A Freeview HD receivers is hitting the market at the moment. All of them will provide you with high-definition telly for free, over the air. The 3view set-top box, however, offers you access to much more than just Freeview, and it's the sort of device that everybody may one day have sitting underneath -- or even inside -- their TV.of very capable
Aside from a Freeview HD tuner and a 500GB hard drive for storing recordings, what does the 3view box offer then? A surprising amount, actually. For a start, it's one of the first devices to let you use Sky Player on your TV. This is something we expect to see much more of though, as Sky tries to prove that the UK doesn't need a BBC-derived service to get IPTV up and running. YouTube streaming is available on the box too, and is due to arrive at some point in the near future.
The inclusion of both DLNA and Universal Plug and Play support sweetens the deal further. This means you can snatch music, video and photos from any PC or NAS device on your home network. There are also apps for services like Twitter and Facebook that allow you to connect with friends while you watch TV.
When we saw this box demonstrated recently, we were genuinely blown away by how smooth the user interface is. The box moves menus around and manipulates live video in a way that's pretty rare. It's certainly a much more pleasing user experience than we're accustomed to getting from most set-top boxes.
The 3view box also has the ability to work with the Z-Wave home-automation system, which we think is a neat touch. 3view tells us that your TV can even be used to warn you if your smoke alarm's battery is running out. 3view also has plans to offer landlord services via the box, so, if you're renting a house to students, you can offer them incentives to do minor jobs for you. An example given to us was that you could provide a small refund on your tenants' rent in exchange for them swapping the batteries in their smoke alarm.
So far, there are only a couple of problems we can see with this box. The first is that it doesn't have Freeview HD certification. That's a small point, but it will mean that consumers might not be drawn to this box in the way that they would be to a logo-carrying product. The 3view box also omits MHEG support, which means you won't be able to access red-button services and other interactive features. This is unlikely to bother most people, but it's not ideal for a box that has as many other bells and whistles as this one does.
The only other problem with this box isn't anything to do with the device itself, but rather with broadband services. With so many homes using either slow broadband or a service that's capped into oblivion, delivering IPTV becomes more of a challenge. Will Joe and Jane Public realise that their capped Internet access could cause them problems when it comes to streaming loads of Internet video? Time will tell. Time will also reveal if ISPs can keep up with the demand on their network that hardware like this will generate.
The 3view set-top box goes on sale in John Lewis and online at the end of May, and will cost around £300. We'll be reviewing it in full as soon as possible, so keep an eye on our reviews channel for the full details.