It seems like just days ago I was at the Telstra Experience Center in Sydney City looking at Telstra’s ‘home phone revolution’ – the T-Hub .

Today, I returned, this time to see with my own eyes the Telstra T-Box and what it offers by way of Home Entertainment.

To say I was skeptical would be an understatement.  To say I was wrong would be the same.

UPDATE: Watch my new videos (July 6) of the unboxing, setup and use of the Telstra T-Box

Telstra T-Box

Telstra T-Box and Remote

I walked in, and before getting a chance to even sit down, I noticed an impressive looking screen in front of me – not the TV itself, but what was on it.  It didn’t look like the boring menu system I’ve seen in device after device, TV, PVR whatever it is.

HEAR MY CHAT ON Melbourne’s MTR re the Telstra T-Box [audio:ytl036-t-box-mtrchat.mp3]

So, what is the T-Box?  It’s a Digital TV Set top box.  It’s a Personal Video Recorder (PVR), It’s an IPTV box, It’s a YouTube viewing Box, It’s your local video store in a Box, oh look, I could go on – surely the T stands for “The” because short of the PAY TV channels, it’s most of what you want to see on your TV Screen – in one box.

If you have Foxtel, this isn’t aimed at you – they say – but I think differently, yes, Foxtel has a wealth of channels, but the range of movies to watch isn’t like walking down to the video store now is it?

Telstra T-Box - Bigpond Movies

Telstra T-Box - Bigpond Movies

I’ll use my list of “it’s” above to describe this little baby to you:

It’s a Digital TV Set top box.

So, for $299, yep, it’s an expensive set top box – but seriously, see below, it’s a lot more than that.  However, as a Set top Box (ie: viewing Digital TV channels), it’s fantastic.  The main reason this is worth talking about is the Interface – the menus and method you use to navigate – Much more on that later.

It’s a Personal Video Recorder (PVR)

320GB Hard Drive, which equates to 30 hours of HD recorded content, and 100 hours of SD content.  Again, there are plenty of PVR’s on the market – the reason to choose the T-Box is the Interface, it’s so simple, so graphically impressive, it will blow you away.  You can series link any program with the touch of a button, mark shows as favorites – all of which helps you clean up your recordings to ensure the best is kept.

Telstra T-Box - Recording On Screen Display

Telstra T-Box - Recording On Screen Display

Interestingly, the USB connection on the device will allow you to MOVE your recorded TV content to an external device (USB Stick/Drive) to clear space on the 320GB Hard Drive.  To watch that content again, you will need to connect the drive to the (perhaps “a”) T-Box – I will test this thoroughly when I go hands on with the T-Box.

With Dual HD Tuners inside, you can watch TV while recording another Free to Air show (I will test out if it’s possible to record TWO free-to-air shows while watching IPTV content – it should be!)

It’s an IPTV box

Here’s where it starts gets interesting.  For many years, I will admit, I thought to myself “why on earth is Bigpond spending so much money on live TV content which people can watch on their mobile phones, or internet” – I mean really, hands up those who’ve watched it.  More than once.  Not many.

But, when it’s viewable on your TV – that’s cool.  When it’s listed as one of the channels in your program guide on the TV alongside the free to air channels – that’s VERY cool.

Telstra T-Box - On Screen Program Guide

Telstra T-Box - On Screen Program Guide

So, with 7 streaming channels, you’ll have that little extra choice – BigPond News, BigPond Racing (TVN), BigPond Sports News, BigPond Footy (AFL), BigPond League (NRL), BigPond V8, BigPond Music Channel.  The BPM (Music) Channel has been re-launched, and is essentially music clips and news, but expect more content there soon.  AFL and NRL channels show full games and  highlights throughout the week.  V8 shows V8 Supercar races all day every day.  News is a dedicated channel using the resources of the Sky News channel, Sports News is where you’ll find the weekend sports shows that are long and cover many sports, just like the old days of Wide World of Sports.

Being software driven, this is updatable at any time by Bigpond, so expect in the years ahead there will be content deals with niche ‘pay tv’ channels for their content to be streamed here too.

If you are into NRL or AFL, or V8’s this is a great extra channel – simple and easy option when there’s nothing on Free To Air.  BigPond News will open the eyes of Free to Air viewers who haven’t yet experienced Sky News on Foxtel/Austar.

