YouView, the “hybrid” over-the-air and broadband TV service, offers an interesting mix – at its core lie the 70+ Freeview channels we all know, but it also adds two on-demand layers: A 7 days catch-up service for some of the main channels, and the ability to add subscription-based content from providers such as NOW TV and Netflix.
And while there’s no monthly cost for the basic YouView service, you do have to buy a rather expensive box – such as our Editor’s Choice, the BT Ultra HD YouView Box.
In this YouView review, I take a look at the service, the added features, and the best YouView boxes for 2020, detailing the things you need to consider before buying a box.
Table of Contents
What Is YouView?
YouView, launched back in 2012, was a project backed by the main UK Telecommunication companies and broadcasters.
Even though Freeview (the service offering free-to-air channels via a tuner and an aerial – see our full guide) was already around for years, the companies were looking for an “upgraded” service – one that’ll offer both free channels, a catch-up service, and the ability to pay for TV “add-ons”.
YouView offers access to most of the Freeview channels and radio stations (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and many others), all via an easy-to-use Electronic Programme Guide. The YouView box connects not only to your aerial, but also to your broadband, so it adds internet-based on-demand programming: you can catch-up on shows from the past 7 days, and order paid, on-demand content from some providers.
Currently, the broadband-based players available on YouView are:
- BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, Demand 5: The on-demand apps of the major broadcasters
- Netflix – The behemoth streaming video service (See our Netflix UK Review)
- Now TV Cinema – A LIMITED version of Sky’s contract-free streaming service – you CAN’T get the Entertainment, Kids or Sports passes on YouView. (See our NOW TV Review)
- milkshake! – Channel 5’s shows for pre-preschoolers.
- UKTV Play – Free catch-up from Dave, Yesterday, Really and Drama.
- STV – On-demand shows from the Scottish channel.
- S4C – On-demand shows from the Welsh-language channel.
Additionally, if you’re a BT or TalkTalk subscriber, you can get more, paid-for content through them. In the past, YouView also had the Sky VOD Store as an app – but Sky removed it in 2016. BritBox is also supposed to be added to YouView sometime in 2020.
The picture quality on YouView goes up to HD on supported channels, and can even go up to Ultra HD 4K on the newer boxes – but there are no 4K Freeview channels yet, so 4K would only work with some limited on-demand content.
How Do I Get YouView On My TV?
The components you need for YouView (other than a telly) are:
- A YouView Set-top Box – This is the main receiver that connects to your TV. The YouView+ boxes also have a hard drive for recording content.
- A TV Aerial – The free channels are broadcast over the air, so you need an aerial that can intercept those signals. It can either be an outdoor aerial (usually on your roof), or a cheap indoor aerial. Take a look at our guide for buying the best indoor aerials.
- An Ethernet Connection: The catch-up and on-demand features of YouView work via your broadband connection. The boxes, however, do not support WiFi – so you need to connect the box directly to your broadband router (or via a Powerline Adapter – see our review of the best ones)
Do note that a broadband connection is a MUST – you can’t even setup the boxes without connecting them to the internet first. If that’s an issue for you, you might want to look at getting a Freeview Box instead.
You can get a YouView box in one of two ways – either as part of a bundle from BT or TalkTalk (combining broadband, YouView, and optional extra TV channels), or by buying the box directly from a retailer. As a cord cutting advocate, I of course prefer the retail route, which comes without any contracts or monthly subscriptions – but if you get your broadband from BT or TalkTalk, it might be worth to at least take a look at the prices they’re offering for the bundle.
There’s also a limited selection of TV sets from Sony that have the YouView service built-in, so you don’t need an extra box – See relevant offers on Amazon.
YouView VS. Freeview – Which is better?
When YouView launched back in 2012, it had one major advantage over Freeview – its broadband connection, enabling the catch-up service and a selection (albeit limited) of apps, both from the major broadcasters (such as BBC iPlayer) and streaming services such as Netflix.
