Telstra T-Box PVR (preview)

The T-Box shines when used when connected to high-speed Telstra BigPond Internet and has some excellent content available

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Telstra Corporation T-Box
  • Telstra Corporation T-Box
  • Telstra Corporation T-Box
  • Telstra Corporation T-Box

Pros

  • Smooth and intuitive interface, super-fast buffering and downloading (on Telstra BigPond cable and ADSL2+), wide range of content on BigPond TV and BigPond Movies on Demand, low initial price

Cons

  • Requires a BigPond Internet connection to access BigPond online content, new release movie content is slightly expensive

Bottom Line

The Telstra T-Box PVR is a viable alternative to the TiVo and other set-top box offerings, and its movies on demand and linear streaming channels provide a compelling value-add option for anyone looking for reasons to switch ISPs to Telstra BigPond. It is only appealing to those with Telstra BigPond Internet, though - users of other ISPs will be unable to access most functions.

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  • Buy now (Selling at 2 stores)

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Free-to-air TV and IPTV streaming

If you're a Telstra BigPond broadband Internet customer, buying a Telstra T-Box gives you access to seven BigPond TV streaming video 'channels'. These linear IPTV streams cover a large range of content — there is a 24/7 news channel, horse racing, sports news, AFL, NRL, V8 Supercars coverage and a 24/7 music channel. After selecting a channel there is a buffer period of less than five seconds (on a fast connection) and then streaming video is displayed. We watched a 3 megabits per second (Mbps) stream with reasonably good picture quality and only a small amount of artefacting, although a 1Mbps stream of each channel is also available for Telstra BigPond customers with slower Internet connections. All BigPond TV content is unmetered for Telstra BigPond customers, so it won't impact your download cap.

The Telstra T-Box also has two high-definition digital television tuners built in to pick up all the free-to-air digital television channels. A seven-day electronic program guide is delivered to the T-Box via the Internet, with guide data supplied by HWW — the same company that supplies data to Freeview, Foxtel and TiVo. We were pleased to see thumbnail pictures for most programs in the guide, making the interface nice to view and easy to navigate.

BigPond Movies on Demand, BigPond Video and YouTube access

There are more than 1300 titles available for rent from the BigPond Movies on Demand service. The service has a simple interface that relies on navigation via movie genres. New release movies will cost around $5.99 to rent, while older content can be purchased for as little as $3.99. Only DVD-quality video is currently available, although HD video will be added to the library later in the year. Around 2000 titles should be available on the BigPond Movies on Demand service by the end of 2010. Movie downloads are unmetered and after around a minute's buffering we were able to watch a movie without any stuttering or caching problems.

Telstra has also included BigPond Video streaming on the T-Box. This service archives a large amount of content from the BigPond TV IPTV service — so while you can't directly record from BigPond TV, you'll be able to access it later by re-streaming through BigPond Video (which is also unmetered). YouTube can also be accessed through the main menu of the Telstra T-Box. We're happy to see this included, even though it is metered.

Conclusion

The Telstra T-Box is packed full of useful features and can access some quality content, and it has a low initial $299 asking price. You can even bundle it with your Telstra Internet/phone plan with $11 monthly repayments over 24 months. It's only attractive if you're a Telstra BigPond customer, though — otherwise it loses most of its appeal.

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Read more on these topics: PVR, home entertainment, Telstra, set-top boxes

Katey

1

While I agree that the tbox is fundamentally a good product, there are some issues which are not addressed in this review (and perhaps only identifiable after extended usage).
First and foremost - the remote. To put it simply, it is a cheaply made piece of junk that frequently fails, so that simply turning the volume down (for a particularly loud commercial, for example) is a lengthy exercise involving a great deal more frustration than warranted. I imagine telstra could circumvent this issue by investing slightly more time and energy in to ensuring a quality product, but I don't know... maybe it's much more complex than that.

Secondly, and this is a relatively minor issue; the rentals are quite expensive. I appreciate that we are paying for the convenience of not leaving the house, etc etc etc, but the cost is not really well balanced by the range of movies available and the prescribed viewing period once downloaded.
For example, an old film from the 1980s (we're not talking Kevin Bacon at his footloose finest here, either) will cost around $5-$6 to download. Typically the film is available to the user for 7 days, but once the film is initially played, it is only available to be viewed for the next 48 hours (inclusive). While this might be relative to the costs and borrowing periods of a new release movie, the films available are often NOT new release, and therefore do not deserve to(in my estimation) attract the same premium or stringent viewing period criteria. Indeed, if it were not for the bigpond movies being free (we received a complimentary voucher) I doubt that I would download the movies at all.

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