Or Goren | Apr 6, 2019 | 0
A surprisingly fast Freeview interface, all the major UK catchup apps, and the ability to play 4K-HDR content: judging by specs alone, the Manhattan T3 Freeview Play box sounds brilliant. But who is the audience for it? That’s not an easy question to answer.
With all TV sets sold in the UK since 2010 already supporting Freeview, and the popularity of “Smart TVs” in recent years, is there still room for a dedicated Freeview set-top box, let alone one that’s a bit more expensive because it adds 4K support and a few apps?
That’s the question I’ll try to answer in this review, which will cover the Manhattan T3’s unique selling points (there are several) – and some of the inevitable downsides as well.
Manhattan T3 - Quick Look
Who Is It For: People who are looking for an improved Freeview Play experience, and a limited streaming device.
- Video Quality: 4K (2160p), HDR10 & HLG Support
- Sound: Dolby Digital Plus
- Channels: 70+ SD Freeview Channels, 15 HD, 25+ Radio Stations
- Apps: BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, Demand 5, UKTV Play, CBS Catchup, Horror Bites, YouTube
- EPG: 8 Days (7 days backwards)
- Connections: HDMI, S/PDIF
- Internet: Ethernet + WiFi
- Extra Features: “Learning” Remote can control TV, personal on-demand watchlist, YouTube casting from your smartphone.
Excellent Freeview Play box with a speedy, slick interface that also serves as an advanced – but limited – streaming device. If you don’t need recording capabilities and don’t mind the missing Netflix app, the T3 will serve you well, but at a cost.
Table of Contents
Who Is The Manhattan T3 For?
Most TVs in the UK already have a Freeview tuner built-in, but the Manhattan T3 is a “Freeview Play” device. This is a service that combines the regular, over-the-air Freeview channels, along with an internet-based catchup service. So you get the normal Freeview Electronic Programme Guide (EPG), which you can use to watch “live” shows – but you also use that same guide to jump directly into streaming apps like the BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub, to watch programmes from the guide on-demand.
In addition, the T3 comes with a number of TV apps pre-installed: all the major TV catch-up apps – BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, Demand 5, UKTV Play, CBS Catchup and Horror Bites, as well as a YouTube app.
What is Freeview?
Established in 2002, Freeview is the United Kingdom’s digital terrestrial television platform. The service provides access to free-to-air TV channels and radio stations, including more than 70 standard channels and 15 HD channels – and that number keeps growing every year.
The range goes from all the BBC channels (including HD), ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, The Food Network, CBS Action, QVC and many others.
And the important part: there’s no monthly cost – you buy the equipment once, and can enjoy the free programming forever. You do, however, need to pay the yearly TV licence fee in most cases.
In order to be able to watch Freeview channels, you need two main components: A TV Aerial (see the ones I recommend here), and A Freeview Receiver. For Freeview play, you also need a broadband connection.
Two more things that separate the T3 from most built-in TV Freeview components are the interface and the speed. With a quad-core CPU, the T3 is lightning fast and truly feels like a modern device. Even the newest Smart TVs, as well as some of the other Freeview set-top boxes out there, often have a very sluggish interface. Not so with the T3.
In addition, the T3 supports 4K Ultra-HD – but keep in mind, there’s not much you can do with that at this point in time, other than watching YouTube 4K videos (more on that in a minute.)
There are three important factors to consider about the T3:
- You still need a Freeview aerial (either on your roof or an indoor one) and good reception around your house. The apps will work without aerial reception, but you won’t get all the other Freeview channels.
- The T3 is NOT a Freeview recorder, so you can’t record any of the live programmes (not even to a USB stick). If you want a recording device, check out my other recommendations here.
- The big-name streaming apps are glaringly missing, most notably Netflix. Hopefully, more will be added in the future, but they’re not here as of this writing.
So who is the target audience for the T3, exactly? Well, if you have an older TV without Freeview at all, then it’s a no-brainer (as long as you don’t need the recording function).
If you DO have a telly that supports Freeview, then it mostly comes down to the speed and the catchup apps. If you have a “Smart TV”, then you most likely already have all of these apps. However, If your TV isn’t smart, then these apps offer a mid-priced first step into the world of streaming content – but, unfortunately, without a Netflix app (or Amazon Prime Video, or NOW TV).
