It’s been far too long since we last pored over the BT Vision video streaming service. Way back in 2009, in fact. So it’s high time we went back to it, to see how far it’s advanced. Especially since BT recently kicked off a new promotion whereby you can get BT Vision via a free YouView receiver.
To get started, we need to explain all the complications of BT’s current availability and cost options for BT Vision. The first - and in our opinion most troublesome - point is that in order to access ANY BT Vision content, even the pay per view stuff, you need to be signed up to BT as your home internet provider. We’ll get into why we find this problematic later.
It also remains the case that you can only watch BT Vision via either BT’s own Vision receiver or a YouView box. There’s no support for iPads, Android devices, Smart TVs or even PCs. This too seems rather limiting in this day and age.
There are essentially three BT Vision packages available: a basic TV Essential subscription, a TV Unlimited service, and a Sports package. Frustratingly, the latter option is currently only available if you get one of BT’s Vision boxes rather than a YouView receiver, though the service is due to become available via YouView by next summer.
It’s also the case that you can now only get the Sports pack (unless you already have it) if you live in an area served by BT’s fibre-based Infinity network.
So if you fancy the Sports package - which currently comprises Sky’s Sports channels - we’d probably recommend you go for the YouView/Infinity option now if you’re in a suitable area and just manage without the sports channels for a few months. After all, the BT Vision box doesn’t offer either YouView’s brilliant ‘backwards EPG’ functionality or its extra streaming players - like Sky’s Now TV.
To get a ‘free’ YouView box, then, as well as a ‘free’ TV Essentials BT Vision package, you need to become a new subscriber to BT’s Infinity broadband service - something that will cost you £18 a month if you’re one of the 11 million households and businesses currently covered by the fibre network. If you can only get one of BT’s standard broadband services on your local exchange then sorry, but there’s no free YouView box for you.
You also aren’t entitled to a free YouView box if you’re already a BT Internet subscriber; instead you’ll have to wait until you’re out of contract and then take up the Infinity service as part of a completely new contract.
You should also note that both the YouView and BT Vision receiver options carry a rather aggravating £49 ‘activation fee’.
With the TV Essentials package you get pay-per-view access to all of BT Vision’s on-demand TV shows and Box Office movies, with TV episodes costing between 50p and £1.10 a time and films starting at £3.50, and going up to £4 for HD versions. These rentals are usually yours for 48 hours.
Splash an extra £12.50 a month to bag the Unlimited service, and you don’t have to pay for any on-demand TV shows - they’re included. Also you get an extra Vision Film section featuring more than 250 ‘back catalogue titles you can watch for free. At the time of writing titles here included Air Force One, The Aviator, Kick Ass, The English Patient, Face off, and Magnolia.
One last price-related issue we need to cover is that stuff you watch via BT Vision is not treated as part your download allowance if you have one on your broadband deal, so you won’t find yourself running out of capacity after a couple of HD movies.
When you fire a YouView box up now, it will automatically recognise if you’re a BT broadband subscriber and if you are it will present you with a large BT Vision icon on the home screen. One click of this and you’re straight into the menu of services on offer.
This menu is reasonably well presented and thought through. You get a 'shorthand' list of options on the left, with fuller menus associated with the highlighted left-hand option on the right. The categories on the left comprise: Vision Box Office, Vision Kids, Vision TV, Vision Music, Vision Film, Vision Sport, and something called Essential on Demand.
The stuff on the right side of the menu usually comprises highlighted content for each of BT Vision's areas, while also providing other 'jump offs' to further content.
Further features of the menus that we greatly appreciated during our tests were 'People who watched this title also watched' recommendations, the ability to create playlists (especially useful, of course, with the music content) and the ability to bookmark favourite content so you can find it more easily later.
The overall look of the menus is bright, colourful, spacious, inviting and for the most part logically laid out.
There are a few issues with the OS, though. For starters, the menus are a touch sluggish and they don't show many video link icons on screen at once. Also the service doesn't do as much as it should to highlight HD content. It turns out you having to go into the Search By Category section before you stumble across a way of filtering films by whether they're HD or not.