Telstra TV 3 (Roku Powered)
- Smooth Interface
- Great for streaming
- Most major streaming services supported
- Clever search features
- Easy to use remote
- Issues with wireless connection
- Occasionally freezes
- Poor battery life for remote
- Occasional live TV quality issues
The humble television has come a long way from when I was a kid. We could get about four channels on our old set (SBS? Forget about it), although that didn’t really matter because only the mighty ABC was parent-approved viewing. Skip forward to 2020 and even the cheapest sets on offer are packed full of features and goodies to try and entice the prospective buyer. The label smart is almost ubiquitous. But is that a good thing?
Smart televisions sound like a great idea and, if I’m honest, I’ve coveted them since I first heard about them. But when we take a step back and look objectively at what we really want from a television, are they the best way?
A Brief History of My Television Ownership
I know this isn’t what you came for, and I promise that soon I will get to the point, which is the review of the Telstra TV 3. But before we get there, I want to paint a picture of why I see great value in such boxes. If you really don’t care for this old-man ramble, scroll down to the next section now.
One of my first purchases of my “adult” life was a 68cm Palsonic television (that’s not a typo). I was working full-time and had just moved out of home, and so naturally I figured that the smartest thing to do with my money was to purchase the largest television that I could find for the cheapest price. It was huge and amazing. I loved it.
I had that television for about ten years. During that time, Sydney’s free-to-air broadcasts changed from analogue to digital. That didn’t necessitate the purchase of a new television, merely the much cheaper purchase of a set top box.
Finally the mighty Palsonic began to reach the end of its useful life, just as large, good quality LED screens became affordable. I picked up a 40 inch Sharp on sale, with the added bonus of a free PVR. It was a glorious combination, the full HD picture quality and size was a huge step up, and the ability to record all of my favourite shows without the clunky use of a VCR was a game-changer.
PVRs came and went, but still the Sharp hung on my wall. In fact, it still hangs there today, nearly ten years later. My point is that a good quality screen should last a long time, yet the real danger of modern, so-called smart televisions is that they come with a ticking timebomb of obsolescence. A quality television is a significant investment of hard-earned cash into your viewing pleasure, it should not come with a nagging feeling that a manufacturer’s decision to end its support might render it less usable. 2020 is looking ripe for the purchase of a 65 inch 4K television, but I’d want to be able to get the usual ten years of use out of it!
That is where a product like the Telstra TV 3 fits in… (you see, there was a point to my old-man ramble).
Telstra TV 3 (Roku Powered)
I look at the Telstra TV 3 as the evolution of the set top box that I first attached to my Palsonic, all those years ago. In fact, if I really think about it, its roots extend to the humble VCR (for those old enough to remember such devices). These add-on boxes were all about expanding the possibility of the television. Each one seemed magical in its day as they enhanced the functionality of the television in their own unique ways.
The Telstra TV 3 brings any television right into 2020, with streaming the aim of the game. The box comes with several applications pre-installed, but there is a wide range of downloadable apps to suit most people’s needs. It should be noted that the custom Telstra firmware supports less apps than a stand-alone Roku box (the platform on which the Telstra TV is based), but I can’t see that being a major issue for the average consumer.
The Telstra TV 3 has apps for all of the major free-to-air broadcaster catch-up services. ABC iView, 7Plus, Tenplay, SBS on demand and 9 Now are all available. Most of these require you to link the Telstra TV app to an active account before being able to access their content, but that procedure is fairly straightforward.
The Telstra TV 3 also supports apps from most of the major Australian subscription television services, including Foxtel Now, Netflix, Stan and Amazon Prime Video. At the time of writing there is no Disney Plus app, although this may be available in the future.
Sport is covered primarily through the subscription service, Kayo, although there are apps for AFL, Redbull TV, Netball, NRL, NBA and UFC. The usefulness of these apps vary, and may require subscriptions to access content.
Other content can be accessed through music apps such as Spotify, iHeartRadio and Tunein, and media through YouTube and Vimeo. The Plex app takes care of accessing your precious home movies and personal media library, if you have set up a Plex server.
The final application of note is Telstra TV Box Office. Through this app you can rent or purchase a range of new release movies. The range is reasonable, with many of the latest release films appearing quickly and the list being updated regularly. Movies can be hired in HD or standard definition, with a small price difference. I probably wouldn’t have bothered with exploring this, except Telstra was running a promotion of $120 included rentals through Telstra TV Box Office, so naturally I took advantage of that. Telstra’s promotions vary, so check what is available to you before purchasing.
One of the frustrations people often express with Telstra TV is the locked-down nature of the device. While the stand-alone, American version of the Roku has access to over 1800 channels (including Disney Plus), The Telstra offering is substantially limited. As I said earlier, for the average consumer that won’t matter a whole lot. The major players are all there, or will most-likely eventually be there. Apps like Spotify, Amazon Prime and even Tenplay were all late to the Telstra TV party, but they are here now. I’m sure it can be frustrating waiting for something like Disney Plus to arrive, though.
Ease of Use
The Telstra TV 3 is an easy device to use as part of your everyday setup. In fact, I find it so easy to use that it is just about the only way I access content. My PVR is long gone, my Blu-ray player is gathering dust and my television doesn’t even have an aerial connected directly to it. Everything goes through the Telstra TV.