Setting Up The Manhattan T3
Connecting and setting up the T3 is fairly easy. The device itself looks good, all black with a single LED on the front, that is either blue (on) or red (standby).
The device is surprisingly light-weight at only 368g (even the remote control feels heavier than the box), though a bit wide for such a light device (210x46x188mm). Still, it will fit quite easily on your TV Stand.
The box comes with a remote control, batteries for the remote, an HDMI cable, a power adapter, and a “Get Started” guide.
On the back of the device, you’ll find the power socket, an optical audio port (so you can connect directly to speakers/a soundbar), an aerial socket where you plug a coaxial TV aerial cable (from your indoor or outdoor antenna), a loop-out port (so you can connect a second Freeview receiver if you want), an HDMI port, and the Ethernet and USB ports.
There are no SCART or RCA connections, so if you have an older TV without an HDMI connection, you’re out of luck. Other Manhattan Freeview boxes have an AV minijack that you can connect to an analogue converter kit – but there’s no such minijack on the T3. Your only option would be to buy an HDMI to SCART converter – but then you’re missing out on the whole 4K bit.
So at this point, I would say that if your telly doesn’t have an HDMI port – you’re better off skipping the Manhattan T3 and getting a different device.
And don’t get your hopes up too much about the USB port on the T3 – it’s only there for software updates (which are easier to do via WiFi or Ethernet, anyway), and can’t do anything else at the moment.
When you connect the T3 to your telly, via the HDMI cable, keep in mind that not all TV HDMI connections are the same. Some tellies only support 4K/HDR on one of their HDMI ports, which is exactly what happened to me – this caused issues with 4K playback on YouTube for me, and was only fixed once I moved the HDMI cable to a different port on the TV, so check your TV’s manual (or just experiment.)
And since the T3 is a “Freeview Play” device, you would want to connect it to the internet. That can be done either via a WiFi connection (if your TV is far from the router, you can look into a WiFi Range Extender), or by plugging an Ethernet cable directly from your router (note that an Ethernet cable is not supplied). For that, if your router is too far, you can look into getting a Powerline Adapter.
Both WiFi and Ethernet worked fine for me – even with 4K videos which are pretty big data-hogs. But your mileage may vary, of course. Generally speaking, a direct Ethernet-cable connection will always be faster and more stable than WiFi – but it’s not a must.
Using The Manhattan T3
When you turn on the T3 for the first time, you’re asked to connect it to the internet – either via WiFi or an Ethernet cable. Then, assuming you have an aerial cable connected, the device will start scanning for Freeview channels.
If your reception is good, the T3 will find all the channels available in your area, and will jump straight into the action – BBC 1, that is. Picture and sound quality are mostly excellent – though, as always with Freeview, these will also depend on your aerial reception.
The remote is friendly and easy to use, though it might feel a bit too long for some. The button placement is logical, and you’ll remember where everything is within an hour or two of use.
In addition to controlling the T3, the remote can also “learn” to control your telly’s basic functions – on/off, volume control and input selection.
Once you start playing around with the interface, you’ll notice the T3’s best feature – its speed. Just like Manhattan’s T2-R Freeview Recorder, the T3 is extremely snappy. The EPG loads up instantly, flipping channels is fast, and even the apps run like butter – I can safely say it’s not only faster than older Freeview boxes, it’s also faster than many Smart TVs.
The EPG lets you see the TV schedule up to 8 days in advance, with details about every show. Once you see an upcoming show you’re interested in, you can set a reminder for it. Then, you can have the T3 turn itself on automatically and switch to the right channel when the show you selected is on.
With this being a Freeview Play device, you can also “go back in time” and browse back on the EPG, seeing the schedule of up to seven days backwards. If a programme on the guide is available on one of the catchup apps – you will see a “Play” icon next to it, and with one button press, you can jump into the connected app and watch the show.
When you flip through live channels, the T3 has two additional nifty tricks – if you’re watching an SD channel that has an equivalent HD version, a popup on the screen will offer to take you to the equivalent HD channel. And if a “live” programme that you stumbled upon has a catchup version on one of the apps, then a popup will offer to start that programme from the beginning, via the app – all with one button press.
