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The Foxtel Now Box is very un-Foxtel... in a good way

Who'd have thought: a Foxtel box that lets you stream over the internet and watch competitor services, all without signing up for a two-year contract.

foxtel-now-box

With a 10 centimetre footprint, the Foxtel Now Box is decidedly smaller than Foxtel's regular iQ set-top boxes. 

Claire Reilly/CNET

Foxtel is looking decidedly un-Foxtelish these days. Pay TV without the cable. Playing nice with other streaming services. A Foxtel box that doesn't really look like a Foxtel box.

The company Wednesday announced the launch of the Foxtel Now Box -- a set-top puck created for Foxtel's pay-by-the-month streaming service, Foxtel Now, a puck which supports other streaming services and catch-up TV.

Launching Friday for AU$99, the creatively-named Foxtel Now Box lets you navigate through live Foxtel channels, on-demand shows and movies as well as curated carousels dedicated to things like New Releases or the Best of HBO. The puck also lets you access apps downloaded from Android TV -- including subscription video on demand (SVOD) apps and free-to-air catch-up TV apps -- as well as live TV.

The puck still works without a Foxtel Now subscription, but you'll want to be a subscriber to get the most out of it (you can subscribe month-by-month).

Here's the basic spec rundown:

  • Supports up to 4K video (though Foxtel Now only streams up to Full HD)
  • Runs Android TV (Android Nougat)
  • Built-in free-to-air tuner
  • 4K Chromecast support
  • Google Play app for downloading movies and TV shows
  • 8GB on-board flash storage
  • Infrared/Bluetooth remote control
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • HDMI 2.0, Ethernet and Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity
  • Voice support in remote (though no voice capability at search)

The big drawback? You can get the Stan app from launch, but there are no Netflix or Amazon Prime Video apps. According to Foxtel CEO Peter Tonagh, Foxtel is in talks with Netflix but it's up to individual services to make their apps available for the box on the Android TV store.

"The only barrier to us carrying Netflix, is Netflix," he said.

Another drawback? Unlike the recently launched Telstra TV 2, there's no universal search, meaning you have to dive into individual apps to find particular titles. Foxtel says its working on this feature.

foxtel-now-box-screen

The home screen of the Foxtel Now Box shows Foxtel content and competitor apps.

Foxtel

Still, the Foxtel Now Box marks a decided shift for Foxtel and one that puts it in direct competition with the likes of the Apple TV and Telstra's new Telstra TV 2 (Telstra owns 50 percent of Foxtel and the two have had a reasonably cosy relationship).

It's also a sign of just how much Foxtel has pivoted its strategy toward IPTV, or content delivered over the internet rather than cable. While the company might have been slow to shift away from its cable roots, there's no doubt it's seen the writing on the wall as Netflix has spread its tentacles across Australia.

Part of that shift came when Foxtel shuttered its Presto streaming service and went all in on Foxtel Now. The rebranded subscription video on-demand service lets users choose channel packs to build up a pay TV-like stable of channels and on-demand content.

Now, Foxtel seems to be creating the hardware to back up what many Australians are thinking: We don't mind paying, just give us easy access to content when we want it.

Let's just hope Netflix comes on board soon.

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