The Foxtel iQ3 box is the company’s latest set-top box to enter the market, and it's an eyebrow-raiser. Mainly because it's surprisingly good.
The iQ3 is a major departure from previous models, simply because it melds both satellite services with new cable and IPTV functionality. New features lean heavily on the fact that the iQ3 can be connected to the ‘net.
The new box is crammed full of tuners so you can watch three shows at once while recording a fourth, and also pack in free-to-air channels as well. Thanks to that IP connectivity, you now do a whole bunch of funky internet-related stuff with your new box.
It has a new feature called Start Over, which allows you to jump back to the beginning of any show after it has commenced, and a similar feature called Look Back which lets the users take a look at the previous 24 hours and select any show to stream via the IPTV connection. Streaming is unmetered on Foxtel Broadband and Telstra BigPond, but the box notifies you of the usage you'll be going through no matter who you're with to give clarity over the data you'll be chewing through.
Streaming options go deeper than just catch-up, however.
A centralised synopsis page has been built for each show and film, which analyses packages that users have on their service and pushes the cheapest and most convenient options for them to stream a title directly to the box. The synopsis page will push the Boxsets channel, on-demand streaming and live viewing, depending on what’s available at that time and in that customer’s package.
As far as connectivity and hardware is concerned, the box comes with its own 802.11ac connectivity and has been tweaked to work perfectly with the new Foxtel Media Gateway Wi-Fi modem you get if you’re a Foxtel Broadband subscriber.
Futhermore, the new Foxtel remote doesn’t communicate via Infrared, instead pairing to the box using Bluetooth so you can point and click anywhere.
The box packs in a new 1TB hard drive which Foxtel says can hold 172 hours of HD content, or 345 hours of SD content. Sadly, that hard drive isn’t upgradeable. There’s even a label on the back that stresses the fact that “no user serviceable parts” are inside the unit if you crack it open.
Foxtel describes re-working the platform that iQ3 runs on as similar to "changing the engines of a plane mid-flight". It had to carefully execute a modernisation program that would see it completely change not only the way content was delivered, but the way Foxtel worked internally as a business.
So how did it do?
Well, on first glance, it's the most exciting innovation to come out of Foxtel in a very long time. The dramatic shift from satellite to cable and IPTV-fused streaming options means that Foxtel can service on-demand customers like never before.
The idea is to give customers the content they want to watch, wherever and whenever they want to watch it across Go, Play, Presto and iQ3, which is awesome. There's great content surfacing and you can pretty much play whatever you want whenever you want, so long as it's on the Foxtel service.
That Synopsis page which analyses your subscription and tells you the best way to immediately watch content is great, but it's going to be interesting to see how it manages to conveniently serve customers who aren't signed up to Boxsets and other Platinum HD offerings. They might find themselves bombarded by "You Must Upgrade" screens every time they click to watch some content on-demand, or worse, paying through the nose for it.
Foxtel has cleaned up the UI and the navigation to make it easier to find shows rather than spool through a schedule on the new iQ3 box. The new design language means that the TV Guide ditches the grid view and replaces it with On Now and On Next. You also access Start Over and Look Back functionality from the TV Guide too.
Every menu pops up in a transparent glass pane above the content you're currently playing, which is very different from how the old iQ2 box served its menus. It used to pull you out of the content to select a new program, but the iQ3 puts content at the centre and never takes you away from it.
All the on-demand content is displayed like movie posters and served alongside ratings and a synopsis of the program. Content is displayed horizontally, while menus are served vertically.
It's a great idea, but Foxtel has just a few too many screens for users to navigate through, which may get confusing for less advanced users who demand ruthless simplicity. Thankfully for those users, there's a powerful search function that allows you to search by show name, actor name and other data points.
It's nice and cheap, too. The iQ3 box comes in at two different price points, depending on how savvy you are when it comes to setting it up.
The box itself is $125. If you want to install it yourself, Foxtel will extract a $25 fee from you, or if you want a professional to do it, you’ll pay $75 for a technician to come round.
Current customers can upgrade via their My Account page online or give Foxtel a call to arrange it. All new customers can pay and receive an iQ3 when they sign up.
We'll be reviewing the iQ3 soon. Stay tuned!