Telstra TV 2 Review: Comprehensive but not compelling

Alex Kidman 3 November 2017 NEWS

Telstra's second take on a streaming box covers all the basics, but uneven performance makes this a less-than-compelling option.

Quick Verdict
Telstra has improved the user interface and general experience of its Telstra TV platform with a linked application, service-wide search and 4K compatibility, but it's still behind other streaming options, and is best for those who are going to score it on a broadband contract anyway..

The Good

  • 4K compatibility
  • Search across services
  • App adds easy control
  • Integrated TV tuner

The Bad

  • No PVR functions
  • Misbehaving app
  • Large footprint in your TV room.

When Telstra announced its first generation Telstra TV, it did so with the promise of being the only service to incorporate all the popular streaming services of the day, including Netflix, Stan and (as it was then), Presto. It was rebadged Roku box with a simple interface, simple remote control and, as we discovered when testing and reviewing it, functional but slow performance overall.

Telstra is back in the set-top box game with the Telstra TV 2, promising an improved user interface, 4K compatibility, integrated TV tuner and a new search function that Telstra claims make it the best streaming box you can buy.

TelstraTV2_4_738

Design

The first thing that will strike you when you take the Telstra TV 2 out of its box is just how big it is.
The original Telstra TV pretty much aped the size of the current generation of Apple TV, being a small, hockey-puck sized device that was unobtrusive, save for a purple Roku tag on the side. That tag is still present on the Telstra TV 2, but you're not going to be able to hide it as easily on the TV cabinet because it's much larger this time around.

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    Measuring in at roughly 16x16x2cm, where the original Telstra TV was a hockey puck, the new model is more of a small black toast plate, and just about as easy to hide. It's an unusual size, because it's too large to just hide in the way a smaller box could be, but also too small to throw into a standard TV cabinet in the style of other larger console or PVR boxes.

    The Telstra TV 2 remote has had a slight redesign from the original, adding direct access buttons for Foxtel Now, Netflix, Live TV and the inbuilt TV Guide functions. It's still deliberately simple, and a little soft and squishy. Notably, there's no inbuilt volume control on the remote, so if you dream of a single-remote future, this isn't it.

    TelstraTV2_1_738

    Installation

    A good set-top box should be easy to install, and here there are few complaints against the Telstra TV 2. You'll need a coaxial TV antenna cable for the live TV function, but the Telstra TV 2 otherwise ships with everything you'll need, including a compliant HDMI cable for connecting to your home theatre connection.

    The installation is guided through your TV and the remote control. Unlike its predecessor, the Telstra TV 2 doesn't require you to find and manually enter your Telstra ID to activate it. Since it's exclusive to Telstra broadband customers, it's able to automatically detect the Telstra ID linked to your broadband account during the setup process.

    Telstra also supplies an app for iOS and Android under the Telstra TV banner that acts as a remote once paired with your Telstra TV 2. You can also use it to set reminders for upcoming programs as well as launch streaming services directly on your phone, although you'll need to have each app actually installed upfront. It's just a wrapper around them, not an all-in catch-up streaming service app.

    TelstraTV2_2_738

    Performance

    The original Telstra TV was, to be frank, rather sluggish in performance, and here Telstra has done a lot of work to make the general TV watching experience more pleasant. The user interface now features inline graphics of each program you're going to watch, making it simpler to browse and easier for services to advertise their wares.

    Naturally with a mix of subscription services on offer, unless you're already subscribing to Netflix, Stan and Foxtel Now, you're going to see more than a few programs you can't watch, but it beats the simple app-only interface of the original model.

    The supplied remote is simple and squishy, and honestly feels rather cheap, but thankfully you can (and should) switch it out for the Telstra TV app, if only because of the text entry function. The new trick in the Telstra TV 2's arsenal is the ability to search across content sources for programming.

    Tell it you want to search for "Doctor Who" for example, and it will quickly tell you that episodes are available on both Stan and Netflix, with quick links to directly launch each app to that precise content. It's a neat feature, and it mostly works well, but the ability to use a full keyboard in the app is much quicker than hunt and pecking letters with the remote control.

