Optional premium channels, including Sky Cinema, Sky Sports Main Event, Sky Sports Extra
BT Sport in Ultra HD
What is BT TV?
Starting life as a basic Freeview system with a bit of on-demand content, BT TV has since evolved. Using the YouView TV platform to deliver live channels via the internet, BT TV has a range of premium channels and some unique content via the top-end Ultra HD box.
BT TV – Design and build
BT has a choice of three set top boxes. The entry-level package nets you the standard YouView box, which has a single tuner, but no hard disk (you can pause live TV, though). Next is the YouView+ box, which is a dual-tuner recorder with a 500GB hard disk. At the top end is theYouView+ Ultra HD box, which has two tuners and a 1TB hard disk. This is the box that I’ve reviewed, although the interface remains the same across all set-top boxes.
The BT YouView+ Ultra HD was the first 4K set-top box to launch in the UK. Today, it’s still impressively small (273 x 152 x 43mm), making it easy to place anywhere. This set top box lacks the design flair of the excellent Sky Q Silver, but the plain design at least looks unobtrusive. It feels well made, too.
At the rear of the box are the connectors. There’s a Gigabit Ethernet port for the network connection, but it’s a shame that there’s no 802.11ac Wi-Fi, so that you can go cable free. A single HDMI 2.0 output hooks the box up to your TV, and there’s an optical S/PDIF output for audio. BT provides a single aerial input, with a passthrough for your TV.
BT bundles the same remote control that it uses for all of its YouView products. It’s quite large, and a little unwieldy, but the keys are responsive, and it works well. It’s an IR model and a Bluetooth option would have been nice, so that you don’t need line-of-site to the box.
You don’t need to use the remote, as the box has a set of controls on top that let you navigate the menus. It’s a handy way of controlling everything if your remote is out of reach and you just want to put something on quickly.
BT TV – Features
TalkTalk TV was the first to bring out the Next-gen YouView update, but BT has since followed suit. It’s about time, as the original YouView interface was starting to look a little dated. With the Next-gen interface, BT gets a more visually-driven way of using its box.
A key difference is that the new interface tries to reduce the number of menu clicks you have to go through. Bring up the main YouView menu, and the Guide option has a row of thumbnails highlighting programmes that are on now. If you spot something that you want to watch, this saves you having to dive into the main guide. Similarly, MyTV (recordings) highlights recently-recorded programmes, and Players & Apps gives you quick access to the most popular apps.
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A revamped guide is good to see, as it’s far cleaner and easier to follow than the old one. As this is YouView, you can step back in time up to a week, and watch on-demand programmes via the built-in catch-up TV services. This blend of live and on-demand TV remains a key strength of YouView.
It’s a shame that the mini TV preview window has been removed. I can understand why on a Full HD TV, as it’s hard to fit everything on the screen, but this is an Ultra HD box with loads more resolution available to it. It’s a real shame that BT and YouView haven’t capitalised on this, providing an interface designed specifically for 4K TVs.
Instead, YouView has transparent menus, so you can just about see what’s going on through the on-screen interface. It’s a clumsy way of doing things and I hope the next update brings back the preview window.
I love the new MyTV page, which has thumbnail previews of your recordings rather than the old-fashioned text menus. It’s a shame that you can’t undelete TV shows as you can with Sky Q; the only option is to have a prompt that asks if you really want to delete a show.
BT TV – Channels and content
YouView is powered by Freeview HD, giving you all of the standard UK terrestrial channels. In addition, you get the standard catch-up services from all of the main UK TV channels, including BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My5, UKTV Play and Milkshake. Netflix is also pre-installed, but requires a separate subscription, as does Sky’s Now TV. With the Ultra HD box, you get all of the 4K Netflix content, although you need the highest subscription.
