Starting in January, BT will be upgrading its BT TV YouView box with a free software update. It brings with it a fresh user interface with a completely revamped look, and more new features than you can shake a remote control at.
We nipped down to the BT Tower in central London to have a play a month ahead of its release. Here's what we think.
From the second you start it up, the difference from the existing BT YouView box is striking. BT has gone for much more visual menus, with big, bright images. It's a lot more appealing than the interface of old.
"We've revolutionised the visual design and the user experience," David Kelly, general manager, BT Sport and product innovation, told us in a briefing. "We want to bring content to the front of the interface."
Rather than be thrown right into the seven-day electronic programme guide (EPG) when you start it up, the box defaults to live TV with shortcuts to public service broadcasting channels along the bottom bar. There's BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, in that order.
That's because these are what BT's customers watch most, according to Kelly.
These are joined by a promotional tile for BT. This will change depending on the day. Our demo took place on the day of Champions League matches, so the tile was BT Sport 1.
But it could be AMC if BT was promoting a new series of 'Fear the Walking Dead', for example.
This will be controlled by BT, so you can't choose which channel goes there. But it's a handy way to find what's new without going trawling through menus.
The shortcut bar remains throughout the key categories, with the same layout, so it'll always be familiar.
Key partner apps like Netflix have also been pushed up to the front of the user interface.
You can jump into the full-screen EPG if you like, which has also been redesigned.
Instead of offering a small picture of the live channel, so you can still watch while you search for something else, BT has made the guide transparent, with the result that the channel continues playing behind the EPG.
It's a very effective technique, and for our money, it beats squinting at a tiny thumbnail to see what's going on.
The channel's audio continues playing while this feature is activated.
As with the current YouView software, you can scroll backwards to find catch-up and on-demand shows to watch without delving into the relevant channel app.
The upshot is that you won't have to open BBC iPlayer to watch 'MasterChef: The Professionals', for example. Just scroll back in time in the EPG and select it.
This is the section that aggregates all of the viewer's recordings. It too uses the shortcuts bar.
"Rather than throw the viewer straight into the recordings list, we've again created key shortcuts to content that you've already recorded," said Kelly.
All your recently recorded programmes appear in the shortcuts bar, ready to be watched. Or you can see a full list of recordings by jumping into the full section.
Multiple episodes of the same show are grouped together. There's a scheduled tab too, for upcoming shows you've marked to record.
"This is where we've made huge changes," said Kelly. It works on the same principle as the other sections, with the shortcut bar at the bottom of the screen containing key content.
Again, BT chooses which content to promote here. It could be free, pay-per-view or subscription – whichever is "most compelling", according to Kelly.
These can change at multiple points during the day. As and when new content surfaces, BT will rejig the shortcut bar to promote it.
The full BT Player section has a completely new visual design. It's where all of the on-demand content, boxsets and pay-per-view content lives. All of it is presented in genres, with a hero image for a promoted show.
The Highlights section is personalised to the viewer. This includes content carousels of things you've started watching and can continue with, as well as content you've favourited.
BT can also create editorial highlights, either using user viewing behaviour to recommend shows based on your viewing habits, or using the always-on scheduling system.
"'Breaking Bad' is a good example of a brand roll-up that we've done," Kelly said. Select it, and you'll see all the seasons available to watch in the same place.
You can then choose to watch individual episodes or buy the entire series in either standard or high definition.
Once an episode nears its end, the option to watch the next episode with one click pops up in the corner of the screen.
That way, you can carry on watching without going back to the menu. If you don't press anything, the next episode will automatically start after 30 seconds.
It's a neat feature, and very similar to one offered by Netflix and Sky Q.
Free For Me
If you want to see only content that you don't have to pay extra for, you can using the Free For Me feature. Just press the green button, and all the pay content is filtered out. That means you won't find something to watch only to be disappointed that you have to pay.
It's a great idea, and something we could see come to other services. On Amazon Prime Video, for example, it's not always clear what content you have to pay extra for.
BT TV App
This will share all your favourites and continue watching lists, so you can access them from your phone or tablet. Update either list on your BT TV box, and it'll update in the app, too.
"Anything that I do on the box will be reflected on the app," said Kelly. "And anything I do on the app will be reflected on the box. So you create single listings across both environments."
The update will arrive over the air in January, so just leave your box connected and it'll update itself overnight. The app will rollout after the update, most probably around the middle of next year.
We also experienced Dolby Atmos, the new sound technology that will come as part of BT Sport's 4K UHD packages.
Rather than constraining sounds to channels, it lets them exist as individual entities. This makes for a more free-flowing sound, and adds the sensation of height, making the experience more immersive.
In our demo, Dolby Atmos made quite a difference. Compared to the standard audio, it was a lot richer and sounded like the football crowd was actually standing around us.
On 31st January next year, Liverpool vs Chelsea will be the first football match broadcast live in 4K with Dolby Atmos.
"This is phase one of what we see as a long-term relationship between Dolby and BT," said Rob France, senior product marketing manager at Dolby.
In order to feel the benefit of Dolby Atmos, you will need compatible kit, however. You can find a list of compatible speakers, channel receivers and soundbars here.
The update looks like a winner. It's not as advanced as Sky Q, but if you're on a budget, it provides plenty of reasons to opt for a BT TV YouView box.
We'll be spending more time with the Virgin TV V6 box later in the week, so stay tuned for a hands-on review.