The arrival of the Telstra TV has also changed the way we tend to access content. Before we had the streaming device, we would either watch television live or record our favourite shows on the PVR to watch later.
Now, we primarily stream content. This doesn’t mean forking out large amounts of money for subscription services – as light consumers of content we haven’t bothered with that yet. We predominantly stream through the excellent ABC iView app (once an ABC boy, always an ABC boy), which is packed full of excellent content. This is supplemented by the harder-to-navigate, but still full of great content SBS app. Rarely, we browse the commercial catch-up applications for something different to watch.
There are many big advantages of using free-to-air catch-up services over a PVR. Firstly, the PVR would inevitably run out of space on the hard drive. It would also sometimes fail to record, or the timing would be off if the broadcast programming had changed at the last minute. There’s nothing worse than missing the final ten minutes of a show! Also, the catch-up apps allow us to browse and check out different content that we may not have decided to record on the PVR. There is rarely a time when I cannot find something interesting to watch.
Telstra TV Box Office is convenient for the rare occasions Emma and I have enough energy left to sit through a full movie. The selection is reasonable and we can usually find an option we both agree on. If we watched movies more regularly, it would possibly be prudent to invest in something like a Netflix subscription, but for occasional use the Box Office works fine.
Navigating the Telstra TV 3 is easy enough. There is a main page, the format of which changes from time-to-time. Generally speaking, it highlights content from various apps, whether you subscribe to them or not.
Next is Live TV. It usually takes a few seconds to launch (and sometimes freezes), but once it is up-and-running it is easy to navigate and use. There is the ability to pause and rewind live television, which is handy, but not as useful as it is on a PVR with multiple channel recording. I miss the greater functionality of the PVR the most during live football games. I would set the game to start recording while I put the children to bed, then catch up to the live broadcast by fast-forwarding through the advertisements. While I miss that functionality, it is not enough to make me dust off the PVR and clutter up my entertainment unit again.
One of the great features of live tv is the ability to search for similar shows on catch-up channels. If I happen to be browsing live TV and find a new show that I like, I can click on a menu and find more episodes of that program, if they are available on a catch-up service. It’s little surprises like this that show the Telstra TV is a device designed with the consumer in mind.
The search function on the Telstra TV is particularly useful. Type in the name of a show you want to watch and it will return all the results that it can find, across all of the streaming services. It saves you having to delve into each app when you can’t remember where to find a show. The downside is that the search returns results for services to which you may not be subscribed. It can be frustrating to have a show tantalisingly dangled just out of reach. Still, it is nice to know which subscription services carry the shows I like to watch, if I ever decide to go down that path.
The final page of note has all of the downloaded apps on display. You can enter each one and browse for something to watch. The apps vary in ease of use. I find the ABC iView app very easy to navigate, but the SBS on demand app can be very frustrating.
The Roku remote bundled with the Telstra TV 3 is (physically) a thing of beauty. Its small size and minimalist design worried me at first, but it quickly became apparent that it is able to do everything it needs to do. It was even easy to pair with my television, so that the single press of a button starts both devices.
There are, however, two things I don’t like about the remote. Firstly, the inclusion of voice search. A small microphone is built into the remote, to assist with easier searching. I have rarely been able to get it to function properly and I dislike the inclusion of microphones in devices that I cannot physically mute.
The other thing that I dislike is the battery life. The remote seems to chew through batteries at a rate that I am uncomfortable with. As the battery degrades, the remote seems to become less responsive, so the Telstra Box quickly feels sluggish. So, despite my admiration for the design, I have abandoned the included remote in favour of the brilliant Harmony Elite remote. It pairs beautifully with the Telstra TV 3, retaining all of the functionality. The Telstra TV is also very responsive to presses of buttons on the Harmony remote – I rarely feel like it is sluggish.
The Telstra TV 3 may well be an integral part of my home entertainment setup, but it is not without its frustrations. My biggest peeve with the device is its tendency to drop the Wi-Fi connection when it first wakes from sleep. It is extremely frustrating and it happens once every few days. The fix is easy enough – just follow the prompts to re-establish the connection again, but it is annoying and shouldn’t need to happen.
Another minor issue (that occurs far less frequently) is the occasional freezing. When this happens the device needs to be reset by either removing the power for a period of time, or pressing the small reset button on the base of the unit. This one doesn’t bother me too much as it doesn’t happen so often, and it’s a reasonably easy problem to resolve. If I’m honest, I can’t remember the last time I had an add-on device for my television that didn’t periodically freeze (probably my VCR). It is a minor annoyance, but not one that has me running to the shops to purchase a replacement device.
My final minor issue is that fast-paced live TV (like football games) feels a little jerky to watch. Even on the HD channels, I often notice it. Again, it’s not a huge deal and not enough to make me change my setup, but it is a minor annoyance that I do notice from time-to-time.
The Telstra TV 3 is a worthwhile addition to a home entertainment system, especially where there is not already “smarts” built into the television (or where the “smarts” have become obsolete). It is particularly attractive for Telstra customers, who may be able to get a better deal on it as part of an NBN contract. It does have its quirks, and it’s not as open or customisable as some similar devices, but for most people it will do a pretty good job of doing what they want it to do.