Since it replaced Telstra’s old T-Box personal video recorder, the Telstra TV has evolved into one of Australia’s best streaming boxes featuring an onboard TV tuner, rivalled only by the slick Fetch TV Mighty and Mini. If you don’t care about the TV tuner then you’d want to weigh these up against the Apple TV 4K, NVIDIA Shield TV and Google’s Chromecast Ultra.
The digital TV tuner and Foxtel Now app were the biggest improvements with last year’s Telstra TV 2, which stacked up well against cheaper rival boxes like the Vodafone TV and Foxtel’s own disappointing streaming box.
This year, the Telstra TV3 seems to have more grunt under the bonnet, with the free-to-air channels launching much more quickly. There’s also a built-in buffer, so now you can pause and even rewind live free-to-air television. Such time-bending features are really handy if your after-dinner viewing is often interrupted by the pitter patter of tiny feet.
When you’re trailing the live broadcast you can fast-forward and rewind at up to 16x, but unsurprisingly there’s no 30-second ad skip button. You can’t actually record live broadcasts or pay TV, for that you should look to the Fetch TV Mighty or Foxtel’s iQ4.
Catch up is also embedded in the Telstra TV 3’s onscreen free-to-air guide (but not its Foxtel guide), so you can find the streaming version of what’s on right now and upcoming shows in the schedule.
When it comes to streaming services you’ve naturally got Netflix and Stan, both in 4K with HDR but not Dolby Vision. Alongside them you’ll find Foxtel Now, Kayo, Hayu, Telstra’s AFL and NRL apps, the five free-to-air catch up services, Telstra Box Office (formerly Bigpond Movies) and a collection of the usual suspects like YouTube and Vimeo.
Optus Sport is an obvious and understandable omission on Telstra’s box, plus Amazon Prime Video and 10 All Access also miss the cut.
Rather than forcing you to trawl through these apps, the slick Telstra TV home screen makes it easy to find something to watch. It breaks content into categories regardless of the source, so you’ll see SBS On Demand’s Counterpart, Foxtel Now’s True Detective and Bohemian Rhapsody from the Telstra rental store all listed side by side.
Under the bonnet the Telstra TV is a locked-down Roku box, which is frustrating if you’d prefer access to the full Roku app store. Thankfully Telstra has added a few more apps like Plex, which is great for streaming video around your home, plus the box can play video from a USB stick or microUSB card.
If you’d never make use of the Telstra TV 3’s free-to-air tuner, the most attractive new feature is the addition of a voice control button on the remote. Along with this, you can also boss the box around by talking to Google Assistant via a Google Home speaker.
Using the new built-in voice features, you can ask the Telstra TV 3 to change the channel or launch Netflix. These seem a bit pointless when you’re already holding the remote, especially as it has dedicated Netflix and Foxtel buttons.
Thankfully other commands are more useful, taking advantage of “universal” cross-platform search. For example “Play Star Trek Discovery” will launch Netflix and jump straight into the next episode. Meanwhile, “Play Star Trek” gives you a long list, showing all the services where for you can find all the different Star Trek content; for example Star Trek: Into Darkness is on Netflix and Foxtel Now, plus you can hire it from Telstra.
The voice recognition isn’t perfect. Ask for “Chris Pine” movies and it searches for “Pine” to finding the likes of Pineapple Express.
If you decide to abandon Telstra when the NBN arrives at your door, the Telstra TV 3 will work with other ISPs but you’ll lose the voice and free-to-air TV features. The free-to-air tuner will supposedly stop working completely, a jerk move which Telstra declines to fully explain.
So what’s the verdict?
It’s worth mentioning that much of this new functionality, like the free-to-air buffer, will come to last year’s Telstra TV 2 via a firmware update. You can also buy the Telstra TV 3’s remote separately and use its voice features with the old TV 2.
Assuming you don’t have a Telstra TV 2, and you’re happy to stick with Telstra, the TV 3 offers an easy way for your average Aussie lounge room to tap into a wide range of streaming services. Its menus are simple and intuitive, offering a fairly easy learning curve for beginners.
If you’re ready to give Telstra the flick, check out the Fetch TV Mini instead.
Even if you’d prefer something more advanced like the Apple TV 4K, NVIDIA Shield TV or Chromecast Ultra in your lounge room, the Telstra TV 3 might be a good option for your less-tech-savvy friends and relatives when you’re the one who ends up offering emergency over-the-phone tech support.
Adam Turner is an award-winning Australian technology journalist and co-host of weekly podcast Vertical Hold: Behind The Tech News.
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