Pricing starts at just £3.50 a month for the Starter pack with the basic YouView box with 80 channels; pay £10 a month for Entertainment Plus, and you get the YouView+ box and 110 channels. Both include AMC, which is the only place in the UK to watch Fear the Walking Dead. With Entertainment Plus, you can add BT Sport (£3.50 a month), and upgrade to get Sport and AMC in HD (£5 month). The top Total Entertainment package costs £20 a month, but you get the YouView+ Ultra HD box, and the subscription includes BT Sport in Ultra HD and the HD add-on.
With Sky’s rebranding of its sports channels, BT has followed suit and now provides Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Extra for an additional £27.50 a month in SD or £33.50 a month in HD. That covers all of the Premier League games, but you don’t get the full content that Sky provides with its 10 sports channels. Sky also provides its content cheaper: £20 a month with an 18-month subscription for all sport. Now TV is cheaper (£33.99 a month, or £6.99), but it’s a shame that the YouView app doesn’t support this content. There’s no access to any of Sky’s entertainment channels, such as Sky One, but you can add the SD Sky Cinema for £13.50 a month.
BT also has its own range of content via the BT TV section of the YouView menu (or by hitting the dedicated button on the remote control). This has a range of catch-up content from BT’s channels, such as AMC.
There’s also a selection of TV shows and films to watch for free, plus a store that lets you buy the latest TV episodes, and rent or buy films in SD or HD. The range of content and pricing is roughly similar to similar services from BT’s competitors.
BT TV – Performance
BT Sport in Ultra HD is as impressive today as it was when it launched. Running at a resolution of 3,840×2,160 at 50fps (double regular TV), it looks incredible. Watching football, the high resolution makes it easy to see everything on the pitch, while the higher frame rate keeps everything smooth. Switching back to the HD stream makes everything look low res in comparison. And, BT has used 10-bit colour, so the image is far richer than with regular TV.
Other sports look just as good, too. Whether it’s the action of Rugby or a rally car throwing mud up into the camera, Ultra HD looks fantastic and destroys Full HD for quality.
The downside of streaming Ultra HD in this quality is the bandwidth that you need. Taking up around 30Mbit/s, you need at least BT Option 1 (up to 52Mbit/s) broadband, although that may not be fast enough for everyone, depending on how far your house is from the roadside cabinet. More realistically, you’ll want Option 2 (up to 76Mbit/s). With the faster broadband speeds, your broadband connection won’t slow to crawl when someone’s watching Ultra HD.
Regular TV via Freeview HD looks just as good here as on other YouView boxes, or watching TV direct on your TV. Catch-up services are delivered via streaming, and the quality is the same as for using a computer or tablet. Only Sky Q provides better quality catch-up, with its smart download service saving the broadcast-quality content direct to your set-top box.
Thanks to the more powerful processor in the Ultra HD box, the YouView interface is incredibly slick and smooth. I didn’t notice any of the slight jerkiness that older or less-powerful YouView boxes have suffered from.
The 1TB hard disk provides more than enough room for most people, giving up to 600 hours of SD content. Sky Q has 2TB of space, but it’s the heart of a multi-room system that can record up to six channels and once, and there’s a lot more Ultra HD content available.
With two tuners, you can record up to two programmes at once, plus watch a recording or streamed channel. You can only record or watch one streamed channel at the same time, so watching BT Sport in Ultra HD means that you can’t watch Sky Sports Main Event.
Should I buy BT TV?
As with any TV service, it all comes down to what you want to watch. Sky Q has the best range of content, the most HD channels and the biggest selection of Ultra HD content. If you’re into your premium TV, this is the service to buy.
If you want a little more content than Freeview gives, the choice is between BT and TalkTalk. TalkTalk TV has a wider selection of content, although it has fewer HD channels. BT’s advantage is that it has its own unique content, and this is the only place to get the AMC channel and BT Sport in Ultra HD. If this is the main factor, then BT is a better choice than TalkTalk. For the ultimate sports fans that want everything in Ultra HD, you can run BT TV with Sky Q.
A great range of set-top boxes and the only way to get BT Sport in Ultra HD, BT TV is a great choice for many.