Review: Foxtel iQ5, has Foxtel finally nailed the Set-Top Box?

Foxtel has gone through a number of iterations in Australia and with the latest hardware, the iQ5, Foxtel may have finally nailed the hardware, delivering one of the best...

Foxtel has gone through a number of iterations in Australia and with the latest hardware, the iQ5, Foxtel may have finally nailed the hardware, delivering one of the best set-top boxes ever.

For many years, the only way to get pay-TV was to have an installer come to your house and mount a satellite dish on your roof, then route the cable through your walls, add a connector on your wall that would then connect to the set-top box. This not only added to the cost of getting Foxtel, but also added a significant delay to the time between purchasing a service and the consumer actually getting the service.

Thankfully in recent years, things have changed. As Australia’s internet connectivity has improved, IP-delivery of this content became a possible solution. We saw Foxtel experiment with boxes like the Telstra TV, Telstra TV2, the Foxtel Box and delivery via the web and to your mobile with Foxtel Now and Foxtel Go services.

While these were important steps in the journey, Foxtel still maintained a first-class experience for their satellite customers. Thankfully that ends with the iQ5.

With the Foxtel iQ5, Foxtel has finally opened the door for the best experience to be delivered by IP. This means the quality restriction of HD is gone, with the iQ5 supporting live broadcast of (currently) 2 channels in UHD, over the internet. While that may not sound like much, if you’ve invested in a 4K TV, you are hungry for more 4K content sources and thankfully this adds to that offering.

There are many people in circumstances where a satellite installation simply isn’t possible. Take people renting for example, unless you can convince your landlord, you were out of luck, but now, with the iQ5, there’s no need to both, just connect the power, ethernet or WiFi and HDMI cable and you’ll be streaming in minutes.

What is nice, is that Foxtel accommodates existing customers who have installed satellite at their homes. This is done by offering an array of connectivity options on the back of the iQ5. Live recording of shows is also available on the iQ5, something not possible on something like the Telstra TV 2 STB. This recording is done using a 1TB hard drive that is created in the same shape and size as the iQ5, allowing you to essentially stack one on top of the other and create a device that looks integrated, a really nice design solution.

After using the iQ5 for a few weeks now, it’s time to dive into a full review.

DESIGN

Curves in all the right places

I really love what Foxtel has done with the design of the iQ5. The Set-Top Box is a compact design in a very subtle black finish that has a subtle face. It doesn’t demand your attention, it simply gets about delivering a great experience for the user.

When you remove the iQ5 from its packaging, you’ll very quickly find your way to the back of the device, which features colour-coded inputs, helping users connect their iQ5 themselves, no installer necessary.

This really works quite well, with something like the HDMI port coloured in blue, which matches up with the ends of the included HDMI cable. It is obvious that a lot of thought has gone into making the setup of the iQ5 as simple and easy as possible, given people of all skill levels may be required to perform the setup. For anyone who’s set up a DVD player, or Xbox, you’ll have no problems at all, it really is straightforward.

Once connected, you’ll then interface with the iQ5 using the remote control. For existing Foxtel customers upgrading to the iQ5, this will feel quite familiar, almost too familiar. Given the massive generation leap the iQ5 is making in design and hardware, it seems like now would have been the perfect time to rethink the remote as well. Compared to my Samsung TV remotes that are slim, sexy and modern, the Foxtel remote is massive but will offer familiarity for those familiar with the Foxtel button layout.

Foxtel has also included voice input by simply pressing the microphone button at the top of the remote. This works really well, with the vast majority of searches landing. With voice input working so well to search for on-demand content, change channels and more, it actually made me want far-field microphones built into the iQ5 so we could yell at it from across the room. This works for Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and to some degree works with Apple’s Siri, so let’s get ‘Hey Foxtel’ in the iQ6, please.

PERFORMANCE

How does it perform ?

From the way the iQ5 performs, it is clear that Foxtel has included some serious hardware upgrades inside that new design. Switching channels is super-fast, feeling fairly similar to the speed at which we change OTA broadcast channels, impressive for IP delivery.

The quality of the image is fantastic, particularly in 4K. In terms of bitrate, it’s obviously down on the absolute best offering like a Blu-ray optical disc, but for video streamed over the web, I was incredibly impressed. Take something like Formula 1, which features not only fast-moving subject matter but also fast pans to follow the cars through corners and you’ll be stunned at just how smooth things are.

