The new box matches BT's HomeHub WiFi routers
The new box matches BT’s HomeHub WiFi routers
The all-new BT YouView set top box (STB) – known as the G4 – is both the ISP’s first in-house design and a welcome and snazzy update to it’s TV service.

Until now BT’s YouView customers have been issued with Humax’s DTR-1000 Set Top Box (STB) which debuted in July 2012. Although that box itself is less than two years old, the design is closer to four having been borrowed from Humax’s 2010 HDR-FOX T2 Freeview+ box and is starting to look dated.

It’s partly for this reason that YouView and Humax last year updated the retail version, adding a fashionable Silver/White fascia to give it a more modern look. But, beyond the new exterior, the revamped DTR-1010 was identical to its predecessor with the same specs and performance.

BT’s new box, though still made by Humax, is a radical departure from earlier models, being around 1/3 narrower, dropping the front scrolling LCD display and introducing a brand-new look.

The new silver/black exterior is designed to match BT’s latest HomeHub 4 and 5 routers and, at 24cm wide, is roughly the same size, giving a more integrated, consistent look to the ISP’s product offering.

For the technically minded, the size reduction has been achieved by removing the power supply unit from the box and replacing it with a mains power adapter, allowing the designers to also remove the fan.

The new compact design makes it easier to accommodate the box under the TV where it’s more likely to fit alongside a Blu-ray player or console, an important consideration for those with limited space.

However the power cable is shorter than on the earlier model, meaning it was necessary to shift things around to ensure the cable stretched to the plug socket.

While I liked both of the previous Humax models, the scrolling LCD display was the cause of some irritation because its character limit was often insufficient to show the full title of the programme or channel you were watching.

Worse, it was unable to display the name of the extra channels available from BT or the titles of any catch-up or on-demand content which made for a disappointingly inconsistent user experience.

The new box does away with all those problems, not by fixing the display but by eliminating it entirely. This is a radical decision which may displease some who found the old display useful.

In place of the LCD display are three status lights which indicate whether the box is on or in one of YouView’s two standby modes, the broadband status and a red light to show when the box is recording.

While the original Humax/BT models had a small ‘Recording’ indicator on the LCD display, most users would be hard pressed to spot it without a telescope so the new, unmissable red light is a welcome addition.

However it’s disappointing that it only lights up when the box is on, if you’ve got it in standby there’s no way to tell planned recordings are taking place which seems like an odd design choice.

One change likely to have some owners of the original boxes seething in jealousy is the introduction of a new, silent remote control.

The remote supplied with retail boxes and early batches of BT boxes – the ISP later started shipping a rather cheap, nasty ‘dustbuster’ version – was a stylish, fluted piece of design.

But despite the good looks, the original remote annoyed a number of users by making a loud ‘click’ on every press of the navigation pad – something which could be irksome when making a number of rapid, sequential presses such as when moving around the EPG.

In addition to losing the the click, the new remote sees the PVR buttons moved to the middle where they’re more accessible and gains a couple of useful new buttons.

The first of these is a dedicated BT Player which takes you to the ISP’s video on demand player, the second is a TV AV button which allows you to change between input sources (for example different HDMI inputs) if you programme the remote to also operate your TV.

However the remote isn’t without fault – the ‘BACK’ button which takes you out of menus is placed immediately below the DOWN button of the navigation pad making it annoyingly easy to accidentally exit a screen rather then move down.

The rear of the box is where you’ll find the aerial input, a HDMI output, a SCART socket for connecting the box to older TVs, a USB port (currently without function), an ethernet connection for connecting the box to your HomeHub and an optical audio out socket.

As with earlier models there’s no WiFi support which will continue to disappoint those with good reception around the home but avoids calls to BT’s support desks from users whose homes aren’t WiFi friendly and so suffer picture breakups and constant buffering for on demand viewing.

In the same vein, BT continue to insist that their additional pay-TV channels will only work when the box is connected to the Hub via a direct cable but my experience and that of many others is they’ll work just fine with a decent set of Power Line Adapters (PLA).

However it’s worth noting that wiring and sources of interference differ between properties and in some cases PLAs won’t be a viable option. While the tech-set will always want to play outside the guidelines, BT can’t be faulted for wanting to keep things as simple as possible for the masses.

The G4 runs the same YouView software and offers the same features as earlier models, including pausing and rewinding live TV, 300 hours recording time and on demand and catch-up viewing.

However it does all of this speedier and more reliably than its predecessors thanks to a faster processor and increased RAM.

Both my retail DTR-1010 and BT supplied DTR-1000 can be slightly sluggish when navigating around the EPG, and much more so when browsing longer lists of TV boxsets and films in BT’s on-demand player.

However the G4 was speedy throughout my use, taking long lists and repeated button presses in its stride which is exactly what you’d expect from a pay-TV box.

The box also performed fantastically at recording – in my trial period every recorded was completed successfully and, as is standard across YouView+ boxes, it re-recorded the +1 repeat of a show which had been clipped due to a late running earlier programme.

Picture and sound quality continue to be great, though both obviously depend on the broadcast or streamed signal.

Like all YouView boxes, this one has two standby/power saving modes. The default is HIGH which significantly reduces power usage (0.4 Watt) but takes an age for the box to wake up but you can switch to a LOW eco mode which uses more (12 Watts) but boots the box in just 8 seconds.

Both start-up times are faster than on the DTR-1000 but if you want to use the YouView remote record app you’ll have to sacrifice your eco-credentials and place the box in LOW mode.

Again for the more technical minded, this faster booting from LOW eco mode is achieved by switching off little more the the video output to the TV, unlike the HIGH mode which shuts down pretty much every function apart from those needed to complete planned recordings.

Depending which eco mode you opt for, the power status light will either show red (HIGH) or purple (LOW) when the box is in standby. All very pretty but I’m not sure I quite get the logic which led BT to believe users wanted a light to show them which power mode the box is in but not, when in standby, whether it’s recording.

The G4 is an impressive update which addresses the performance gripes of many early adopters and closes the gap between YouView and more mature platforms such as Sky.

At £220 the retail variant is an expensive upgrade for those who already own the original box but I think the performance boost makes it a worthwhile indulgence while offering newcomers to the platform a powerhouse of an experience with which they’ll be delighted from day one.

But the best deal is to be had by taking the box from BT as part of a TV, phone and broadband bundle – doing this will cost you just £35 plus either £5 or £7 per month on a 12 month contract, a total of £119 over 12 months.

And at that price I’ll happily name the G4 as the best value Smart TV box on the market. It’s also, without doubt, the best YouView+ box released to date.