The HDMI output is, of course, used to pump out HD from the V-Box, in 720p or 1080i. Rather aggravatingly, you have to manually set the box to output HD – it box can’t figure out for itself from its HDMI handshake with a TV the optimum resolution to output.
In fact, I had real problems getting my Pioneer reference TV to ‘see’ the V-Box at all during initial set up. So much so that I had to connect it first using a Scart lead, and then turn to HDMI once I could see the V-Box’s menus. Incidentally, the key menu option where you have to tell the V-Box to output HD is rather unhelpfully hidden within a ‘Screen Aspect Ratio’ submenu.
The Ethernet port is, naturally, the point where the V-Box communicates with BT’s online service. And in a rather nice touch, BT provides a pair of Ethernet-over-power extenders, so that you can send Ethernet signals from your router via your mains power ring to your V-Box without having to worry about trailing a long cable all through the house, or rely on a potentially unstable Wi-Fi connection.
One thing that certainly is not a nice touch, though, is the BT Vision box’s design. With its drab silvery plastic finish and style-free lines, it really is a travesty, especially compared with the glamorous, glossy beast that is the latest BT Wireless modem. It looks more like some dirt cheap box than a cutting edge piece of AV tech.
The V-Box’s operating system looks dated compared to the new Sky+HD EPG and Xbox 360 NXE front end. The V-box does at least go to the trouble of downloading cover art and solid synopses of programmes and films you might be thinking of watching, but the data is not as intuitively organised as on the rival platforms. And rather aggravatingly, the information you’re given about doesn’t tell you the file size of a film or TV show you want to grab, which could be problematic if you start filling up your HDD.
Even after a couple of days, I never entirely ‘clicked’ with the way the various BT Vision listings, options and programmes are organised in the V-box’s onscreen menus, despite the presence of an acceptable electronic programme guide. The best thing about the operating system is the remote control, which although a little plasticky and lightweight is actually very thoughtfully laid out. I was relieved to find that the onscreen menus generally update their content fast enough not to feel sluggish.