We go hands on with the Telstra TV streaming media player

Those who want to get the new wave of streaming services onto their televisions have quite a few options these days. But most of them are pretty expensive. If you’re a gamer, you likely already have the capabilities through your Xbox or Playstation. But these are $400+ units. You’re unlikely going to get your hands on one if you’re not a gamer. Apple offer the best product on the Australian market for those who are looking to bring their digital experience onto their TV. But with devices starting from $269, they aren’t cheap – and most average users probably aren’t going to take advantage of the bits and bobs built into the unit that make it the price it is.

Google’s Chromecast has been the most affordable option for some time now. At just $49 it’s unbeatable in terms of value – but there are limitations in what you can watch through the service and it doesn’t come with a remote.

Telstra entered the Australian market earlier this year, offering a $109 option in their Telstra TV unit, which comes with a remote and more options than the Google alternative. And it’s pretty easy to use, too, thanks to the fact that the Telco have basically repackaged the US Roku 2 with their own branding. Why start from scratch when you can utilise a system that has already gone through the necessary R&D?

Compared to the Roku device, really the only difference is that a) we’re more restricted in terms of what we can access through the service (no surprises there) and b) you need to be a Telstra Bigpond customer to access to service in the first place. High end Bigpond plans offer the device for free, with Bigpond Movies and Presto offered unmetered. That is, any usage of those particular services will not count towards your downloads. A 3 month subscription of Presto is included to get you moving, as well as a one month trial offer for Netflix and Stan and a $15 voucher to rent movies through Bigpond Movies (only available to customers who set their systems up before Christmas).

Assuming you have the Bigpond account, it’s relatively easy to set the system up, and as of December 15th there are a wide range of apps available. ABC iView and NBA were just added to the service, and Stan was made available a little over a month ago. At least 9 apps come built into the device, and others can be downloaded – such as Vimeo, TuneIn, GoPro & Crunchyroll – with more compatible apps added regularly.

The remote is a compact plastic unit, featuring cursor buttons that control the movement on screen. It’s pretty straight forward. Onboard storage is only 256MB, but USB 2.0 and MicroSD ports will expand it. There’s Ethernet and wireless connectivity, support for Dolby Digital 7.1 sound and 1080p video, as well as a power and a HDMI 1.4 port.

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The menu is slick and fast, using Roku’s latest technology. Most apps – including Netflix and YouTube – are fast to navigate, and the menu in each app is easy to use with the included remote. We had no problems streaming through the NBN fibre.

There are some limitations. For starters, you don’t get access to Roku’s US app store, which has a very extensive library of apps. Your limited by what Telstra has permitted compatibility with. Being the Roku 2 model, it also misses out on the Roku 3 functionality – e.g. no headphone jack on the remote.

All in all though, it’s a solid streaming box for beginners and customers who want a no hassle experience. Power users may be disappointed as it needs more apps – but it’s early days and more are coming out regularly. Power users will probably have already looked elsewhere anyway – whether to a console like a Sony Playstation, or the more expensive Apple TV.

But those who are looking for an affordable entry level streaming service, and happen to be Bigpond customers, should definitely consider getting their hands on the device. Those who aren’t Bigpond customers can look at Google’s Chromecast, for an affordable alternative, but know that the Telstra TV service is superior to its cheaper rival.

No doubt more apps and less limitations will follow, to improve on its service and make it more competitive with the more expensive options of the market.

For more details head to http://www.telstra.com.au/TelstraTV

Telstra provided the Telstra TV unit for review. Article by Larry Heath and Johnny Au. Photos by Johnny Au.