    Or at least it would be in theory. It may be early days and app updates may improve this, but I hit a number of instances where despite the app being paired and basic remote functions working via a paired iPhone 8 Plus, actual text entry refused to appear on the Telstra TV 2.

    TV watching should be about being a couch potato, not being frustrated at technology that doesn't work, and this was super frustrating. Again, an app update might smooth that out, but I can only review what's in front of me, not what might be in the future.

    4K is now supported where programs are available at that quality, and obviously, you're also going to need both a 4K-capable panel and a data connection up to the task. The Telstra TV's 4K capabilities are fine, but it's very much a case of playing catchup, given that plenty of other set-top box and indeed smart TV options can supply you with 4K streaming anyway.

    The other new inclusion on the Telstra TV 2 menu is the inclusion of live TV via the antenna point on the box itself. Tuning in channels is simple enough, and it's nice that you can flick the channel guide around transparently while staying on your core channel to watch, but the experience still isn't all it could be.

    The Telstra TV 2 will accept external USB storage, but only for watching through the simple Roku media player app, not recording programming. Or in other words, you can watch live TV, but you can't record it.

    Miss a program, and you'll have to hope that it turns up on the relevant catch-up TV service. Switching to live TV from any other app wakes up the TV tuner, but that also means that there's a couple of seconds delay every time you do want to watch free to air TV.

    In the US, Roku makes a wide variety of apps available for its platform, but as it did with the original Telstra TV, Telstra is "curating" the selection of apps for the Telstra TV 2. What that means in effect is that you only get the Apps that Telstra clears for the platform.

    That does cover all the free to air catchup services, plus Bigpond Movies, Foxtel Now, Hayu, Netflix and Stan, alongside other smaller streaming options such as anime service Crunchyroll, but it's nowhere near as wide as it could be. Based on the very slow app update schedule of the original Telstra TV, don't hold your breath for new apps for other streaming services to appear rapidly.

    TelstraTV2_3_738

    Verdict

    The Telstra TV 2 works, but that's pretty much a baseline for any streaming box you're going to add to your TV. The real question of its appeal revolves around whether or not it's worth putting in front of your TV to speak of. This isn't an entirely easy question to answer though because it largely depends on how you actually acquire it.

    Telstra bundles the Telstra TV 2 with all its current broadband bundles worth $99 or more, and if you're going to score it as a freebie and don't already have a smart streaming solution, it's perfectly fine and undeniably better than its predecessor. It's a good added bonus, too, if you're considering a new broadband plan and you're also in the market for a streaming solution.

    Bundles aside, the Telstra TV 2 will cost you $192 outright, and at that price it's a somewhat harder sell.

    Many of its functions are covered by existing games consoles and some smart TV apps already, and it's in direct competition with the slicker and more app-rich Apple TV 4K as well. It's a little cheaper than the Apple TV 4K, but the extra cost is likely to be money well spent. If your budget is stretched but you still want 4K, consider the Chromecast Ultra. If the live TV functions appeal, you should also consider the Fetch Mini, or if the budget will stretch, the far more capable Fetch Mighty PVR.

    Telstra TV 2: What the other reviewers say

    Site Comment Score
    The Australian "Better than original but there’s room for more fun." 7/10

    Pricing and availability

    The Telstra TV 2 is available to Telstra broadband customers on plans costing $99 or more at launch at no additional cost.

    If you want to buy the Telstra TV 2, it will cost $192 outright, or $8 per month over 24 months.

    Specifications

    Product Name
    Telstra TV 2
    Video formats
    2160p 4K UHD / 1080p HD / 720p with HEVC support
    Audio support
    Dolby Digital 7.1
    Networking
    802.11a/b/g/n/ac dual band wireless or 10/100 Ethernet port
    Processor
    Quad-core MStar C2
    RAM
    2GB
    Storage
    512MB Flash NAND
    Ports
    HDMI 2.0, USB 2.0, MicroSD Slot
    Size
    16x16x2cm (approx)

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