At the time, Freeview only offered over-the-air programming using somewhat “dumb” set-top receivers – so YouView had a clear advantage.
Eventually, though, Freeview introduced “Freeview Play” on higher-end boxes: a very similar (to YouView) service, that offers a mix of over-the-air channels with a 7-day catch-up service and a selection of apps. Sounds familiar?
With YouView and Freeview Play being so similar, it really depends on the specific boxes and features you’re looking for. Some advantages for YouView:
- A better, easier to use user interface (with Freeview, the interface changes depending on the box you buy)
- An integrated search engine, to find programmes and movies from all the different channels and services
- Support for Ultra HD 4K on selected boxes
- Adding a BT/TalkTalk subscription adds a lot of channels (including sports)
- Better technical support for the boxes, with frequent software updates
On the other hand, basic Freeview boxes can be had for cheaper prices than YouView. And the higher-end Freeview boxes have a more impressive selection of TV apps, including Amazon Instant Video – so that’s a thing to consider.
If you’re not confused enough yet, there’s also Freesat to consider, where you would need a satellite dish on your roof – but you do get more channels, and better reception. And, of course, there are the internet streamers that, while don’t offer Freeview directly, can “imitate” that functionality with catch-up apps (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, etc’), and broadband-based Freeview apps such as the official Freeview App for smartphones.
Why Does YouView Need An Aerial?
YouView’s over-the-air channels rely on signals that come, well, over-the-air. If your indoor aerial isn’t good enough, or if you live in an area where the signal is too weak – you won’t get good quality on your TV, or worse – won’t be able to watch YouView at all.
You can check the estimated coverage in your house with the Digital UK Postcode Checker. You put in your postcode and house number, and the site gives you some details about the estimated reception in your area.
Because reception is such an issue (both with YouView and Freeview), many buyers blame their boxes or indoor aerials for their lack of reception – while often the weak signals are to blame. The bad news is that there’s really no way to know for sure what reception looks like in your house until you buy the devices and give it a try. The good news is that when you buy from Amazon, it’s usually very easy to return stuff if you’re having problems.
If you need an indoor aerial, check out our Best Indoor Aerials review roundup – the aerials needed for Freeview and YouView are the same.
Buying The Best YouView Box – What Do I Need To Know?
Truth be told, there aren’t a lot of YouView boxes out there, so making a choice is – for good and for bad – not that complicated. Still, because the boxes aren’t cheap, you should still look carefully at the different features they offer (which is what we’re here to help with.)
The boxes come in three distinct flavours – YouView, YouView+ and YouView+ Ultra HD.
All the YouView boxes come with all the standard features: Over the air channels (some in HD), 7-day catch-up on selected channels via the Electronic Programme Guide, the major broadcasters’ catch-up apps, and the ability to pause and rewind a live broadcast. You can also add premium (paid-for) channels via BT, TalkTalk and Plusnet.
YouView+ boxes are also Personal Video Recorders (PVRs), adding a Hard Drive to the mix, so you can record and save programmes from the live channels (either directly, or by setting future recordings via the EPG.) All the boxes I cover in this review support YouView+ – so they come with a hard drive.
YouView+ Ultra HD adds 4K support – but remember you also need a telly that supports 4K. The 4K content is limited at the moment – you get some 4K content from Netflix (provided you have their highest subscription tier), and from BT (if you pay for it.) The BBC are planning to offer 4K content in the future – so you’ll be ready for that as well.
There are currently TWO YouView boxes’ manufacturers – Humax and Huawei. There are boxes that come with BT and TalkTalk branding (even if you buy them from a retailer such as Amazon), but despite the branding, these boxes are also manufactured by Humax (BT) and Huawei (TalkTalk).
Then there are boxes that come without the BT/TalkTalk branding, arriving directly from Humax and Huawei.
