Tech Talk: Watch this space

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AFTER months of delays, the next generation of Freeview box is finally rolling off the production line and arriving in lorries at your local Argos.

BBC, ITV and Channel 4 are among those behind the new subscription-free offering, which they call YouView. Its front man is Lord Sugar, who knows a thing or two about selling consumer electronics, and it’s being backed by a huge publicity campaign.

Based on such impressive credentials, you might be tempted to pop out and buy one today. But my advice is that at £300, this first generation of YouView boxes is overpriced and under-featured. Put your money away; you can thank me later.

YouView’s principal proposition is an electronic programme guide that scrolls backwards as well as forwards, meaning you can watch shows you’ve missed as well as those coming up. Playing an old show involves calling up the BBC iPlayer or its equivalents, but it’s all integrated into the same set of menus. You can also search for programmes by name and quickly find others in a series, and there’s a library of on-demand content from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 back catalogues.

The box connects to your aerial and your broadband network, but as there’s no wi-fi you will need to run a cable out to your router. If it’s in a different room, you’ll have to buy a pair of £35 Powerline adapters which connect the two via your mains sockets.

The YouView box can play and record in high definition, and the operators expect more content providers will join in over time. The first of these will be BT and TalkTalk, who will offer YouView as part of their broadband packages. They will most likely give the boxes away but charge a premium on their subscription fee.

But YouView still offers no YouTube, no internet and no facility to play media from elsewhere on your network – all of which you can do easily and for less money with the new set-top boxes from Google and others. Many TVs now come with the functionality built-in.

What’s more, Lord Sugar himself has acknowledged that YouView’s £300 asking price could fall to a third of that in a year or two. By that time, too, we will have a better idea of what additional content the service has been able to attract.