The user interface clarity itself is really crisp and clear and a task like loading 3rd party apps like Netflix or YouTube is something that is incredibly well optimised and happens in just a few seconds.

Overall the performance of the Foxtel iQ5 is seriously impressive, as long as you can bring the right connection to the party.

FEATURES

Stand out features of this device.

The Foxtel iQ5 comes with a long list of features that combine to create an incredibly compelling offering. Given what’s on offer here, it would surprise me if any existing Foxtel owner looks at this lineup and doesn’t find something that motivates them to upgrade.

Up to 4K quality

While the majority of live channels are available in HD quality, there are two channels Movies Ultra HD and Fox Sports Ultra HD that offers 4K quality. You also have the option of consuming more 4K content on-demand with Apps like Netflix and YouTube.

Stream On Demand content

It is likely that the primary motivator for most people subscribing to Foxtel is for live content, be it sports, news or perhaps you just think there are not enough channels to choose from in traditional OTA TV. The reality is that live is just the beginning, with the much more convenient on-demand catalog offering many, many more hours than you could ever dream of watching.

As live content like sporting events are then made available as on-demand offerings, it also reduces your need to stress about recording content, you can be confident that it’ll be available a day or so after the original airing.

Voice remote compatible with voice capability

With many dozens of channels to choose from switching quickly to the channel you want to watch, actually becomes a navigation challenge. One great solution to that challenge is to use voice. It is not an accident that there are just 3 backlit buttons on the remote, one of them being the microphone.

I was amazed at how accurate the voice capability is, just press and hold the microphone button and say a phrase like ‘Watch Sky News’ or ‘Watch Fox Sports Ultra HD’ and the channel immediate changes. It really is a great way to get around the content offerings.

Apps

To the left of the Home tab, you’ll find Apps. This tab offers access to 3rd party streaming services including Netflix, ABC iView, SBS On Demand, YouTube, Vevo, ABC Kids, YouTube Kids and GolfTV.

This lineup of streaming services offers some decent diversity, hits many of the must have services, but it is an interesting diversion from what we experienced in with the Telstra TV 2. With that STB, we had an App Store that allowed users to select which services they used and over the course of a couple of years a couple of new apps were made available.

With the iQ5, there’s no customizability here, just the grid of 8 apps, take them or leave them. If the theory is that you’ll get all your broadcast channels, combined with pay TV channels, on-demand content and 3rd party content from this single HDMI source, then this does feel like a shortcoming of the iQ5.

Obviously, Foxtel is treading a difficult line here, providing users with capabilities, but some services are likely to be seen as competition. This does feel like a conflict between the hardware team, who’d love to have Stan, Binge, AppleTV+, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Paramount+ and more.

Continue Watching

The ability to pick up watching where you left off means that interruptions to your viewing experience don’t have to ruin the fun. It is easy to continue your show, which really sees the digital services stretch their legs over live broadcast TV that can’t offer this.

Automatically play the next episode

When you’re watching a TV series, the idea of having to navigate from one episode to the next is a thing of the past. This idea was popularised by Netflix, but we’re glad to see Foxtel pickup that feature here. Automatically playing the next episode really helps us binge content rapidly, just keep an eye on the clock as many, many hours can disappear easily, but that also means you’re being entertained, so not a bad thing.

Dedicated Sports, TV Shows, Movies and Kids menus

In the interface, you’ll find dedicated tabs for Sports, TV Shows, Movies and Kids menus. This can help with browsability as you attempt to discover a new show.

Suggested and trending content

One of the things I missed the most in Foxtel Now, was the smarts in the algorithm that would surface recommendations and trending content. With the iQ5, you get access to these which draws wisdom from the broader watching behaviour of Foxtel customers and helps to get new and popular content in front of you.

If you want to turn up to the water cooler at work, or BBQ on the weekend and ensure you’re up on the latest hit show, then this is a great feature of the product to help with that.

Rent New Releases and Main Event titles

If you are someone who loves to watch the big boxing or UFC fights, then the iQ5 offers you the ability to stream those events live. Of course, these come at a price, but to have a reliable, convenient way to access these is another great feature of the device. Alternatively, you’re left searching the web for the right service that is carrying the event, each of which is likely to have a different payment interface and want your credit card details.

Recording / Series Link 

Series link is nothing new if you have had an iQ device in the past, but if you’re new, here’s how it works.

