Foxtel today launched its Android TV streaming device, the Foxtel Now Box. Formerly nicknamed “the puck” for its interesting shape, the device goes on sale this week direct from the Foxtel Now website, with retail sales to follow soon after.
First announced to the world at Foxtel’s event earlier this year where the company relaunched their streaming service as Foxtel Now, the Foxtel Now Box offers access to the company’s own on demand streaming content and live channels, but also features an antenna input so you can watch live TV in the same “Live TV” interface. As it’s an Android TV device, you can also access Android TV apps in the Google Play store and it functions as a 4K-capable Chromecast receiver.
Physically, the Foxtel Now Box is perhaps disappointingly not shaped like a box. It looks a little like the bottom half of a Google Home, cast all in black plastic. There’s a big flat button on top that wakes it or puts it in standby, just like the power button on your phone. A ring of LEDs in the base glow green when it’s on, and red when it’s in standby, and an array of ports and connectors (power, ethernet, USB, HDMI and antenna) lives at the rear. There’s a non slip rubber ring around the base to help it stay put wherever you place it in your AV setup.
Conversely, the remote control seems unlikely to win design awards. It’s a chunky affair but the directional input and Android navigation buttons are all present and give a satisfying click when pushed. There’s also a microphone on top for voice input. Like any Android TV device, you can take control using an app on your phone if you lose it.
The Foxtel Now Box runs Android TV (it’s on Android 7.0 Nougat), so like any other Android TV device it officially has access only to a Google-curated subset of apps in the Play Store and runs a “leanback” interface that offers access to all of Android’s features in a TV-remote-friendly interface. Unofficially, you can sideload apps if you can get the APK, but that doesn’t mean all your apps designed for touch input will work on a big-screen TV.
Foxtel’s device also has a customised launcher that’s designed to tie heavily into the content on offer from the Foxtel Now streaming service, including content recommendations and live streams of the channels permitted by your subscription directly on the home screen. While customised to focus on Foxtel Now, the launcher still offers the standard Android TV “app row” featuring the Play Store and most recently used apps.
It’s not surprising to see this amount of integration. In fact, you’ll need a Foxtel Now account – even if you don’t have an active subscription – to set it up out of the box.
On the app front, you’ll find apps for a number of Australian streaming services and broadcasters on the device. Foxtel called out ABC iView, Plus7 and TenPlay on the broadcaster side, while Stan was mentioned on the subscription video-on-demand front.
A Netflix-shaped elephant
There’s a glaring omission from the apps available on the device which caused a bit of a stir at the event. While it’s certified to run Android TV with access to the Android TV Play Store, you won’t find Netflix in there.
Foxtel seems to be laying the blame for this at Netflix’s feet, saying they’re happy to have the app on the Foxtel Now Box but that it’s Netflix’s responsibility to release the app. They also say the two companies are in discussions.
It’s unlikely that Foxtel is actually doing anything nefarious to break Netflix. Their device is based on the Technicolor “Skipper” which runs a Marvell processor, and it’s possible Netflix’s app doesn’t support this architecture.
Regardless of the reason, Netflix supports Chromecast so you should just be able to cast to the Foxtel Now Box from your phone or tablet while the two titans work it out. It might not be that simple though, as Netflix has been known to block “Chromecast Built In” devices from running their Chromecast Receiver app.
Foxtel has just become Android TV’s biggest proponent in Australia. If you’d asked us how likely this was a year ago we’d probably have laughed on your face and walked away.
The price point is about right for a streaming box, and the devices Android TV nature with access to the Play store should play in its favour. It also makes the Chromecast Ultra redundant by coming in at the same price and also offering its built-in 4K Chromecast streaming.
The lack of Netflix seems likely to turn off potential customers and is hopefully something Foxtel will be looking remedy sooner, rather than later.
If Foxtel gets its eventual retail presence right, this will be Australia’s first mass-market Android TV device and it will hopefully finally drive adoption of the platform here.
Will you be looking to add a Foxtel Nox Box to your home AV setup? We’ve got a device on the Ausdroid test bench, so if you have any questions ask away!