Telstra TV Review

The Telstra TV is a huge step above the T-Box, but in the world of streaming devices, it’s likely to satisfy only if your needs are modest – or if you get it for free.
Telstra’s first take on a streaming home entertianment box, the T-Box was, to put it politely, not very good. I would use slightly stronger terms, but Telstra can afford slightly snippier lawyers than I can. I certainly wouldn’t advise anyone to buy one right now, but the good news is that in fact you can’t, because it’s set to be replaced by the much smaller, and significantly better Telstra TV.

Telstra On The Badge, Roku On The Engine

The Telstra TV is, in essence, a slightly rebadged Roku 2 set top box, although it may have some hardware from the Roku 3 in there as well. Roku’s not a big name in Australia – outside of a few AV enthusiasts it’s hardly a name at all – but in the US it’s a huge presence in the home set top box market, with its latest effort, the 4K-capable Roku 4, due to launch quite soon. We don’t quite get the Roku 4 – or at least not yet.
What we get is branded as the “Telstra TV”, and it’s Telstra’s effort to be all things to all people when it comes to video streaming and catch-up services. There’s a definite gap in the market here, because while Netflix has been able to benefit from having almost immediate market penetration thanks to having existing apps for home consoles and other streaming solutions such as the Chromecast and the Apple TV, homegrown solutions such as Stan, Presto and even Telstra’s own BigPond Movies have rather more scattershot penetration. Some devices support some of them, others only support them if you’re casting from a secondary device, which isn’t always flawless or technically easy, but very few devices support the basic trinity of Netflix, Presto and Stan. That’s where the Telstra TV comes in… or will come in.
At launch, the Telstra TV will support Netflix and Presto (and you get a free three month sub to Presto, no doubt due to Telstra’s business arrangements with Presto half-parent Foxtel), but Stan support is listed as “coming soon”. I’ve variously heard from Stan executives at Telstra’s launch for the Telstra TV that it will appear in early November, late November or “by the end of the year”. Hopefully sooner rather than later. Telstra supplied me with a Telstra TV for the purposes of review, noting that the exact setup procedure may be slightly different by the time Telstra TV launches on the 27th of October.
As you might expect, Telstra controls the sales of the Telstra TV, as well as its activation process. For that you’ll need a Telstra ID, but not in fact an actual Telstra Broadband product. Just having, say, a prepaid mobile account is actually enough to activate a Telstra TV. I tested with an Optus broadband account, and once activated, the Telstra TV worked more or less flawlessly, although obviously the content warnings about quota free activity don’t apply if you’re not a Telstra broadband customer. For what it’s worth, if you are a Telstra broadband customer, access to Presto and BigPond Movies is quota free, but everything else attracts data charges normally.
Setup of the Telstra TV is relatively painless, with just a single HDMI cable and remote control in the box aside from the Telstra TV unit itself. Wired or wireless connections are supported; I tested with a wireless connection and had no particular issues to speak of, which is a rarity in network streaming devices.
The Telstra TV’s primary interface is an app-centric one, driven by a mid-sized and pleasantly simple remote control. The large squishy rubber buttons feel a little cheap under your fingers, but I can well imagine many being happy with a physical rather than touchscreen control, especially as the Telstra TV is aimed at the simple tech-wary side of the audience.
Aside from Big Pond Movies, Presto, Netflix and “Coming Soon” Stan, you also get access to Yahoo 7, SBS On Demand, 9 Jump In, YouTube and a variety of niche channels including Red Bull TV, Crunchyroll, Vimeo and others. There’s also access to Roku’s Media Player app, which can access content on DLNA servers on the same network. In my test environment, it spotted a connected ReadyNAS device and was able to quite quickly scan its contents for playback.
What’s missing from this equation are the two other large catchup services, Tenplay and ABC iView. Like Stan, they’re apparently due before the end of the year. My inner Doctor Who fanatic fervently hopes that’s true, but the missing apps also highlight something else you’re not getting.
When Netflix launched in Australia, it could benefit from years of overseas dominance by launching with apps on just about every relevant platform with very little effort. In theory, Roku could do the same, launching the Telstra TV with not just a few streaming apps, but potentially thousands of streaming apps. It hasn’t done so, instead allowing Telstra to lock down the Telstra TV to just some hand-curated apps instead. For the power user this will be a problem and a downside. Equally, I haven’t been able to figure out a way to set precise DNS or VPN style settings, so your Netflix usage if you’re a power user would appear to be limited to the Australian catalog for now.
For somebody who just wants Netflix/Stan/Presto streaming, it might not be something they notice at all. It is worth pointing out that the Telstra TV is a streaming-only solution, not a PVR-style product that picks up free to air or Foxtel TV for you, just in case that wasn’t clear. If you’re one of the very few lucky types sitting on a very fat download pipe, it’s also worth noting that the Telstra TV tops out at 1080p display, so those few 4K programs sitting on Netflix won’t render in their full resolution for you this way.

Inexpensive, or free?

There’s currently two ways you’ll be able to get the Telstra TV. Telstra will sell it outright for $109 through its wide array of Telstra stores if you’re an existing Telstra customer. As noted, despite the claims on the side of the box, that’s not a Telstra broadband customer – any Telstra account eligible for a Telstra ID (landline, post or pre-paid mobile) also qualifies.
It’ll also offer the Telstra TV as a signup freebie to anyone committing to a two year L or XL broadband contract, or those willing to renew an existing contract at those levels.

Fat Duck Verdict

So is it worth it? If it’s a freebie along with your existing broadband you’ve got utterly nothing to lose by using it; at absolute worst you could ditch the box and view it as a free HDMI cable and a couple of AAA batteries for nothing.
As an outright purchase for the technically literate, however, the Telstra TV has some stiff competition. It’s perfectly acceptable for basic couch potato purposes, but equally it sits in the same price point as the current generation Apple TV, and quite a bit more than a simple Google Chromecast. The Apple TV covers Stan and Netflix natively, and can have Presto streamed to it from an iPad or iPhone. The Chromecast likewise can handle streaming from all three sources as well, if your network and technical nous is up to the challenge.
I can well admit that isn’t going to be everybody, and for that, Telstra’s tiny streaming box is well suited. If you’re more ambitious about your streaming you might find it a limited choice, but if you just want simple and controlled within the existing Australian streaming landscape – and presuming those Stan and iView apps do eventuate quickly – it could be a very solid choice indeed.

1 thought on “Telstra TV Review”

  1. Not too impressed at the moment. Paid for BigPond movie, now it won’t download says an unexpected problem(but not server timeout or http error) has been detected. Did it once before but finally came good. Any ideas or should I have bought an apple.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.