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YouView review

YouView brings on-demand TV services together

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Our Verdict

For

  • Historical catch-up EPG
  • App-less interface
  • Easy to understand
  • On Demand is well organised

Against

  • Limited catch-up content
  • NOW TV dominates Film section
  • Some error messages
  • No Lovefilm, Netflix or Acetrax

How much of London 2012 did you actually watch live? Despite the awesome 'watch again' coverage on the BBC's website, didn't you wish you could have got home from work and watched Ennis, Farah, Tweddle or Ainslie (Ben, not Harriot) 'as live' on your TV instead of waiting for Gabby Logan's 10pm spoiler-saturated round-up show?

Well, you could have done just that simply by going backwards in the electronic programme guide and watching it on-demand. Welcome to YouView, the big terrestrial broadcaster's answer to the so-called smart TVs that rarely go beyond hosting BBC iPlayer.

Connected TVs have existed for a few years now, but have so far led a fractured existence. So for those frustrated by separate apps, missing services and stodgy user interfaces comes YouView, a service that's designed with catch-up TV at its core.

We tested the new service on the only YouView set-top box so far available – the Humax DTR-T1000, a Freeview HD recorder that costs £299. BT, one of YouView's owners, will likely make a less costly box available soon.

While it begins life purely as a catch-up & on demand service supplying fully integrated content only from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five, YouView can develop beyond that. It's already started hosting its first major third-party app in the shape of Sky's Now TV, but what about Lovefilm or Netflix or Acetrax streaming? Could we see YouTube?

That all remains to be seen, though as it stands YouView is a smart upgrade on Freeview, and a subscription-free challenge to Sky and Virgin.

YouView review

Although tuning-in Freeview HD channels and getting online (complete with a brief warning about data usage) is easy, we were slightly flummoxed by the appearance of a 'Before we go on…' page that insisted we accept the Terms of Use to 'make the most' of YouView.

They're 101 pages long and basically state that if you exceed your ISP's data cap it's your own fault (though there's no advice on how much data is used by, say, an hour's catch-up TV in HD quality. Clue: it's about 2GB), and that cookies are used to collect anonymous data from you, including your preferences and individual settings. Basically, YouView is watching you watching it.

Catch-up

With our YouView box switched on we're presented with a live TV channel with a blue-and black 'on now' panel along the bottom of the screen. It looks innocuous, but it's hugely powerful; scroll up and down to change the channel or – and this is the good part – move to the 'on now' panel and scroll back in time.

Delving back into the schedules earlier that day (it only goes back to midnight on this view), it's possible to watch anything that has a label underneath reading 'to watch on-demand, press OK'.

YouView review

Plenty of programmes say 'not available' – anything from the US such as Family Guy or Frasier is a nailed-on 'not available' – but if you do find something on-demand, selecting it takes you straight to the relevant on-demand app.

For instance, we were watching the Olympics on BBC Three at midday and found Girl Power: Going For Gold back in the schedules at 5am; once selected, we're taken to the BBC iPlayer title page, but the programme then plays almost immediately. The whole process takes about 10 seconds.

YouView review

Similarly, skip to Channel 4 and delve back into early morning and Come Dine With Me can be loaded up via 4oD (albeit after OK-ing some more terms of use). The only differences here are that on 4oD you do get a short advert, and then 33 seconds of, err, more adverts.

A 'You're watching 4oD on YouView' audio message plays and, finally, a 'We are sorry this content is unavailable' message and, amusingly, an error code. Nice. OK, so we didn't actually want to watch Come Dine With Me, but, seriously? Why was it flagged as available in the EPG if it wasn't actually on 4oD?

YouView review

Locating Born To Kill: Harold Shipman on Channel 5's early morning schedules, Demand 5 fires up in around a minute, plays an advert, then plays the programme with no problems, though it was the only title among dozens that was available (kids TV shows such as Peppa Pig or Bananas in Pyjamas didn't appear to be available).

ITV Player has a similar problem with rights: we found Jeremy Kyle: USA a few hours back in ITV2's schedules in among mostly US-based (and therefore not on-demand) shows. After a very brief advert the programme played quickly.

YouView review

Although this generally works OK, we can't impress enough that delving back into TV schedules to peruse on-demand content only works on the terrestrial channels; BBC, ITV, Channel Four and Channel Five.

It's also worth remembering that it can take up to a day or so before something becomes available on catch-up.

YouView review

Incidentally, moving forward in the schedules on all channels sees a 'To set reminder press OK' message appear beneath the programme title, though it's just as easy to press the red button to set a recording if you're using a YouView PVR (you get a choice between recording once or setting a series link).

This back-and-forthing is all well and good, but it's worth remembering that Virgin Media's TiVo set-top box has had an identical (and mostly successful, though frequently unreliable) feature for over a year.