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BT YouView box review (2014) faster, smaller, quieter Humax DTR-T2100

BT has updated its YouView+ box from the Humax DTR-T1000 it launched back in 2012. The new set-top box – also made by Humax - offers exactly the same features and easy-to-use YouView interface, but in a much smaller, faster, quieter package. Here's our review of the Humax DTR-T2100.

The 2014 YouView+ box is just 237mm wide (143mm narrower than the T1000) and is designed to match BT’s Home Hub 4 and 5 routers. Lights glow from beneath the silver panel just as with the Home Hub, telling you whether the box is in standby, recording and whether it has a broadband connection.

A small array of buttons on top means you can still control the basic functions if you lose the remote, and the remote itself is also new. We prefer the simpler design of the old remote, which had slightly bigger (but noisy) buttons. The new one has quieter rubber buttons, but a redesigned navigation pad which integrates volume and channel buttons. It's easy to press the mute button instead of navigating left, or bring up programme information instead of pressing up.

In the box you get a mains adapter (the power supply is external), an HDMI cable and an extremely long Ethernet cable. Annoyingly there’s still no built-in Wi-Fi so you’ll have to use the Ethernet cable to connect the box to your router. The rear USB port can’t be used with a Wi-Fi dongle, before you ask. It’s for engineers’ use only – or to charge your smartphone.

Most people will be able to use HDMI to hook the box up to their TV, but if your TV is older there’s still a scart output along with composite video. Audio outputs comprise stereo RCA and an optical S/PDIF for connecting to a suitable home cinema amp.

There’s an RF aerial input and output, and the box will allow the signal to pass through to your TV (or another set-top box) even when in its low-power Eco setting.

In that mode, the box takes a tardy 1 minute and 36 seconds to boot up but sips power at under 1W. If you want a much faster boot time (just a few seconds), you’ll need to switch to the ‘high’ power mode which uses somewhere between 8W and 9W. That’s only a watt or so less than the usual power consumption when the box is on, but overall, it’s roughly half the draw of the older YouView box.

You don’t get a choice of power modes if you want to use the YouView app on your smartphone. This needs the box to be in high-power mode to work and – like Sky+ - allows you to remotely schedule recordings. It’s a one-way deal with no response from your box, so a recording will happen only if they’re received before the programme starts, your box has enough free space (there’s a 500GB hard drive) and it doesn’t clash with other existing recordings. At least you can choose to record an entire series rather than a single show.

As there are two Freeview HD tuners inside the box, you can record two separate channels at the same time. Depending on which these are, you may or may not be able to watch a third, different channel while recording two others. You can always watch recorded shows during recording, though.

There are no fans in the box, so it’s virtually silent except for the exceptionally quiet whirring of the laptop-style hard drive. Unless you’re right next to the box, this is inaudible, so it’s ideal for bedrooms as well as the living room or kitchen.

Performance-wise, the DTR-T2100 is leagues better than the old DTR-T1000. It’s fast to navigate through menus, launch on-demand players and browse the EPG. If you hold down a button to skip forward or backwards, the EPG gives up trying to display programme data and quickly scrolls along the time bar. You can skip between days using the rewind and fast forward buttons – a nice touch.

If you’re unfamiliar with YouView, it’s essentially Freeview+ HD (pause, rewind and record live TV) with on-demand TV fully integrated into the programme guide. That means you can browse the last seven days’ worth of programming as well as the next seven days.

When scrolling back in time, you can see what was on, but only shows with a playback icon can be watched.

Since only the main broadcasters offer on-demand TV, this means that only shows from BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and 5 are offered. And it’s only certain shows, not everything. Films in particular are not usually available to watch on demand and neither are top-tier US shows, typically because the licensing agreement doesn’t allow this type of broadcast.

However, since YouView launched, more ‘players’ have been added to the on-demand section including Dave, S4/C and Milkshake, which is Channel 5’s kids’ shows. There’s also Now TV – a subscription service from Sky – and the Sky Store which offers pay-per-view movie rentals.

Finally, there’s BT Player, which lets you access BT’s on-demand content. This includes a range of TV shows and films, mostly older titles, but with some recent content. You can either subscribe to this or pay per view, but whichever you choose, the Box Office section (which, like Sky store, offers the latest film releases) operates only on a pay-per-view basis. Prices are in line with other services, including iTunes, in that you’ll pay around £3-3.50 for a standard-definition film, and £4-5 to watch in HD. Single TV episodes cost around £1.

Channel 4’s 4oD service is worth singling out from the other players, as it offers more than just shows from the past week. In it, you can watch entire ‘box sets’ of Channel 4’s home-grown shows including Peep Show and The IT Crowd. To an extent, iPlayer also goes back further than seven days, allowing you to catch up on a whole series if you missed some episodes at the start. It never offers multiple series of a show, though.

One of YouView’s best features is global search. Press the YouView button and choose Search – results will be shown from live TV as well as on-demand players and internet channels. If you select a show that’s available on-demand, it will launch the appropriate player and start playback. It’s only a shame that text entry is still so clunky, relying on the number keys; there’s no way to use the YouView app to enter text as you can with an Apple TV.

In addition to the on-demand content, BT’s YouView box also lets you watch extra TV channels which are streamed live over your broadband connection (denoted in the EPG by three blue dots below the channel name). These include Discovery, Gold, National Geographic, Comedy Central, Fox and others. Available as a separate bolt-on is BT Sport, which includes two standard definition channels.

Many of these internet channels are also available in HD, but that’s a £3-per-month option.

A recent update means you can now record these channels just like a normal broadcast, which is a real advantage. We noticed occasional image corruption – coloured blocks on the screen – both when watching internet channels and in recordings.

If you sign up for a new 18-month contract for a phone, broadband and TV package (they start from £15 per month), the new YouView box is included, but there’s a £35 activation fee. Existing customers can upgrade to the box for £35 as well, but will also have to pay £5 per month for at least 12 months for the ‘TV Essentials’ package, or £7 per month for the TV Entertainment option which includes the 20 internet channels.

Whether or not you get BT sport included depends on the package you choose. With the cheapest option, you merely get access to the BT Sport app, reviewed, and online player – pay more and you can watch and record on your YouView box. An extra £3 per month will give you BT Sport 1 and 2 in HD.

If you’re upgrading from the old YouView box, bear in mind that there’s no way to transfer recordings from your old YouView box to the new one.  The YouView app supports only one box at a time, so you’ll need to head to your iPhone or Android settings and delete the unique number for your old box before firing up the app again and running through the set-up process again.


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