BT is attempting to woo new broadband customers and lock in existing ones with a tempting offer -- a 160GB Freeview PVR with added on-demand content, all for almost no cost. To get BT Vision, you have to be a BT broadband customer and have a, which comes free with most BT packages.
The BT Vision V-box (the PVR itself) costs £30, plus an optional £60 installation fee, where a BT engineer comes and installs the V-box for you. Learn more at BT's Web site.
BT has launched Vision to compete with Sky, and it has done a smashing job of creating an intuitive user interface to rival the well-regarded system.
The electronic programme guide goes ahead two weeks instead of the usual one. Unlike many other EPGs, you can't move ahead two hours or a day at a time using the coloured Teletext buttons -- instead there's a very useful search option, with which you can find programmes or specific cast and crew. The remote's number buttons have letters, like a mobile phone, to make this easier. This is a big plus over Sky, which doesn't have a search feature.
Recording programmes is extremely simple, although we had some difficulty with the record series function. The box recognised that Oprah was a series and faithfully recorded the homely wisdom and glamorous celebrities every day. But when it came to The Daily Show it didn't want to know -- perhaps Jon Stewart's brand of topical wit leaves it cold. Or maybe the programme makers provided incorrect information.
On-demand is difficult to browse. It's subdivided into film, TV, music, kids and so on, and further divided by channel or genre, but you're left with long lists of titles, most of which are confused by series and episode designations. You can use the search function, or take a shot in the dark, but ultimately a TV remote control is not the best device to browse content and there's no real way around that.
The box itself is ugly and cheap-looking, with its front and sides different shades of silvery grey -- a simple matte black would have been much more elegant. On the front is a collection of unresponsive buttons and a tacky flip-down cover over two top-up card slots for expanded services such as Setanta, which is showing live Premiership football next season.
On the back there's a Scart out, aerial in and outs and, fortunately, an HDMI output. This means the box can output copy-protected high-definition (720p or 1080i) on-demand content -- if BT ever puts any on there.
We found a few faults with the box. Firstly, it crashes on a fairly regular basis -- a couple of times in the two weeks we tested it. This means unplugging it and plugging it back in, resulting in the need to retune all the channels, which takes about 10 minutes. Tremendously annoying.
Secondly, the hard drive doesn't stop spinning, even when the box is on standby. This means it kicks out a fair amount of heat 24 hours a day, which won't be kind to your electricity bill.
The remote is much better built than the box, fortunately. Its wide, tapered design and sturdy, glossy white plastic reminds us of a halibut, but it feels trustworthy and the buttons are all a decent size.
The 160GB hard drive offers around 80 hours of recorded Freeview and the usual time-slipping functionality, so you can pause and rewind live TV. You don't get a choice of recording quality, but 80 hours should be plenty of space, and the box automatically deletes your oldest shows to make room, unless you tell it to keep them. Thanks to dual tuners, you can watch one channel and record another, or record two at once.