As a writer for an entertainment news site you’d probably expect me to have a top tier subscription package with Sky or Virgin but until now I’ve been well served by Freeview and the preview discs and screenings so generously made available by PR agencies.
Thinking it was maybe time for a wider choice of shows and films I looked around and, after discovering Virgin wasn’t available in my area and not wanting Sky’s very linear service, decided on BT Vision.
If you’re not already familiar with BT’s TV offering it’s an on demand service which uses broadband to deliver content to a set top box which also includes a Freeview recorder (PVR). To use the service you need to have BT broadband capable of at least 2MB speeds.
When a friend first got the service a few years back it required an engineer to install it but BT have since simplified things and installation is as simple as setting up any other Freeview STB or DVD/Blu-ray player save for an additional cable needed to connect the box to the BT Home Hub router.
In case your Hub isn’t in the same room as your TV the box includes a pair of powerline adapters which allow you to route the broadband connection to the box via your domestic electricity supply.
Visually the Vision box is fairly standard, it’ll look nice under your TV but it’s not likely to wow and it’s never going to become a talking point.
The menus are clearly laid out with separate headings for recordings and each content section but functionality is pretty limited with no way of bookmarking series you’re watching so you need to navigate through a largely randomly organised listing of shows to go back to a series you’re part way through. There is an A-Z search facility but it’d still be great if there was some form of bookmarking.
One impressive aspect about the search facility is that it allows you to search by title or performer with results listing On Demand, Pay Per View and standard broadcast content so you can see from a single screen every form of content likely to appeal.
Other than Freeview channels there are no linear broadcast channels on offer. All additional content is via On Demand and Pay Per View. Looking around the web there are some very mixed views about the content on offer from BT Vision but while some clearly hanker after the premium first run content of Sky’s channels I’ve been pleased by the mix of content available.
A number of ‘viewing packs’ are available starting at around £15 per month which entitle you to view the content within your pack at no extra cost. If you want to view content from a pack you’ve not subscribed to you can do so on a Pay Per View basis.
As well as letting me re-enjoy favourite shows such as Only Fools and Horses, the On Demand offering has allowed me to try shows I’d never have looked at before such as the quirky and enjoyable Dirt. New content is added regularly and while there may not always be new shows likely to appeal the same is also true of traditionally broadcast channels.
Most films are provided on a Pay Per View basis but there’s also a mix of 28 recent and classic On Demand movies available as part of a subscription courtesy of Universal’s Picturebox service which adds 7 new titles each Friday. The mix can sometimes be a bit lacklustre but the current offering of the three Jason Bourne films ‘back to back’ may signal an improvement in the titles on offer.
There’s also a catchup service offering a broadcaster chosen selection of content from the week’s TV. This is a real gem and is rapidly becoming how I watch many shows; why would I want to watch a broadcast programme and suffer those onscreen graphics promoting the next show when I can enjoy it without the graffiti via replay?
A selection of High Definition content is also available on Pay Per View, unlike all other content this isn’t available for instant playback and has to be downloaded to the box prior to viewing.
Performance and support
My Vision experience started brilliantly, the box found all the channels I could previously access on my old Freeview PVR and the On Demand content worked first time every time. Or at least it did for two weeks. Then for no obvious reason my On Demand service stopped working every evening between around 21.40 and a shade past midnight.
BT’s higher resolution complaints team eventually helped me trace the issue to a possible issue with one of the LAN ports on my Home Hub which was slowing down the broadband connection used by the box, swapping the cable to a different port so far seems to have resolved the issue.
Seeking support from BT isn’t as simple as it could be. Although the Vision care team are a helpful bunch who bend over backwards to help, getting through to them requires one to wade through BT’s largely overseas and not very helpful broadband support desk who won’t put you through to Vision care until you’ve explained your whole issue to them.
Now, I understand that with a service reliant on broadband it makes sense to filter out calls about issues derived from a broadband failure but I found myself spending what felt like an hour trying to return a call from the Vision desk because the broadband support desk refused to put me through even though I explained multiple times that I was returning a call about a pre-existing issue. For my part I see no reason why I should be obliged to re-explain an issue which is already being dealt with with an operative who is unable to resolve it.
In fairness and despite the bad press the company often gets, my overall experience is that BT’s executive office cares a lot about customer service but a lot of frustration is caused by staff lower down the chain who either don’t listen or, though they hate you saying it, don’t understand what’s being said to them.
With my speed issues apparently resolved my system is once again my favourite toy in the house. Shows and films are available for me to watch when I want them and without me having to first remember to trawl through the programme guide and set the box to record.
The mix of content should be sufficient to please many and while BT Vision may not have the latest seasons of hit shows such as Lost it does have older seasons and represents a decent saving on DVD boxsets for those who may not have watched a show on first run but fancy giving it a try.
The range of films is impressive with all the major US studios offering Pay Per View films at the same time as they’re available on other services.
For their part BT could be doing more to push the service andthey should start by ditching their currently bare and unexciting website for something a little more eye-catching.
High profile exclusive and first run content is going to be needed if the service is going to grab the wider public’s attention but even as things stand Vision has a lot going for it.