What is YouView? A guide to the catch-up TV system

What is YouView? Simmered down to the basics, it’s a new TV-watching platform that melds broadcast television with catch-up services like BBC iPlayer, 4OD, ITV Player and 5 Demand.

YouView is a response to the changing ways we watch TV. It might be compared to other streaming systems like Boxee, but it’s rather more important as it has the backing of many of the big names in television, including the BBC, Channel 4, ITV, BT and TalkTalk.

YouView Boxes
You will need to buy a separate box to get on-board with YouView, though. It doesn’t currently come built into any TVs, and the boxes that have the platform do cost a bit. The primary launch YouView rig is the Humax DTR-T1000, which sells for £249 with a 500GB hard drive or £329 with a 1TB HDD.

The Humax DTR-T1000 will also be available from BT as part of the BT Vision subscription. You can sign up to register interest on the BT website now, and the boxes are expected to start shipping on 26 October.Humax DTR-1000

TalkTalk also offers its own YouView box, which is bought as part of a £14.50 contract that includes broadband internet and a home phone plan. Its hard drive is significantly smaller than the Humax’s, though, with 320GB of storage. The TalkTalk YouView box is produced by Huawei, a company known for producing 3G dongles and mobile phones for other companies.

There are plans to produce lower-cost YouView boxes, but none have been cemented yet.

YouView Interface

YouView is designed to feel as much like standard Freeview as possible, to make it accessible for the average person rather than just gadget fans. Head to the Guide section and you’ll notice it looks just like a normal EPG, but one with a much more attractive interface than most.

However, here you can flick back into the past and watch previously-broadcast programmes, rather than just what is being broadcast. The EPG has deep links with the catch-up services from the major Freeview television channels, effectively meshing together broadcast TV and streamed TV.

Thanks to the inbuilt hard drives of the YouView boxes out there, you can of course record programmes yourself, and advanced Freeview features like Series Link work within YouView too. It’s a highly intuitive system that removes the faff of having to jump between the apps of different broadcasters when you want to watch some catch-up TV.

However, this EPG part only shows you recent catch-up TV. Should you want to check out the full range of what’s available to stream, you have to head to YouView’s on-demand area.  This is for the hardcore TV streaming fan, and knits together all the TV content from the TV channels’ portals, including full series of programmes from the likes of 4OD.

At present, the streaming partners are quite limited. All the main Freeview channels are covered, but there’s not a great deal else. There are plans to introduce more services, but they are yet to appear. Top of our most-wanted list are Netflix and LoveFilm, both of which would significantly boost YouView’s streaming powers. Here are the currently available platforms –

BBC iPlayer
ITV Player
5 Demand
Sky Now TV
STV (Scotland only)

YouView Costs
The best thing about YouView is that there are no ongoing costs, as there are with rival services like Now TV charge a monthly fee. However, as already noted YouView is available from some places as part of a monthly deal – currently from BT and TalkTalk.

What do I need?
YouView is a very low-upkeep service. You don’t need a dish on the outside of your house, or any other particular service. Simply plug your YouView box into a standard aerial and get it connected to the internet by hooking up the Ethernet port to your router and you’re away.

The one issue is that at present none of the readily-available YouView boxes offer internal Wi-Fi. This may become a bit of a problem if you want to get the telly platform in a room that’s far away from your router, such as a bedroom.

YouView Alternatives
Virgin Media – Virgin’s TV solution offers the works. There are the standard TV channels, Sky TV, Sky Anytime on demand, and the whole show is run by a TiVO box. TiVO never took off by itself in the UK, but it’s a very clever video recorder system that learns what sort of TV you like and starts recording programmes you may enjoy.  Virgin Media involves an 18-month contract, and requires that you have a £13.90-a-month phone line.

Sky Now TV – Sky’s Now TV is a movie streaming service that claims to offer more films than “LoveFilm and Netflix Instant put together.” It’s actually available as an app with YouView, too, but naturally you’ll have to pay the £15 a month Now TV fee.

BT Vision – A service that’s generally packaged with other BT services, BT Vision is an on-demand video service for TV, sport and films. BT was rumoured to be dropping BT Vision after it announced its support for YouView, but it has since released a statement saying that YouView doesn’t quite cover a wide enough remit, yet.