Foxtel iQHD is very difficult to separate from a discussion of the entire Foxtel service, but let's try. As a set-top box and DVR system, Foxtel iQHD is up with the best.
The slender black box measures in at 6cm tall, with basic controls and indicator lights on the front, so it slots nicely into most home entertainment setups. During installation, the technicians are careful about not sitting this onto or under other components. Whether that's a question of keeping the breathing space around the Foxtel iQHD box or just being concerned citizens for other boxes, we never had a problem while testing, even when we did shuffle other boxes on and under the iQHD.
The remote is as it has been for many years now. If you're new to the remote, it can seem overwhelming, but you'll quickly make sense of the layout and it's navigation system for menus, channels and volume, plus your DVR controls for live and recorded viewing.
The Foxtel iQHD box packs a 320GB HDD, which Foxtel rates to around 30 hours of HD content. All the output options you could ask for are represented, including HDMI, component, composite and even SCART and S-Video are still on the back. Digital audio out is also supported in both coaxial and optical forms. The box also includes USB, though there is no current supported use. Ethernet must be physically connected to your home network, but the installers did supply a pair of Ethernet over Power adapters to bridge the gap from our home entertainment system to the router.
The service offers a mix of 720p and 1080i HD content, and today, there is a wide selection of HD channels to choose from. We count 25 HD channels right now, with special event channels (like the amazing eight HD channels of London 2012 Olympics coverage) and On Demand viewing selections adding to the HD mix. Most of the HD channels are essentially HD versions of channels that non-HD subscribers get in SD. There is also a small selection of 3D content delivered exclusively to users of the Foxtel iQHD box.
The Foxtel iQHD box allows for recording of two shows at once, while watching a third live show at the same time. A fourth tuner gives access to the EPG and On Demand content, alongside the rest. While some other DVRs offer "quad recording", Foxtel offers a wealth of +2 channels, so any conflicts can often be resolved by finding the +2 version of the show in question.
Having both HD and SD versions of channels is an excellent practical advantage. When setting iQ to record certain programs, you can make a call on whether you want something in HD or SD, saving or splurging on available HDD space, accordingly. For films, we found it is easy to get excited and queue up a bunch of HD flicks to come back to when you have the time, but you'll soon feel your available drive space running out. By Foxtel's estimates, you are saving around 3x storage when you choose SD instead of HD, which will make a difference when you're suddenly staring at less than 20 per cent on the meter.
Compared to other high-end DVRs on the market, iQHD's 320GB storage is looking very light at this stage. A 1TB version of the iQHD will be very welcome, but seems to have been only barely mentioned in Foxtel promotions. Be sure to ask for the 1TB to force the issue with that better model.
The user interface has not changed much since last we looked at iQ, but if it ain't broke, why fix it? Recent enhancements give you options for picture-in-picture and for browsing single channels in an easier to read fashion. That said, the search system could use an overhaul — learning a few tricks for how we like to search and explore the web could help turn search into a real feature of the box.