It’s always surprised me, perhaps stunned me, how many people use their Foxtel IQ box to watch Free to Air TV and wonder why they can’t watch Channel 9 if the system goes down or the box crashes. It’s because of the “battle for HDMI 1” and our utter laziness with the remote in the lounge room.
So when Foxtel doubles down on the streaming game, they have to give consideration to those very people. Foxtel Now is the name of the online version of Foxtel. No cable installation required, no satellite dish at all – just you, your monthly fee and your internet connection.
It’s fantastic. Having been a $100+ a month subscriber for decades, I downgraded to around $70 a month to keep the sport pack and my Foxtel Connection – today, you need to spend just $39 a month to get a basic package along with the Fox Sports Channels.
And don’t kid yourself, those sports channels are important. They are the biggest driving force, possibly the only driving force behind customer acquisition at Foxtel.
That’s also why Fox Sports and the Free to Airs worked so hard to ensure any “mobile” streaming via Telstra and the like never got passed your small screen mobile.
So why then, if you can watch all this content on your mobile or tablet, do you need a separate box? The Foxtel Now Box?
At $99 it’s affordable, easily an impulse buy for someone signing up for the first time. What it does it creates utter simplicity.
Yes, I have Foxtel Now on my mobile phone, Yep, I bought a Google Chromecast for every TV so I can choose to watch that stream on any TV if I initiate it from my mobile – but while that’s easy, it doesn’t fit every use case.
What if I’m not home, the wife or kids want to watch something? They’ve also got to have the app installed, have the knowledge and ability to setup a stream and initiate a Chromecast takeover of it.
With the Foxtel Now Box that’s all simplified, and it becomes a remote and set top box scenario. Simple.
And it is. Setup is a breeze and the remote seems easy to use and itself simplistic.
First and foremost, this Foxtel Box also retains the ability to watch Free-to-air TV. The antenna port in the back slots into the wall as normal and you can tune your local channels and watch them as normal.
The box itself is “Android TV” yet Foxtel have fully modified this so you get a Foxtel home screen, not unfamiliar to those who have used a Foxtel IQ3 box. The “Live TV” section then drops you straight into the channel menu, and if you’ve tuned in your local Free to Air stations they will appear in the channel list along with the Foxtel channels – in a similar order to that which you’ll find on a standard Foxtel IQ account today.
Two problems with the Free to Air implementation. Firstly, there’s just a single Aerial input. No passthrough, so if you want to keep your TV tuned in you’ll need a splitter box instead of just a second cable. Not a deal breaker but a real break from tradition for a “set top box”.
Secondly, I moved the Foxtel Now box to another room without Ethernet, expecting it would just let me setup WiFi with ease – sadly I saw a lot of the “waiting” and “thinking” circle on the screen before a menu become possible to get me into setting to configure WiFi.
The problem here is, from what I can see, without an active Internet connection the Foxtel Now Box “Home screen” no longer functions, so accessing your Free to Air channels becomes impossible when the internet is down. Not great.
Leaving that aside, the channel switching seemed smooth, the overlaid user interface is again very IQ3 based and reminded me of the fantastic Telstra T-Box interface from many years ago with channel navigation.
As an Android TV device, there’s a Google Play store built in, and apps are easily searched and installed. It seems there is no real restriction at first, installing VLC, Plex and something with the word Torrent in it made me feel there was no “Foxtel” censorship of the Apps in the store.
However, I was unable to install the every popular “Kodi” app. This is the app that claims to be a media player but is really just a way for people to access and stream illegally many channels from around the world. Many people ask me about Android TV boxes for that very reason, try and try again it failed. Coincidence? Not sure.
Also, why the hell can’t I install Netflix? It’s available in the Google Play Store? Pretty sure Plex and VLC didn’t need to get Foxtel’s approval to work, so why is Netflix not showing on search – nor are some of the Free to air Catch Up services. SBS and ABC are there, as is TenPlay, but 9Now and 7 aren’t to be seen. Strange. And less about Foxtel, more likely to simply be a “compatibility setting” that the app developers need to enable. Let’s hope so anyway.
Foxtel Now Box is 4K enabled, with no real reason other than to be future proof. Foxtel streams are in 720 for live shows and 1080 where possible for catch up, and you know the Free to Air catch ups are rubbish quality.
Stan doesn’t stream in 4k (from what I could see), let’s hope that comes in an update.
Brilliantly the box has a Chromecast built in – assuming that is 4K compatible, the Foxtel Now box is just $4 more than a Chromecast Ultra. Even if it’s not it’s only double the cost of the standard Chromecast. So that alone makes it a winner.
Sadly, this box is not for anyone who already has Foxtel. Foxtel account holders can’t login to Foxtel Now, and Foxtel account holders can’t use Chromecast in the Foxtel app – utterly stupid decision by Foxtel which will cost them money rather than enhance the service for customers.
If you have Foxtel already, time to downsize. Cut the cord, slash your costs, use your internet instead of the cable. This offers everything you need except recording – so if you can live with catch-up and internet streaming, along with the available channels – time to check out Foxtel Now. Sign up to the trial and see what you might miss out on.
For those who’ve never had Foxtel, but love their sport, this box – I believe – will drive the biggest new user growth for Foxtel in years. $99 bucks, and then $39 a month (and you can use it just during the months of your sport’s season) it’s the best way to watch live sport in your lounge room when you’re looking for bang for your buck.