YouView is a new TV service combining channels delivered down a traditional aerial with content delivered via broadband. To access the service you need a YouView set top box which you can buy from major high street retailers and online.
At launch there’s only one box in shops but it’s important to note YouView is the whole service, not a specific brand or model of box. Other makes of boxes will be available soon.
The YouView system
Much of YouView is very familiar – channels and schedules are listed on an Electronic Programme Guide (EPG), you can rewind and pause live TV, record programmes to watch later and set series links to record future episodes.
What makes the service different is a world of video On Demand and catch-up content accessible via a snazzy blue button on the remote.
A single press brings up a nicely minimal menu system that occupies just the top and bottom portions of the screen, ensuring you can still watch your programme while you navigate around.
There are four menu options – Guide, MyView, On Demand and Search – which form the core of the product.
The Guide screen is the EPG which displays programming for the next 8 days. From here you can set up recordings and reminders and a nice use of colour shading highlights which programmes have already started.
While all this will sound familiar, YouView’s EPG is different from most other TV services because it also allows you to travel backwards and watch content up to seven days after it was broadcast.
At launch this Catch-Up content is provided by the BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand Five. Available Catch-Up content is marked by a ‘play’ icon and can be played straight from the EPG by pressing the remote control’s ‘OK’ button.
Only Virgin Media’s TiVo service – which failed to win us over when we reviewed it last year – offers the same function but YouView’s implementation feels far more fluid and responsive.
MyView is the simplest of all the menu screens and shows your scheduled and planned recordings.
There’s not much to get too excited about here – recordings are flagged as not watched, part watched & watched and you can lock them against deletion if you’ve allowed your box to auto delete older content when space is needed.
Unlike Sky+ you can’t play from a given point within the recording and disappointingly if you press record during a programme you’re already watching the YouView box only records from the moment you press record, not the entire show as Sky+ does.
It would be nice to see both of these features added in a future software update.
On Demand displays a grid of ‘players’ – video apps which offer on demand shows and films. Currently these are limited to the BBC’s iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand Five but Sky’s NOW TV will soon be available as will other, as yet, unannounced providers.
Although the same apps power the catch-up content, the On Demand screen gives access to older content not available via the EPG. You can browse by content type – films, TV, radio – or just access a single player and browse the shows on offer.
Here ITV and Channel 4’s players beat the BBC for older content with entire seasons of classics such as Minder and The Professionals and newer shows like Friday Night Dinner available to watch for free. Adverts play before programmes on the commercial (non-BBC) players.
In addition Corrie and Emmerdale fans can access the most recent 28 episodes of their favourite soap.
Each player displays content differently and reflects the designs of their parent channels or web-based big brothers. Some may have preferred a single, consistent approach but it’s easy to see why broadcasters have wanted to retain a known corporate look.
YouView’s Search facility is one of the most impressive to be seen on any set top box.
Whether you’re watching a recording, On Demand, live TV or catch-up content you can search for more shows or episodes. Even if you’re watching a programme via the iPlayer, a search will bring results from all other On Demand and catch-up providers.
Most rival platforms and systems are limited to searching only within a single, in-use app and displaying the app provider’s content only.
There’s a search button on the remote control which brings up the YouView search facility when watching a recording or live TV, but within a Player will either do nothing (iPlayer) or bring up the Player’s own search box (4oD).
You can still do a system-wide search via the blue YouView button and selecting ‘Search’ but the changing function of the dedicated button is likely to confuse some users.
It would also be nice to see the search facility linked to the EPG so that it’s truly universal.
If I had to pick a single word to describe YouView it would be simplicity – the whole system has been designed to be intuitive and easy to use from the moment it’s switched on.
The menu and option screens have a fresh, simple layout and prioritise the information you really need over extraneous babble, while the integration of the On Demand content is seamless.
As mentioned above there a few niggles that should be revisited, especially the inconsistent search button, but it’s clear a lot of thought and effort has gone into building a platform that can be easily expanded in future.
At the time of writing only free content is available but optional premium content is on its way thanks to Sky’s NOW TV and other services. Once this arrives it’ll be easier for YouView’s backers to show why it’s far more then just another Freeview HD recorder.
As it is, YouView feels like a Formula 1 champion being forced to drive though a 20mph zone – it’s clear the service is capable of doing more than it’s being allowed to.
Within the system are hints of what’s to come – searches can be filtered to show just TV/Radio, movies and music videos. The last of these suggests the arrival of a provider like the music industry backed Vevo.
After seeing the system in action at this month’s launch I predicted it could “be a huge success”. After using it in a normal living room setting I’m even more convinced the naysayers are wrong and that it’s destined for great things.
While £299 isn’t cheap by most people’s standards, YouView offers a world of added content for far less than any Smart TV and with more integration and consistency then any other non-subscription device on the market.
If you’re looking to replace an existing Freeview+ box then YouView should be top of your list of possible buys.
Tragically the review box I’ve been using has to go back to YouView so I’ll soon be passing £300 over the counter of my preferred retailer for a box of my own.