Having tried its hand at a number of different streaming apps in the past, it seems that Foxtel has finally found its groove with Foxtel Now – easily the most approachable on-demand service the Australian pay TV company has launched to date.
In what is definitely a good sign for the future of the service, Foxtel has committed even further to its ongoing success with the arrival of the Foxtel Now Box, a physical streaming device that provides users with the cheapest and easiest way to access Foxtel Now on a TV to date.
The prospect of a 4K-capable streaming box that costs less than $100 and also provides access to a number of other Australian services is pretty tempting, but how does it perform, and is it worth the money if you already have a recent gaming console?
Shipping in a cube-shaped box, the Foxtel Now Box makes an immediate impression as soon as you flip the package's lid open to reveal the unit sitting comfortably inside.
Though the device is sitting in a small ditch, it's only around a centimetre deep, meaning that what you see when you open the box is how it will look when sitting on your shelf or entertainment cabinet.
The device itself is small (104 x 83 x 72mm), light (0.270kg), cylindrical and feels sturdy, thanks to most of its weight being found in its base.
Clicking in the front part of the unit's topside will turn the Box on, and that's about it when it comes to moving parts.
The unit has a matte black finish, with glossy rings at the top and bottom of the device giving it a bit of pizzazz. You'll find the dots from the Foxtel Now logo embossed on the unit's face – depending on the lighting in your room, you might not even see them.
Around the back of the device there's a number of inputs, one of which is not commonly found on media boxes. We're talking, of course, about the Foxtel Now Box's RF-connector port, which allows you to plug an antenna cable in and use the device to watch free-to-air television via a built-in digital TV tuner.
Power is supplied to the unit's standard 12V DC socket (and there's an adapter included in the box), and if you don't have decent Wi-Fi to connect to, it's also got an Ethernet networking port.
Video and audio output is handled through the device's HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2 port (cable also included), and if you need optical audio out, S/PDIF is also available. Finally, the Foxtel Now Box also has a USB 3.0 port, allowing you to plug in a FAT32-formatted hard drive (we had no such luck with other filesystems like exFAT or NTFS) and play local media.
On the side of the unit, you'll also find a microSD slot, giving you some extra space for apps should you fill up the 8GB of internal storage that's already provided.
Interface and performance
Once you've gone through a relatively brisk setup process that involves pairing the device's remote via Bluetooth for improved accuracy, logging into the Foxtel Now service and linking your Google account (which is necessary for downloading additional apps from the Google Play Store), the Box will boot directly into the Foxtel Now homepage.
This was a bit surprising, as we were expecting to be greeted with the familiar Android TV interface that the Foxtel Now Box runs on. Admittedly, we spent a few minutes trying to get to the Android TV home screen before realising that was impossible.
Instead, the Box has devoted an entire row to installed apps on the Foxtel Now home screen. It's a little strange, seeing apps like YouTube and Stan mixed in with the likes of Keeping up with the Kardashians and The Walking Dead, but you can't fault Foxtel for wanting to make its streaming service the centre of the Box experience.
We have to wonder whether it would've been better to have Apps moved to its own tab on the home screen, alongside other tabs like Live TV, On Demand and Kids. At the moment, it's placed amongst Foxtel's content as if it were a genre, which may be easy to lose track of.
Elsewhere, the interface appears just as it does on the standard Foxtel Now app, with shows and movies laid out in horizontally-scrolling tiles. This'll be familiar to anyone that's used other streaming services.
The Live TV tab lets you watch, you guessed it, live TV, with the ability to scroll through the various Foxtel and free-to-air channels (provided you have an antenna plugged in) that are available to you. Switching is instantaneous and content is generally delivered in HD, depending on the show's source material.
In fact, the Foxtel Now Box feels snappy at all times. The home screen boots up almost instantly as soon as the unit is switched on, and browsing in general feels smooth all round. Installed apps also boot up fast, too – we were able to watch HD content from a USB-connected hard drive through VLC with very little trouble.
As we mentioned in our in depth Foxtel Now review, there's just no beating the service when it comes to the sheer breadth of its content... provided you've signed up to multiple content packages, which often comes at great expense.
Kids have a wealth of content available to them thanks to Foxtel's partnerships with Disney and Nickelodeon. Reality TV fans will find that the selection on Foxtel Now rivals the likes of dedicated services like Hayu. And, when you take into account the live TV aspect of Foxtel Now, its sports content is absolutely unbeatable.
Fans of premium television will also be astonished by the amount of content at their fingertips, especially HBO shows like Game of Thrones, Westworld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Admittedly, the service had a rough launch when it came to the delivery of its fast-tracked Game of Thrones episodes, though this has improved somewhat since then. Let's hope Foxtel and HBO have everything in order when the show returns for its final season.
As for films, the On Demand section of the app houses a large number of fairly recent movies, as well as a selection of older classics.
But that's just the Foxtel content. A number of apps come pre-installed on the device, including YouTube, catchup services like ABC iview and Tenplay, and even the Foxtel Now competitor, Stan.
We have to admit, we were disappointed to find the the Foxtel Now Box lacked a native Netflix app (according to Foxtel CEO Peter Tonagh, it was Netflix's decision to not be included), though you can still use the device's built-in Chromecast Ultra functionality to stream the service in 4K directly to your television – presuming it doesn't already have its own dedicated Netflix app.
Sadly, the same can't be said for Amazon Prime Video, which is not available on the Foxtel Now Box in any form.
Likewise, the YouTube and Stan apps can also be streamed in 4K (and at 60fps, in the case of the former). The ability to install Plex means you can also stream content to your television from a server, and while you can find Kodi in the Google Play Store, you won't be able to download it.
The Foxtel Now Box is a snappy streaming media box that does exactly what you'd expect it to do. Easily the most direct way to access Foxtel Now for those who don't own a PS4, it's hard to argue with the device's extremely low $99 price point – especially when you consider that it offers access to live TV and full Chromecast Ultra functionality.
If you've always wanted to get Foxtel but without the installation and contract hurdles that usually entails, the Foxtel Now Box is a terrific alternative.
While it's incredibly easily to get started on Foxtel Now, it'll start to cost you if you want anything more than the basic starter packages.
It's also a shame that there's no native app for Netflix and that Amazon Prime Video is not available in any form.
The location of our installed Android TV apps also wasn't immediately apparent. We'd have preferred a dedicated Apps tab on the front page, rather than having them mixed in with Foxtel Now's other content.
When it comes to value for money, the Foxtel Now Box is a terrific streaming product. When you combine all of the functionality it does provide, including access to live TV and full Chromecast Ultra functionality, it's easy to overlook the services that are missing from the overall package.
If you've been looking to sign up to Foxtel Now but don't already have a device that will let you access it, the Foxtel Now Box is an affordable solution that doesn't sacrifice on quality.