The first YouView box will go on sale at the end of July, costing £299. The imminent arrival of the product was announced on July 4 in London by the company's chairman, Lord Alan Sugar.
YouView was originally scheduled to launch at the end of 2010. It was delayed by a mixture of regulatory issues, technical problems and complications by having so many partner organisations, including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, BT, TalkTalk and transmitter operator Arqiva.
The box is a Freeview HD recorder made by Humax, containing a 500GB hard disk drive for conventional recording, and an Ethernet broadband socket for catch-up programmes from the main terrestrial broadcasters a
“One of the reasons I am here is due to my passion for new technology,” said Lord Sugar. “This is a great moment in British television.”
Lord Sugar, who was closely involved in making Sky boxes from the late 1980s, emphasised that YouView is a British development and “a new way to watch TV.”
The catch-up TV content is accessed from a unified programme guide that goes backwards up to seven days as well as ahead for forward planning. There is also an intelligent search function and individual portals to go into different apps such as the iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5.
Richard Halton, CEO of YouView said that “we've seamlessly combined live TV and on-demand, and that's just the beginning. YouView is all about easy ways of discovering content.”
The £299 box can be bought from John Lewis, Amazon, Currys, Comet, Argos, Euronics independent stores and Richer Sounds.
BT and TalkTalk broadband customers will have additional libraries of films, series and sport available. This may involve a cheaper up-front cost for a box in return for a subscription package. TalkTalk will announce its customer packages on 26 July.
Sky's NOW TV and STV, the Scottish commercial broadcaster, are the first content partners beyond the main terrestrial broadcasting networks involved but YouView says that more than 300 other organisations have expressed an interest in being part of the platform.
“It's a very simple product with very simple benefits,” said Halton.
Humax said that a PVR with a 1TB option will also come soon. Lord Sugar stated that YouView worked closely with Humax in developing the technology from scratch. He said he wouldn't be surprised if boxes became significantly cheaper in a couple of years time.
A non-PVR version with a single Freeview tuner may follow in the near future as a cheaper entry point. The chassis from a 'zapper' box version would also be small enough to integrate into a TV, explained Lord Sugar, should any manufacturers wish to do so.
“You start with the highest technology proposition and then work down, it's the template,” said Lord Sugar. “When we start adding features such as IPTV channels, we have to see how the stripped down version can handle them. The actual PVR is doing a bit more work than just recording programmes, it buffers and does a lot in the background.”
He added that he had quite a lot of personal input into how the navigation works on the EPG.
Halton pointed out that only a third of Freeview homes currently have a PVR. Mark Thompson, the outgoing Director General of the BBC, who was also at the press launch, said the BBC's brief is “to make cutting edge technology available as widely as possible.” He mentioned the success of the iPlayer and that YouView is “another compelling platform.”
Lord Sugar and YouView CEO Richard Halton
YouView recommends a 3Mbps minimum speed for a good quality of service. Higher quality video streams are supported for those with faster internet links. It also suggests using a direct Ethernet connection, or Powerline adaptors, rather than Wi-Fi. The Humax box does not have Wi-Fi built in but existing USB dongles that work with Humax's other net-connected PVRs should work with this product too.
The company said it was also looking at apps for phones and tablets to act as a remote control interface or for remote booking of recordings.
Lord Sugar believes the installation should be simple. “You can't get any easier than this", he said, “If they can't understand that, they shouldn't be watching TV,” he added, to laughter from the audience. “It is a revolutionary product, and one that I'm proud to be associated with.”
More info is available at the YouView website, which has just been relaunched.