Hot on the heels of their NetBox HD and SoundBox HD Freeview Play set top boxes, Netgem has unveiled the NetBox 4K, a brand-new model which adds support for Ultra HD (4K) on-demand shows and movies, as well as the ability to record Freview channels.
These headline features are the main difference with the earlier models, which we reviewed here, with the rest of the system and user interface remaining unchanged.
Ultra HD (4K) Content
The NetBox 4K includes all the same on-demand and catch-up apps as its predecessors, including BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, My5, UKTV Play, Rakuten TV, Hayu, Hopster and Deezer, plus the 4K version of YouTube, in addition to selected 4K content on iPlayer, with the Amazon Prime Video app to be updated at a later date to support the format.
As you’d expect, the 4K content is highlighted in the box’s on-demand menu to ensure it’s easy to find.
The inclusion of YouTube means there’s plenty of subscription-free content alongside the service’s paid-for shows, including its rather excellent Karate Kid spin-off, Cobra Kai.
For those with compatible TVs, the box also has support for HDR (High Dynamic Range).
Those who aren’t quite ready to rely on catch-up services will be pleased to hear that Netgem has added the ability to record Freeview programmes, however the NetBox 4K differs from most PVRs on the market by lacking its own internal storage and instead relies on a USB stick to store recordings.
It’s also limited to being able to record only one programme at a time and you’ll only be able to watch channels on the same Freeview multiplex as the channel you’re recording which can limit your options if you want to record one show while watching something else.
While the ability to record is welcome, these restrictions felt slightly counter-intuitive to me in such an otherwise modern and advanced box, however if you’re moving to the NetBox 4K from a TV – where any recording feature comes with similar restrictions – rather than as a replacement for another PVR, you may not share this view.
As well as watching on the set top box, recordings can be viewed on your iPhone or Android mobile via a free companion app available for download from the iOS and Android app stores, provided you’re at home and/or connected to the same network as your NetBox 4K.
In a nice touch, the user can also use the mobile app to initiate playback of recordings on the box itself and can also be used as a remote control, with the ability to change channel and set/play and pause recordings on the box.
Present on all three Netgem models, but not included in our previous review, is the ability to control the box by voice via Amazon’s Alexa.
To achieve this you’ll need to activate Alexa’s Netgem TV skill via Amazon.co.uk, after which you’ll then be prompted to link Alexa to your set top box, once these steps are completed you’ll be able to shout out ‘Alexa, pause Netgem TV’ or ‘Alexa, record BBC Two’ should you so wish.
During tests Alexa and the Netbox 4K worked well together, with the box responding accurately to requests, though personally, I’m yet to be convinced that voice control adds much to the TV experience, especially as many interactions – especially routine ones such as changing channel, recording or pausing content – are quicker with the remote control.
Netgem has packed support for Dolby Atmos into this box, ideal for those who have the latest surround sound systems, and the app also allows you to initiate playback of on-demand content on the box.
You can also use the app to ‘cast’ your own videos and photos to the box.
The box’s design has had a makeover from its non-4K counterpart, with a more modern, rounded and premium look and feel.
I remain impressed with the Netgem TV service which, I said before, offers an “easy to set-up way of watching catch-up and on-demand content on your big screen TV,” although it would be nice if Netgem could bring Netflix and Now TV to their service which would boost its appeal to those looking for a complete ‘one box’ solution.
But in the meantime, the Netbox 4K is a nice addition to the range and if you have a 4K TV – or are planning to buy one – it makes sense to look at this rather than the standard HD model.