and that’s the best example of it.
The mix of live and on-demand
Critical to the success of IQ3 is the push for you to consume more and more content, not just live broadcasts (linear channels) but anything they have online. So now you’ll see suggested content that’s not only on now, or about to start, but stuff that’s in the Foxtel library for you to watch via streaming.
Bigpond and Foxtel broadband subscribers get the best of it, with unmetered access to all that content while others will need to be careful – however Foxtel have added warning “popups” to ensure you know full well when you’re jumping into online content.
Should you get one?
If you’re a Foxtel customer – bloody oath.