That’s just the LIVE content.  Then comes Bigpond Videos – On Demand video content from ALL of the above sources and more, click and watch.  Best Tackle, Best Mark, Best Crash, race and event highlights.  We’re talking hundreds, if not thousands of hours of clips.

ALL of this is viewed UNMETERED on your Bigpond Internet connection.  (to be clear – this device is not for you if you’re not with Telstra Bigpond)

It’s a YouTube viewing Box

Plenty of TV’s have YouTube in them.  This is no different.  It’s a reasonable experience, nothing special, YouTube in my opinion is always limited by the amount of crap you come across before you find good content.  But it’s there, and easy to use.

It’s your local video store in a Box

I kind of feel sorry for the local Civic Video/VideoEzy/Blockbuster stores.  For years i’ve heard of the many online video rental options in the USA.  Today, I realised how powerful it is.

Choose Bigpond Movies, and you’re entering a video store with over 1300 titles.  Telstra say “most of the major distributors are on board” – which means yes there will be some titles missing.  Fear not, it won’t be long before they are available on Bigpond Movies.  The other criticism of Online movie rentals is they are not available as soon as they are in store, or perhaps even on Foxtel.  Again, Telstra say this delay is getting shorter and shorter.  Personally, I can’t remember the last time I queued up for a movie the day it was released, let alone the week:)  So again, this is not a deal breaker for me.

Telstra T-Box Bigpond Movie "Store"

Telstra T-Box Bigpond Movie "Store"

You can browse the titles looking at the covers, choose an item you can see who’s in the movie and even then search for other movies with that Actor.

Once you buy the movie (Credit Card or Voucher – Credit Card is entered when you set the box up, Vouchers you buy in retail stores), it begins to download.  What happens here is the movie downloads enough of itself to your box before it allows you to view it.  Once there is enough there that you won’t be caught with the movie stopping while you watch it (think Youtube!) you’re free to watch it.  Once you watch it, you can watch it over and over again for 48 hours, and it is available for 7 days after you download it, just in case you want to download today ready for the weekend.

New releases are $5.99, the rest of the library $3.99 – not bad when you don’t have to leave the lounge.

The Box and it’s connections

The T-Box is a very plain (and frankly boring) looking box, with a single Telstra “T’ on the front.  Also at the front is a single USB port.  At the back, Aerial connections, HDMI, S-VIDEO, Digital Audio and all the regular connections (RCA), including, of course, Ethernet if you want to hard wire your Internet connection.

Telstra T-Box

Telstra T-Box - Plain Jane?

Inside is a WiFi 802.11g/n wireless connection, allowing fast Wireless access.  If you don’t have good Wi-Fi speed, or Ethernet port in your lounge, Netgear Powerline Ethernet will be sold as an option.  This means you plug in to any power point at one end to your Router, the other near the T-Box and the Internet signal is carried over your power cables.  Simple.

The “Killer App” The T-Box User Interface.

So it’s not an App – I know that, but the killer feature of this, the real thing that makes me want a T-Box is the interface.  I have no problem saying this is Apple-like graphically impressive.  So many companies try to look good, try to look easy to use.  This just is.

Telstra T-Box Main Menu Screen

Telstra T-Box Main Menu Screen

It feels like you’ve jumped into the future, rather than using some crappy old technology that happens to do more.  The fresh blue colours of the menus, the large graphics for all things like Channel names, movie covers all make this simple to understand.

Where it really shines is in the watching TV mode, you can scroll through channels in a nice, fresh visually impressive Channel Menu, either Vertically or horizontally.  Click RIGHT and see what’s next, click LEFT and you don’t see what you MISSED, you are shown items you’ve recorded from this channel.  Just a simple idea – but so impressive.

Telstra T-Box Vertically Stacked Channel Display

Telstra T-Box Vertically Stacked Channel Display

I cannot wait to get hands on with this device, and I encourage everyone to check it out at a T-Life store in Mid-June when the T-Box goes on sale.

At $299, it’s well priced for what it offers, but that’s nothing when you consider that you can also get it on 24 months payment plan with your Telstra Bundle.

But wait – there’s more!

When this product hits stores, Bigpond plans will be re-launched with new higher data allowances and new bundles.

Details aren’t fully available. However, I understand for $109 per month, you’ll get Unlimited Local Calls, 200 25 GigaByte allowance on your Telstra Bigpond ADSL, plus the T-Box.  That’s excellent value.  I’ll take one!