Most modern smart TVs offer the ability to add a thumb drive or external drive to record shows, where you’ll get options to record a show at a specific date/time.

The iQ5 has series link recording which means when you select an episode of your favourite show, say Grand Designs, you’ll get asked if you’d like to record just the current episode, or future episodes in that series. This is a really nice feature, although somewhat mitigated by the fact most shows are available on-demand after airing live.

It is great that it’s able to accommodate instances where live events cause delays in an episode starting on time and therefore may run long, potentially extending past a traditional scheduled window. If you’ve had this happen to you before, you’ll understand how frustrating this is and appreciate technology is here to help.

1TB Storage

When you add the 1TB hard drive to the iQ5, it provides enough space to record up to 45 hours of 4K content, 172 hours of HD or 345 hours of standard definition (SD).

This is really a generous amount of space and with the module design, it’s clear Foxtel could at any time release larger storage sizes if the demand support it.

ISSUES

Not everything’s perfect

I’m seriously impressed with the design of the iQ5, but my biggest issue is the lack of ambition to do a full rethink on the remote control.

I understand they’re dealing with more than a decade of history here, with millions of Australian homes familiar with the remote style, but when it’s possible to do things in a better way, we should embrace the challenge of changing because the end result is worth it.

When I sit the Foxtel remote next to my other TV remotes, it’s laughable how massive this comedically sized remote is and how out of place it is for 2021.

Foxtel has succeeded massively with its implementation of voice control with the iQ5 and I wish they had leaned into that further. If you take a look at the ultra-lean remote from the Telstra TV 2, you’ll find the bare essentials, but despite the minimal amount of buttons, the control ring and center button works great to get around the interface.

I would have even liked to see a multi-touch gesture pad or something different here than simply offering control with an array of buttons that tries to be all things to all people.

I also see no option for a mobile app that actually could be perfect for a digital-first customer and sure they could ship the legacy remote for the boomers.

PRICE & AVAILABILITY

How much and when can you get one ?

The Foxtel iQ5 pricing is really quite affordable, which should be appealing to existing customers, even if you invested into the iQ4 box just a couple of years ago.

The iQ5 costs just A$99, and you’ll pay A$199 if you include the optional 1TB hard drive.

The great part about this cost is that for the consumer, there is no additional installation cost as you can set it up yourself if you use the internet option to connect. If for whatever reason you don’t have the broadband to support streaming content, the satellite is still an option.

Of course, you’ll also need a Foxtel subscription on top of this to get the most out of the hardware. For those who buy select packages, it is possible to make a favourites list of channels to avoid landing on channels you don’t pay for.

In terms of availability, Foxtel has said existing customers could get the iQ5 before the end of 2021, with new customers welcomed in early 2022. Currently, if you go to the Foxtel website, there’s very little reference to the iQ5 other than the support page, expect that to change early next year.

OVERALL

Final thoughts

What Foxtel has assembled here with the really fast, updated hardware, combined with a really solid software offering, makes the iQ5 an absolute no brainer.

I heavily suggest anyone with previous iQ boxes update and those who’ve experimented with the IP-only Foxtel Now, should consider migrating to the real Foxtel service, now IP-delivery is being treated as a first-class citizen.

Most households are likely to have at least one 4K TV by now and are likely hungry to get more 4K content on that display. I am excited to see 2 live 4K channels on the iQ5 and hopefully, we see an increase to this number over the coming years.

The iQ5 really is a brilliant set-top box, that feels like its designed for modern distribution while extending an olive branch to the legacy satellite option. Increasingly consumers will move to IP delivery for entertainment and we’ve seen gaming consoles go completely digital, so don’t be surprised if the iQ6 follows that trend.

I think Foxtel will find great success here with the reduced cost and time required for a traditional install, the new plug and play setup is a breeze and really should be welcomed by most.

With the hardware locked away, it should enable Foxtel to really expend most of their R&D on expanding their software experience. While already great, there’s likely more than can be done in terms of integrating with your smart home.

Overall, it really does feel like Foxtel has nailed it with the iQ5, great work.

9.6
Review: Foxtel iQ5
The Good
  • Design
  • 4K live broadcast
  • Connectivity (IP/Sat)
  • Easy setup
The Bad
  • Remote
  • Design
    9.8
  • Features
    9.6
  • Value
    9.3
Categories
EntertainmentGeneralHardwareReviews

Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021
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