More on our trip to YouView’s riverside HQ where a small group of UK tech journos were treated to a sneak peek at the platform’s near future.
As already reported, the starting point was the announcement that more than 400,000 YouView boxes are now in homes across the UK – a landmark reached less than a year after analysts queued up to declare the platform offered little of interest to the masses.
With four major software updates now out and bugs squashed, YouView CEO Richard Halton invited his audience to revisit their reviews of last July and compare the service as it is today with the feature-set at launch.
Luckily we did just that in February so can skip ahead and talk more about the future features we saw.
First up is the long-awaited, much demanded Android app.
To answer some of the questions and speculation on various forums – what we played with was a fully working app running on several different handsets, not a mock-up.
Appearance and feature-wise the app seemed identical to the iOS version already available.
It’ll be released in a few weeks and both versions will gain extra functionality later in the year, including the ability to search for broadcast and Video on Demand (VoD) content.
The next feature – and this is where the potential of YouView will finally become clear to any remaining doubters – is the introduction of internet (IPTV) channels.
Instead of being confined by the space limitations of Freeview, IPTV allows a potentially unlimited number of broadcasters to offer channels and at far lower cost.
Receiving these channels requires a software update which will initially come to boxes provided by BT and TalkTalk.
Both ISPs currently offer extra live channels, but on TalkTalk boxes these are hidden away inside a video player rather than appearing on the main programme guide, while BT customers need one of the firm’s now ancient BT Vision boxes to receive their line-up of channels.
That’ll change by the summer when streamed channels will appear alongside regular broadcast channels in the main EPG.
They’ll function exactly the same as normal channels and users won’t need to bother about which channel uses which technology. On screen the only clue as to the difference will be three little blue dots on the EPG and mini-guide to signal an IPTV channel.
The bad news is the extra channels won’t be recordable at launch and viewers will either need to set reminders to ensure they don’t miss a programme or hope the show will be available via YouView’s backwards EPG.
However recording and trick-play is expected to follow by Autumn so you won’t need to be patient for too long.
Although the channels will initially be available only to boxes provided by the ISPs, retail boxes will get an update to enable them at a later date. This should mean those who bought their own box and use it with a BT or TalkTalk broadband connection should be able to subscribe to channels from their ISPs.
YouView weren’t giving any dates on when this would happen but BT have previously said they’re working to bring their sports channels to retail YouView boxes in August.
For trivia fans, the IPTV channels we saw were being received on a BT-branded Humax box.
We were asked not to mention the line-up as they would be officially confirmed by the ISPs in the coming weeks and will presumably vary between providers.
However we can say we were shown both SD and HD content, the quality of which looked at least as good as you’d get from a standard broadcast channel.
The software update enabling the IPTV channels will also allow other broadcasters to make their content available outside of ISP bundles if they wish to in future and will allow Sky’s NOW TV service to offer live streams via YouView as it does on other platforms.
The arrival of new VoD portals, which will be available to all users regardless of ISP, was promised within the next few weeks but no names were revealed.
Picking up on recent comments from TalkTalk CEO Dido Harding, it was confirmed that a cheaper, non-recording YouView box will launch later this year.
This will initially be available via Talktalk but retail versions – and possibly other ISP versions – will be available in due course. This lower-priced option is likely to help drive take-up.
On the issue of cost and the much reported “low” take-up of retail boxes, Halton and his team were clear that customers were always going to be attracted to the idea of getting a £250 box for free.
He pointed out that all tech products start off highly priced and then drop over time and said that the ISP offers were “shortening the take-up curve”.
While many of the features above are things users might have liked from launch, the very clear message from YouView’s head of product and chief developer was that features would only be launched when they were ready for prime time and didn’t compromise user experience.