BT is launching a long-awaited feature that will put its BT TV service in direct competition with Sky Glass and Virgin’s Stream Box: The ability to stream and watch Freeview channels without an aerial.
Furthermore, BT is launching a new streaming box, the BT TV Mini Box, that will be a streaming-only box, without the ability to record and without an aerial connection.
Instead, the Mini Box will let you subscribe to and watch streaming services like Netflix and Sky’s NOW, while also letting you watch some Freeview channels over broadband.
The new Freeview-without-an-aerial “Internet Mode”, as it’s called on BT’s boxes, will be available both on BT’s primary box – the BT TV Pro Box, and the new Mini box, which is intended as a solution for households that want to watch BT TV in more rooms.
The new Freeview-over-Internet service are already offered on BT’s website, and existing customers are reporting they can add the feature by updating and resetting their Pro boxes.
BT TV’s new Mini box (and the Internet Mode on the BT TV Pro Box) puts BT in direct competition with the new streaming options from Virgin and Sky.
Earlier this year, Virgin launched its own streaming TV box, that lets you watch Freeview over broadband. And Sky has its streaming TV – Sky Glass, but is also planning to launch the Sky Stream puck later this year, a standalone TV streaming and Freeview device.
BT TV Box Pro’s New Freeview Streaming
Last year, BT TV launched the BT TV Box Pro – A 4K/HDR YouView-based box with streaming apps, 4 tuners and 1TB of storage for recordings.
All new BT TV customers now get this new advanced box (and existing customers with older boxes can upgrade to it).
The BT TV Box Pro has a long list of supported streaming apps – Netflix, Amazon’s Prime Video, NOW, Britbox, BT Sport, BT Player, Milkshake and more, as well as all the standard catch-up streaming apps – BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, My5, UKTV Play, S4C, STV Player and BBC Sounds.
BT TV’s flexible packages are attached to BT’s broadband plans (you can’t get BT TV on its own, except for BT Sport, which is also available as a monthly pass), with Netflix already bundled in, and other streaming services available as paid add-ons.
Until now, however, Freeview channels were only available the old-fashioned way: by connecting an aerial (unless you were using the public broadcasters’ catch-up apps, like iPlayer and ITV Hub).
Starting today, BT TV Box Pro includes an “Internet Mode” that lets you watch a long list of Freeview channels aerial free, as they are streamed to you via broadband.
Do note that you don’t get the complete list of Freeview/YouView channels that you would get via an aerial: The public broadcasters’ channels are all here (BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5), as well as channels like Sky Art, Quest, HGTV, Legend, CBS Reality and more.
Interestingly, the BT TV Box Pro will continue to let you record content from those channels, as well as pause live content.
With an aerial connected, you can record from up to three different channels at the same time (and watch a 4th). Without an aerial (in Internet Mode), you can only record from two separate channels simultaneously.
BT confirmed to us that recording – even while in “Internet Mode” – is still done on the Box’s built-in hard drive (and not to the cloud) – therefore there are no recording options on the Mini box (which doesn’t have a hard drive).
And, we’re told you can record from all the Freeview channels that are currently available to stream on the Pro box.
This is somewhat different from the current competing products – Virgin’s Stream Box doesn’t offer any recording, and Sky Glass offers very limited recording to the cloud.
Sharon Meadows, Propositions Director, BT said: “Removing the need for an aerial connection not only gives even more consumers the opportunity to take out BT TV, it also gives our customers even more flexibility with their TV set-up, allowing them to access great content, from anywhere in the home.”
BT TV Box Mini
Along with the new Internet Mode, BT is launching a new standalone streaming-only box, the BT TV Box Mini.
For now, you can’t get the Box Mini on its own, and you certainly can’t get it without a BT Broadband subscription.
Instead, the Mini box is aimed as an additional box for subscribers who also have the BT TV Box Pro. Each Mini box will cost £10/month.
The BT TV Box Mini supports 4K and HDR (just like its big Pro brother), as well as Dolby Atmos.
The Mini box also supports all the streaming apps that are available on the Pro box, as well as the new Freeview-via-broadband feature.
The BT TV Box Mini, however, doesn’t have any recording capabilities, and instead relies solely on streaming, although you can pause and rewind live TV for up to 2 hours.
BT TV Cost And Bundles
As mentioned, BT TV is bundled with BT’s Broadband service, and you can’t get it as a standalone TV service – therefore prices will depend on the broadband service you choose.
As for the TV part, BT offers “Flexible” monthly packages. They come with a 24-months contract, so they are not very flexible in that regard…
But the flexible part comes from being able to change your TV package every 30 days – switch from Entertainment to Sports, cancel one and add another, or just get the VIP package which includes everything (but you can’t cancel the TV contract completely, until your contract is up).
In addition to seamlessly switching between packages, customers can also attach stand-alone add-ons to their packages – such as Sky’s NOW streaming plans, Amazon’s Prime Video, and more.
The new Freeview-via-Internet service will not cost extra, and is already part of any bundle you subscribe to, as long as you have one of the newer BT TV boxes (the Pro or the Mini).
The cheapest BT TV bundle is the “Entertainment Package”, which includes:
- Sky’s streaming service – NOW – with its Entertainment Membership, which includes Sky’s TV channels such as Sky Atlantic and Sky Max.
- Netflix’s Basic Plan (Only SD content, on just one screen at a time, but you can upgrade).
- The AMC Channel, which is exclusive to BT TV and includes American shows and films.
- The BT TV Pro Box, with its recording capabilities and Freeview channels (either via an aerial or via the new Internet Mode)
This package costs, as of this writing, £17 per month, along with a one-time £39.99 activation fee.
On its own (by subscribing directly to NOW and Netflix), this bundle costs £16.98/month – so you’re not really saving on the monthly subscriptions, but you’re getting the BT TV Pro Box “for free”.
If you want to add the new BT TV Box Mini, so you can watch in additional rooms, the cost is £10/month for each additional Mini box.