Telstra T-Box
4.2Overall Score
Price (RRP): $299 Manufacturer: Telstra

A few weeks ago I was sharing a ride with the Gadget Guy himself. “Have you seen the T-Box yet?” he asked. I hadn’t.

The best user interface ever,” he declared. Hard to believe that it came from Telstra. He insisted that I have a look at it.

And I have to agree.

Features

But it’s more than just a cool user interface. What it is at core is a media player. Which media though?

First, there is a built-in HDTV tuner for free to air content. You can watch this of course, or record it to the 200GB hard disk drive.

Then there’s access to Internet content. This falls into what I’d call three categories: free but metered, free and unmetered, and paid and unmetered. By unmetered I mean that this content does not count towards your monthly data allowance. The catch is that you must be a Telstra BigPond subscriber – the T-Box does not work with
other ISPs.

So let’s look at this more closely.

Performance

First, the unit is well organised and has a lovely menu system, with panels that slide smoothly across the screen and are beautifully sharp. Particularly impressive was the EPG, with its graphic logos for each channel, and quite a few thumbnail images for specific programs. It looks to me as though BigPond maintains its own EPG online, and the unit accesses this rather than drawing the content from the TV transmissions themselves. I pulled the Internet connection to check, and indeed the T-Box informed me that it required an Internet connection for the EPG to stay up to date.

As a free-to-air PVR the T-Box is really quite good for a single tuner unit. It delivered excellent video quality from HDTV stations, and good quality from SDTV ones as well.

The unit automatically ‘buffers’ whatever it is that you’re watching, so that you can rewind live TV without making any previous settings. Or you can just pause it as required.

On the main menu you can choose from all the different content options. Content for which you have to pay, but which is unmetered, is under BigPond Movies. This included many, many dozens of movies (1500, we’re assured) while I had the unit, and lots of TV shows. There is also BigPond TV, which is free and also unmetered. It included one music channel, one news channel and five sports channels. And there is BigPond Video, most of which is both free and unmetered, and consists of lots of shortish clips in many different genres.

Finally, you get YouTube which is free, but which is metered, so be careful with this.

The unit shows you on the menu which content is unmetered, so you shouldn’t get caught out.

Downloading a 90 minute movie (Gone Fishin if you must know) cost me $3.99 and took 25 minutes. Had I wanted to, I could have started watching it only a minute or two after I started the download. I thought the price was pretty steep. A movie like this (definitely B-grade, from 1997) would cost just $1.99 at the local video store, or 99 cents on cheap Tuesday.

New release movies are $5.99. Episodes of good TV shows like Breaking Bad are $1.99 each. Convenient, yes, but still pretty pricey.

The picture on the movie was below average DVD quality, with quite a bit of fine blocking apparent on sky backgrounds, and occasionally sharp jaggies on semi-graphical material, and a slight sense of unsteady skin tones.