In case you haven't been paying attention, begun the content wars have. With the arrival of a new crop of subscription video-on-demand services in Australia, there is currently a lot of time and effort being spent on getting your eyeballs and, of course, your dollar.
Embroiled in the convoluted conflict are the linear broadcast TV channels, their catch-up channels, the aforementioned SVOD services and Foxtel, which offers a little bit of everything.
Back in March 2014, Foxtel launched iQ3 -- the latest generation of its iQ hardware which first made an appearance back in 2005. The branded blend of set-top box and personal video recorder offered functionality that was, at the time, quite novel for Australian audiences, such as pausing and rewinding live TV and being able to easily set up entire series to automatically record.
in 2008, which then became 2012's with ever-increasing hard drive sizes and more digital tuners being the big differentiators.
However Foxtel's service has changed since then, with a bigger focus on on-demand content options, not just traditional cable TV broadcasts. The newly launched iQ3 aims to reflect that change and bring together the different offerings into a single seamless service.
I've been living with the iQ3 for a few weeks now and my experience has been broadly very positive, with a few caveats that we'll get to.
If I describe the iQ3 as inoffensive, I want to be clear that I'm not trying to damn it with faint praise. The shiny black box measures 75 by 325 by 240mm, which makes it slightly taller than the iQHD but less wide. It essentially looks like any other bit of theatre kit and it should fit in completely unobtrusively into any lounge room set up.
Gone, however, are any physical buttons on the front, with a glowing blue and red display letting you know what's going on with the unit. Operation appears to be perfectly silent -- certainly no undue noise from the unit I had.
The iQ3 has a 1TB hard drive, which is roughly the equivalent of 172 hours of HD recording, according to Foxtel. The digital tuner set up allows for 3 programs to be recorded while watching a fourth, but there are actually 8 built-in tuners to allow for additional functions to be rolled out later in the product's life cycle.
The iQ3 also has 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity, with Foxtel saying that the internal three-by-three antenna array has been designed specifically with video streaming in mind. You can of course, plug in an Ethernet cable if your home Wi-Fi connection is a bit spotty or not quite running at the speeds you'd like. I tried the iQ3 with both Wi-Fi and wired connections and didn't see much of a difference in terms of operation, but I have my router in the same room as the home entertainment set-up, so this isn't surprising.
The remote has been so completely revamped that it deserves its own section. The new look remote is a little bizarre and quite large, but also has some solid new features.
A big one is the fact it uses Bluetooth, meaning you could actually lock the iQ3 in a cupboard if you wanted to and the remote would work just fine. The iQ3 can also take IR signals, which will be good new to any universal remote fans out there.
Dedicated buttons give you direct access to the electronic program guide and your personal library of recorded or rented videos, while the star button brings up your list of favourited channels -- for me this was basically 80 percent of the HD channels. The Home button will bring up a list of suggested and trending viewing options -- I'll talk more about that when we get to discussing the features.
There's also an apps button, although at the moment, it's not going to knock your socks off. You'll find things like Sky News, Sky Weather and Foxtel Tunes as options, but not any of the catch up TV apps (for obvious reasons). Still it's a little disappointing not to have the like of Pandora or Spotify or even a YouTube app available.
I've seen some reports that the remote can be 'sluggish' if there's anything interfering with the Bluetooth signal. I didn't experience that, but I wasn't overly enamoured of the feel of the button presses -- very little tactile feedback. The layout, however, is quite well thought out and it's an easy remote to find your way around.
The user interface of the iQ3 service has a brand new look that echoes both Foxtel Play and Foxtel Go, but also seems to a owe a little to the Presto streaming service.
Outside of the basic EPG, the look is highly visual, with thumbnails of shows and clear subheads letting you know exactly what section you're currently in.
The EPG now offers full show titles and a progress bar indicating how much of a program you've missed. It's easy to see what shows are coming up, as well as what was just on. On a show that's playing, you'll see a small sideways triangle play icon to let you know if the Start Over feature is supported for that content, letting you watch it from the beginning.
Sadly, the progress bar is only if you're in the full EPG. If you're channel hopping and checking out the program information on the lower part of your screen, you can see what's coming up later but not how much is left of the current show.
As I said before, the iQ3 is trying to bring on demand style watching and linear TV programming together and it has a few ways of doing this.