Why Freeview's new gadget could be the solution to your streaming woesby Peter Griffin
With so many streaming services around, it's hard to get all your favourites in one place. The Dish TV SmartVU X is a step closer to solving this.
Now a new problem: getting your dream mix of content in one place.
Most new smart TVs support the major streaming TV apps and a Freeview-compatible screen will display the free-to-air channels with a handy electronic programming guide.
I spend my time flicking between apps and Sky TV. It is still a clunky experience. But for those not in the Sky camp, Freeview has leapt ahead with a tiny new gadget, the Dish TV SmartVU X.
The tiny device plugs into the back of your TV via a HDMI connection. Link it to your Wi-Fi network and you have the free-to-air channels as well as Lightbox, Stuff Pix and Netflix available to stream over the internet, through one attractive interface.
Better still, the device is based on Google’s Android TV operating system, so you can log into the Google Play store to download other apps. I can stream tracks from my Google Music account, jump onto YouTube and access video clips from the likes of the BBC, TED Talks and radio stations and podcasts via TuneIn. It is also a Chromecast device, so you can display content from your smartphone on the TV screen and use your phone as a remote.
It is remarkable functionality for such a tiny device, and the computer processor seems up to the task. It’s quick to navigate with the included Bluetooth remote, and I’ve taken to using the Freeview gadget over the interface on my smart TV.
There are two key drawbacks. The device is so small it doesn’t have an ethernet port, so you are reliant on a Wi-Fi connection for internet access. You’ll need high-speed broadband, too, but with SmartVU X supporting ultra high-definition (4K) streaming, you’ll then get great video quality.
Internet TV is still not quite as responsive as a good-quality aerial or satellite connection. As you flick between channels there is often a tiny but noticeable lag. I also occasionally saw some pixellation in the first 10 seconds or so after starting a stream, even on services such as Netflix.
The SmartVU X also doesn’t have any built-in storage, so you can’t record free-to-air TV for later viewing.
If you want to overcome both those limitations, upgrade to Freeview’s other new device, the Freeview Recorder. It is more conventional and boxy, but it houses tuners for UHF and satellite access and a 1TB (terabyte) hard drive for storing 500 hours of recorded free-to-air content. Multiple tuners allow several channels to be recorded simultaneously and it offers access to the free-to-air broadcasters’ on-demand streaming services.
It has the same Freeview programming guide as the SmartVU X and is also based on Android TV and Chromecast, with access to Google Play, live TV and apps.
But it has one glaring omission – the Freeview Recorder has no Netflix app featured.
“It is up to Netflix to determine when its requisite certification procedures would take place before Netflix can be introduced,” Freeview told me.
That’s disappointing. Netflix is the go-to streaming app for many Kiwis. It can be fixed with a software upgrade, but there’s no telling if or when Netflix will offer that.
Regardless, the Freeview Recorder and particularly the SmartVU X gadget represent an impressive new level of innovation from Freeview.
This will be the year that Sky fights back, finally embracing the internet. It will offer its own Android TV-based puck device and a range of more affordable streaming-TV subscription packages in the next few months.
Its satellite TV business is by no means dead. But for many of us with good broadband access, the future of TV is via the internet and without a large monthly pay-TV subscription.
Freeview has delivered that option with finesse.
SmartVU X $139; Freeview Recorder $439
This article was first published in the January 19, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.
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