Does the branding matter? Not really, but some users do get annoyed at seeing the BT or TalkTalk logos each time they boot-up their device, without being subscribers. Other than that, you should mainly focus on the features and the price, and choose the best YouView box that fits your needs.
Pricing: You can either get the box directly from a retailer (such as Amazon), or in a bundle from BT / TalkTalk / Plusnet. Remember that while paying monthly to one of these companies might look cheaper, it might ultimately be higher if you keep the box over a long period of time.
And remember that even with the boxes you buy directly from Amazon, you can still add the “Premium” BT channels later, so I would usually go for the no-contracts and no-monthly-subscriptions offer.
Cord Busters’ Best YouView Boxes For 2020
BT Ultra HD YouView Review
The best YouView box you can get at the moment, with a very decent price, this is the only box that also features Ultra HD (4K) capabilities. The 4K comes with a catch, though – you need need a telly that supports it, of course, and you also need 4K content – which, unfortunately, currently only comes down here to Netflix (with their upper-tier subscription level) and BT Sports (which requires a BT subscription.)
The box has all the other YouView features you would expect – Good user interface and EPG, catch-up service, all the major apps (it’s a shame Amazon Instant Video are not included, as they also offer 4K), dual tuners, and either a 500GB or a 1TB Hard Drive.
There are no Scart or Composite connections for older TVs – but why would you buy a 4K box for an older TV? Instead, you get an HDMI 2.0 connection.
All in all, this is an excellent YouView box, and even if you don’t have a 4K TV yet, you might as well future-proof yourself with this box – since it comes at such an excellent price.
Humax YouView 500GB Review
An excellent YouView box with a decent hard drive (500GB), The Humax box does everything right – all the catch-up services, the standard EPG guide (7 days back and 8 days forward), watching catch-up shows via the EPG, and easy recording. YouView’s universal search really shines here, letting you search for a specific show/movie across all the channels and catch-up services – and it does it fast (although the interface does get laggy on some of the menus).
Unlike the TalkTalk and BT boxes, this one has no branding on it other than its manufacturer’s – Humax, so when you load it up, you don’t have to keep seeing useless BT notices that do nothing (if you don’t have their subscription.)
Many reported the box is noisy – which is understandable with a hard drive inside, but other boxes managed to be quieter. All in all it’s a great HD YouView box, at an excellent price.
TalkTalk YouView DN372T Review
The “TalkTalk” branded YouView+ box, manufactured by Huawei, is a great little box – as with all other YouView boxes, if offers a good user interface (and a speedy one – though starting up takes too long), a 7-day EPG with a catch-up service for some of the channels, and dual Freeview tuners (so you can record two channels at the same time.)
The hard drive is only 320GB, which is on the small side – and you can’t extend it via an external USB stick/HD. An annoying interface issue is that you can’t tell the recorder to record extra minutes before and after a live show – so you’re at risk of losing the end of shows that ran late.
As with the BT boxes, adding TalkTalk content requires a contract with them – which is a shame.
If you’re looking for a “basic” YouView recorder that does everything right without too many bells and whistles, and you don’t mind the TalkTalk branding – this box is a good choice.
BT YouView HD 500GB Recorder Review
The HD model of the BT YouView+ recorder (manufactured by Humax) has a lot going for it – the 7-days EPG works great, the box is small, pretty and very quiet, all the major TV catch-up apps are installed, as well as Netflix – and you don’t need an active BT subscription to use it.
However, if you want to add BT’s extra channels – such as BT Sports, you can’t do it on-demand (a-la NOW TV Cinema or Netflix), but you need to be a BT Broadband/TV customer – which is a shame, as you lose the flexibility this way (with BT losing cord-cutting customers!)
The box also has dual-tuners (so you can record/watch two separate channels) and a 500GB hard drive – so why is further down in the list? Simply because the newer model, which offers Ultra HD (4K), is better and costs almost the same. If you get this box during a special sale, or refurbished (Click to Check on Amazon) – then it’s a great catch.