In addition to finding shows via the EPG, you can also use the built-in “Search” function. You start “typing” the name of a programme/film using the remote, and the T2 will instantly show you content that is available on-demand, which fits your search.
The speed at which this search function works is truly amazing, and gives even the fastest streaming boxes out there a run for their money. (Though again, keep in mind that there’s a limited selection of streaming apps and content here.)
The Apps – TV Catchup and YouTube
In addition to using the EPG, you can also jump directly into one of the catchup apps, via the dedicated “Freeview Play” button on the remote. Most of the apps require a (free) registration, though you’re better off registering on your PC or phone, and then just signing in on the TV.
Some apps, like the BBC iPlayer, help you sign in by using your phone/PC and a special code. Others make you “type” your full username and password with the remote, which is a daunting experience – but thankfully, you only need to do it once (for each app).
It’s also important to remember one big difference between recording a programme (on other devices) and watching it via a catchup app – the adverts. You can’t skip them when you watch via an app. So you’re going to have plenty of ad breaks on the commercial channel apps, like ITV and Channel 4.
The apps themselves vary in how slick and easy to use they are, though that depends on the channel, and not the T3, as these are all “official” apps that are available on other devices as well. BBC iPlayer is a joy to use, and the ITV Hub is also quite decent, but All 4 and Demand 5 could use some work.
In addition to the TV catchup apps, you also get a YouTube app (and a separate YouTube Kids app), which you can either use on its own, or connect it your YouTube account via your phone/PC. Then, you can use your smartphone to find videos or playlists to watch, and “cast” them from the phone to the TV screen.
And while the T3 doesn’t have a full “Google Play” app, there’s a workaround – you can use the YouTube app to watch content you purchased on Google Play. So you can buy a film/TV Programme from Google Play on your phone or PC, and then watch it on the T3 via YouTube.
4K UltraHD On The T3
The Manhattan T3 supports 4K (UltraHD) and HDR content – that’s one of its selling points, and probably pushed the price upwards a bit. So is it worth the extra money?
For the time being, unfortunately, you won’t get much out of this 4K promise. Last year, the BBC ran a trial with some 4K content on iPlayer – namely World Cup games, Wimbledon matches, as well as Blue Planet II and Dynasties. While these looked spectacular, those trials are now over, and you can’t even watch the archived versions of Blue Planet II and Dynasties in 4K.
The BBC is promising more trials in the future – and at some point, hopefully, we’ll get a steady flow of 4K content on iPlayer – but we’re not there yet. As of this writing, the only 4K content you can watch from the BBC, is a short 7-minute test you can find hiding in the app’s settings. It looks great, yes – but it’s pointless.
So for the time being, that just leaves YouTube. If you search for “4K” on YouTube, you’ll find some interesting content – mostly nature clips, 4K movie trailers, and a “relaxing fireplace in 4K” – it all looks truly stunning, but it’s mainly a screensaver replacement, and not content you’re actually going to sit down and watch.
However, with the Google Play/YouTube workaround I mentioned, you can also buy 4K films on Google Play – and watch them here, in 4K, via the YouTube app.
Ultimately, buying a Freeview Play device with 4K support today is sort of future-proofing your purchase. We hope the BBC (and other channels) will start offering more 4K content. And if Manhattan manages to add Netflix and Amazon Video apps to the mix, you’ll instantly have a big library of 4K films and TV programmes to watch.
Bottom Line – Is The Manhattan T3 For Me?
The T3 sometimes feels like it’s stuck in the middle. It’s not the cheapest Freeview box out there (or even the cheapest Freeview Play box), while also not having recording capabilities.
However, for what it sets out to do, and where it’s placed in the market (price-wise and features-wise) – it’s excellent. As with Manhattan’s other Freeview devices, the incredible speed of the interface, and being so slick and easy to use, are major selling points.
If you need a Freeview box, and don’t want to buy a TV streaming device in addition to Freeview, then the T3 can fulfil both needs. While it will never be a full streaming-box replacement without a Netflix app (which will hopefully be added in the future), you still get most of the important apps for UK viewers, with a smart interface that brings everything together.
Note: The T3 was supplied by the manufacturer for this review. As always, this did not influence my unbiased opinion of the product.