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BT Vision: Future of TV or a cheapo PVR?

BT unveiled its Vision this morning: it's a Freeview PVR with pay-per-view downloadable content

BT has a Vision. You can tell it's important because of the capital V. It's going to be a revolution in television -- in BT's words it will be 'the next generation of television'. Crave tootled along to the launch this morning. The reality, as always, was somewhat more prosaic.

BT Vision, it turns out, is a service that uses a Freeview PVR called the V-box. And it's a pretty cheap-looking PVR at that. But it's 'free', in the TalkTalk sense of the word -- you pay £90 for connection and installation -- and it gives you access to a limited but growing collection of pay-per-view content, including movies (at £2.99 for 24 hours), TV shows, concerts and Premiership football from Setanta.

Now, this is a pretty good deal. £90 for a PVR is cheap. The V-box, made by Philips, is not the prettiest box we've ever seen, but the interface is clean and easy to use and features a nifty search function, as well as the usual push-to-record and record series functions. It can record 80 hours of TV from Freeview over the air -- pay-per-view is downloaded through an Internet connection. It also has HDMI output, which will allow for high-definition content at some unspecified point in the future. The remote control looks like a halibut, though.

Here's the catch: you have to have a BT Home Hub and therefore get your broadband (at least 2Mbps) from BT, and to get the V-box 'free' you have to 're-contract', which sounds painful, but means sign up for another year. This is no hardship: we've used the Hub for some time and it's a simple and fairly reliable way of getting wireless Internet. But if you use another ISP, you'll have to change to share BT's Vision.

The pay-per-view content, while reasonably priced, is thin on the ground at the moment. But with the low-cost PVR functionality as the service's main selling point, we expect it to attract enough takers to make it a worthwhile proposition for other content providers. By the end of next year, it should be fully up and running.

BT says it has received considerable interest from its existing broadband customers, and expects to have sent V-boxes to those tens of thousands who have already signed up by March. By the end of 2007, it expects to have a self-install version, which will be just £30 (engineer installation is compulsory at the moment). You can sign up at BT's Web site. -NH

Update: A full review of BT Vision is now live.

Update 2: BT has introduced a self-install version of BT Vision, which costs just £30. In response to customer feedback, the V-box now comes with a pair of Comtrend Powerline adaptors, which plug into wall power sockets and carry the video signal from the Home Hub to the V-box across your domestic power lines. This means you can have the Hub and V-box in different rooms.