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Telstra TV: The budget media streamer for Telstra customers (hands-on)

It's inexpensive, simple to set up and perfect for already-crowded lounge rooms, but what's really on offer with the Telstra TV?

Telstra TV is a rebadged Roku 2. Telstra

Telstra TV is the latest entertainment device competing for the remaining HDMI ports on the back of your TV, assuming there even are any left vacant. Let's be honest: It's a hotly contested bit of real estate these days.

Announced back at the end of July, the Telstra TV is designed to gradually replace the existing Telstra T-Hub, which the company will stop manufacturing and selling. (Although T-Hub owners can rest easy knowing that Telstra will continue to support the venerable device.)

If the Telstra TV looks familiar, then chances are you've seen a Roku product. In the US, these are a range of extremely popular low-cost streaming devices. There are a few different models, including a new 4K version, and it even comes 'baked-in' to a number of smart TVs.

The Telstra TV is based around the Roku 2, which was first released back in 2013 but received a significant update in April this year. By all accounts it's excellent, with my colleague David Katzmaier giving it a score of 9.1 and calling it "a nearly perfect mix of speed, features, price and ecosystem".

Telstra TV aims to be your catch-up and subscription video-on-demand service hub. It's a single inexpensive (AU$109, free on Telstra's L and XL broadband plans) product that brings together streaming video with pay-per-view movies (via Bigpond Movies, of course), free-to-air TV apps and more.

Telstra TV vs Roku 2

The overall design is the same as the Roku 2, including the dinky little clothing label-style tags on the unit and the remote, but Telstra has definitely put its mark on the product.

It's a lightweight little box that you can fit in the palm of your hand, with an equally simple remote. The back of the Telstra TV has an HDMI port, a plug for the power cable and an Ethernet port. And that's it. (There's built-in Wi-Fi if that's your preference.)

Set up is as simple as plugging everything in and turning the TV on. There's one caveat: Telstra are keeping this in the family, with sales restricted to new and existing Telstra Broadband customers. The company has hinted that it might open it to mobile customers, but at the moment it's for broadband only.

Once I had the device set up, which involved logging into my Telstra account via a second device and generating a code to set up the Telstra TV, the product quickly updated itself and was good to go.

When it launched on October 27, there were 15 apps available including streaming services Netflix and Presto, with Stan having joined as of November 6. Channel Ten's Tenplay catch-up TV app is also available as of November 23, with ABC iView joining on December 15. I had a quick look at Netflix and Presto when first using the device and followed up with Stan after it became available.

Netflix looks the same as it does on any other device you've used it on. It's rather masterful, to be honest. It's the Starbucks of user interface designs, except you actually want to use it.

Presto was an entirely different kettle of fish sadly. It's a very odd-looking interface that seems clunky and dated to be honest. Despite currently working my way through Parks and Recreation on the iOS Presto app, there was no "continue watching" to be found. To get myself to Parks and Rec I had to use the title search which threw up some rather, shall we say, interesting results.

"These aren't the shows that you're looking for..." Nic Healey/CNET

After tracking down the show I did want, I found the interface for the episodes to be... well, it's not unclear, but it is very inelegant.

telstra-tv-show-page.jpg
Nic Healey/CNET

I got myself to season four and started watching. The video quality was fine and it loaded quickly at first. Sadly, a number of times the show stopped, the image dropped and I was presented with a loading screen. Once enough buffering had occurred we were back up and running, at least until the next time it needed to buffer.

telstra-tv-loading.jpg
Nic Healey/CNET

I initially thought that, given I was looking at a pre-launch product, this might be a very different app after October 27. But as of mid-November, it's still an oddly dated looking interface compared to the clean and clear minimalism of the home screen of the Telstra TV or even the default page when you first open the Presto app.

telstra-tv-presto-home.jpg
Nic Healey/CNET

With Stan now available, that service looks far cleaner and seems better designed for the Telstra TV that Presto. The interface looks and feels like Stan does on other platforms. Bright and easy to scan, the shows load quickly and look great.

While Presto has a "resume watching" function, it's not offered until you actually click into the show you were watching. On Stan, it's front and centre on the main page. Well bottom left, but you can see it without scrolling. More importantly that particular show, "Ash vs Evil Dead" was something I'd been watching on a different device so the app syncs cross-platform.

img20151117102645.jpg
Nic Healey/CNET

It's only the most recent thing you've been watching, however. After a checking out a few minutes of "iZombie" that show had replaced Bruce Campbell's serious looking mug. Clicking into the show page for "Ash vs Evil Dead" still offered a resume function, thankfully.

One final note is the overly loud 'boop' that accompanies nearly every menu press. Look for the setting screen, head to audio and get that turned off ASAP. You'll thank me for it.

telstra-tv-menu-noise-off.jpg
Shut down that noise. Nic Healey/CNET

Of course, the look and feel of an app is the easiest thing to update on a permanently connected device. I imagine that Presto on Telstra TV will sport a new look very soon and it's essential to remember that the underlying hardware has been performing admirably in the time I've been using it.

Update November 6, 2015 at 12:55 p.m. AEDT: Added information about the arrival of the Stan app.

Update November 17, 2015 at 11:27 a.m. AEDT: Added hands-on experiences with the Stan app.

Update December 14, 2015 at 4:30 p.m. AEDT: Added information about the ABC iView app.

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