It's been on the market for more than 12 months but Foxtel's iQ2 digital video recorder (DVR) continues to become more useful, with Foxtel adding new HD channels to its arsenal. A bigger hard drive, a sleeker look and feel and the ability to access HD content make this a much better proposition than the original iQ.
The Foxtel iQ2 DVR is much more stylish than its predecessor. Finished in glossy piano black, the iQ2 box is reasonably sized considering it packs in a hard drive and four digital tuners. The iQ2 is barely audible when in operation, though it is a little noisy when it's powering up. The buttons on the front are well laid out and the blue iQ indicator looks rather futuristic, though the flashing lights can get annoying when you're watching a recorded program.
The Foxtel iQ2 features HDMI, component, SCART, composite and S-video outputs, along with optical and digital audio. There are also eSATA, Ethernet and two USB ports, but none of them are usable yet. An eSATA port theoretically lets you connect a fast external hard drive, while the Ethernet port could give the iQ2 box broadband Internet access similar to TiVo.
The iQ2 remote remains very similar to the original Foxtel and Foxtel iQ remotes, except that it has a matching piano black finish. The glossy surface is surprisingly fingerprint resistant and its buttons are easy to press and well marked. We just wish the keys were backlit for night-time use.
The Foxtel iQ2 DVR has four built-in tuners, three to watch a program and record two others simultaneously, and the other for the "On Demand" service. The Foxtel iQ2 has a built-in 320GB hard drive, but there is no official way to upgrade it. If you are recording HD content this will quickly fill up, which is a real downside to the unit.
Foxtel is Australia's largest pay TV operator, and the wide range of content available is the iQ2's greatest strength. The iQ2 records all Foxtel channels you subscribe to and also has the ability to record free-to-air (FTA) channels. A selection of FTA HD channels (such as ONE HD) may not be available to some satellite iQ2 subscribers and cable subscribers in many rural or regional areas, but this problem is expected to be resolved in the near future.
The Foxtel iQ2 can record, pause and rewind live TV, access Foxtel's electronic programme guide (EPG) and remotely record your favourite television shows via a Web interface. Particularly useful is the "Series Link" function, which automatically records all episodes in a series. Unfortunately, not all programs are compatible with Series Link, including many HD and most FTA programmes. In addition, Foxtel iQ2 doesn't handle free-to-air broadcasts as efficiently as its own channels — when recording, we often missed the end of programs due to late start times.
Foxtel iQ2 users can also "rent" films using Box Office movies for $5.50 each. There is also "On Demand", a service that allows users to watch selected programs whenever they want. The service showcases a selection of Foxtel programs and makes them available to watch from the On Demand menu. On Demand content is updated every week on Monday and is ideal if you missed the chance to record or watch the broadcast the first time around. It is a free service for Foxtel subscribers, though Box Office HD On Demand movies cost $6 each.
Unlike the US TiVo system, Foxtel iQ2 doesn’t allow you to skip commercials and the EPG only runs for seven days, despite the online EPG running for up to 14 days. We also found the lack of a progress bar when watching a recorded show annoying, and would have appreciated a faster rewind/forward option than the maximum 30x speed.
In addition to the upgraded hard disk space, the main benefit of Foxtel iQ2 over the original iQ is Foxtel's HD channel packages. Taking advantage of the high-definition tuners and built-in HDMI output, HD content looks superb. Though not all programs are broadcast true high definition (a selection are upscaled from standard definition), those that are have superb image and sound quality. We were particularly impressed with Discovery HD and ESPN HD.
Though the Foxtel iQ2's EPG and interface aren't as easy to grasp as TiVo's, they're certainly not hard to use. You can choose from orange-and-white or blue-and-white colour schemes and we didn't experience any lag or other issues with the remote when operating the unit.
Foxtel charges a $200 upgrade fee for iQ2 if you are a current subscriber, and then an ongoing $10 per month on top of your regular Foxtel subscription for the iQ2 box. HD channel packages cost $16 per month. For full pricing details, see Foxtel's available packages.
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