BT has followed the launch of its re-designed YouView+ set top box (STB) with the introduction of this new, smaller non-recording ‘zapper’ box which it offers as part of a ‘starter’ TV package and to customers taking its multi-room option.
The box is also available to buy without a contract direct from retailers including Amazon and BT’s own online shop and can be used with any broadband provider – you don’t need a BT connection or subscription to access the core YouView features, including live channels and backwards programme guide.
As with all YouView boxes, the new zapper box lets you watch the full range of Freeview TV and radio channels available via your aerial, including the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 HD channels.
It also includes access to all YouView content providers including Netflix, Sky Store & NOW TV and to catch-up players from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.
A recent software update has added support for the BBC’s Connected Red Button service which the broadcaster uses to offer viewers additional coverage of major events such as the Proms, Glastonbury and live sports.
Again, all of these are available both to BT’s TV customers and those buying the box from a retailer regardless of broadband provider.
BT TV customers also get access to the BT Player which offers additional subscription and pay-per-view on-demand content including films, music and TV boxsets and the box can be used to watch the firm’s range of add-on pay channels.
Although the box doesn’t record, it does let you pause, rewind and fast forward live TV for up to 30 minutes when watching SD channels or 14 when watching in HD – handy when your viewing gets interrupted by a phone call or you need to leave the room.
Other than an aerial input, the box features an HDMI out socket for connecting it to your TV, a single USB slot and an ethernet connection so you can connect it to your broadband.
As is standard with YouView and YouView+ boxes, there’s no wifi support so you’ll either need to run a cable between the zapper and your internet router, or buy a pair of home plugs (also known as power line adapters).
The lack of a SCART connection helps BT reduce the box’s dimensions – see below – but means it’ll only work with TV’s which have a HDMI input so it’s important to check yours does before buying.
There’s no separate audio out connection, but I’d guess it’s unlikely most people wanting a basic, non-recording box are going to be looking to hook it up to a separate sound system.
The new box measures 13.1 x 13.1cm and stands just 3.3cm tall so it’ll fit alongside or beneath your TV without any fuss.
Even better, the box’s tiny dimensions mean anyone buying it as part of a BT TV package won’t need to wait in for a courier as its packaged in a box that’ll fit through most letter boxes.
It’s inherited the same black/silver colouring featured on its bigger brother but the controls and bold blue power light have been relocated to the top so the light is unlikely to distract when you’re trying to get off to sleep.
The use of an external power adapter means there’s no fan so you’re also not going to be disturbed by excessive noise, and the lack of a hard drive means there’s no disk spinning for light sleepers to worry about.
Despite not being able to record, the new box features the same remote control as BT’s latest YouView+ box complete with unusable record button, a clear money saving decision on the part of BT.
On the plus side, anyone with a YouView+ box gets a fully functional spare remote when they add this to their TV package which could come in useful should they manage to losing the control for the main box!
BT’s marketing info makes no mention of the box’s processor or memory specifications but I’d guess they’re the same, or very close, to those in the fuller featured recording box because the new model feels just as speedy as its big brother and, like it, out performs both the original YouView+ retail boxes and those offered by TalkTalk and Huawei.
Button presses are actioned immediately and there’s no noticeable lag when changing channels or accessing the programme guide so you get a fast, reliable experience rather than having to wait around for the box to turn over the next episode of your favourite show.
A Google search suggests the £85-£100 retail price is one of the cheapest ways to get Freeview’s HD channels, Connected Red Button and Netflix on the same box, making the retail version an ideal purchase for anyone looking for a ‘Smart TV’ experience on a budget.
On the subscription front, anyone taking the ISP’s Starter package will pay a £35 “activation fee” in addition to their standard phone and broadband package. For those wanting to replace a standard Freeview box and/or access Netflix in a bedroom we think that’s great value too.
However it’s a tougher call when it comes to adding the zapper as part of a multi room set-up.
Here you’ll pay the same £5 per month to access BT’s range of pay-TV channels on the second box (you’ll need a subscription to these on your main box first) but have the choice between a recording YouView+ box and the zapper in return for an upfront charge of £65 or £49 respectively.
We think customers mulling this option should consider carefully whether they’re likely to need the recording feature in a second room – potentially helpful at Christmas when there may be more ‘must watch’ shows on – before opting for the less capable model.
But overall this is a solid addition to BT’s range and one, if it continues to offer it as part of a low-cost basic package, could help the firm close the gap with rival ISP and fellow YouView shareholder TalkTalk which currently beats it in TV sign-ups.