I still remember the joy of signing up to Foxtel when I was a teenager (or rather, when my parents signed up). Movies, cartoons, kids shows, music and news on demand was the promise, and for the monthly fee, not only did you get all that, but no ads.
Fast forward 20 odd years, and Pay TV’s premise is a little shaky; not only is it more expensive than keeping a couple of streaming services handy, but it really doesn’t have a unique selling point anymore. For starters, Pay TV in 2021 is far from the ad-free experience – in fact, there might be as many ads as free to air TV on some channels. Want to watch a heap of movies, cartoons, music and more? Sign up to a few streaming services and they’ve got you covered.
Until recently, to compete against this, Foxtel all but required you to maintain a “legacy” connection to its service, either with a satellite dish so you could receive TV that way, or in some areas, a HFC cable connection. Either way, this requirement often put Foxtel out of reach for many households – tenants often couldn’t get permission to get a dish installed, and there’s plenty of places where you can’t really get a dish anyway (tried installing a dish in an apartment? Doesn’t work so well).
Foxtel’s iQ5 streaming box brings the service kicking and screaming into the 21st century, eschewing the requirement for a satellite dish or a cable connection for simple streaming over the internet, but is it enough to compete these days? Let’s see.
What is Foxtel’s iQ5?
For $199, you get a two-part ensemble of a streaming box and a hard drive which plugs into your TV and uses your home internet (WiFi or wired, up to you) to deliver you Foxtel’s content. That content comes at a price though – starting at $49 a month (or around 3 decent streaming services) and all the way up to $139 for everything.
The fairly innocuous black box is much smaller than previous Foxtel boxes, and arguably better designed. The user interface hasn’t changed all that much from previous generations (it’s near identical to the IQ4 and Foxtel Now streaming box), but unlike the latter, it does combine streaming with recording, so you can record your shows when you like and watch them some other time … but you could just stream them later, making the recording function a bit .. odd.
Setting up the iQ5 is easy; you don’t need a technician to visit, lengths of unsightly coax, or anything much beyond a power point and an HDMI cable. Plug it in to power and your TV and – optionally – a satellite socket if you already have one, and simply follow the prompts to set up your account, your internet connection and your preferences.
Foxtel’s iQ5 is entirely a self-install product, and the setup is easy enough that your mum or dad could easily have a go. It doesn’t require lightning fast internet, either – Foxtel advises that a 25mbps internet connection should be sufficient to stream a 4K program. You might want a faster connection if you’re to use iQ5 to its full potential, as it can record two Foxtel programs and one free to air channel at once, while watching a fourth.
If you do have satellite installed already, then there’s an added bonus – Foxtel broadcasts free to air TV over its satellite signal, so if (like me) you don’t have an actual TV antenna anymore, you can still get FTA over satellite. Without, though, there’s no FTA available unless you hook an antenna connection up.
|Price||$199 with HDD, or $99 without (available next year).|
|Subscription Options||$49 to $139|
|Resolution||Up to 4K, depending on subscription options|
|Recording||2 Pay TV and 1 FTA channel simultaneously|
|Storage||1TB (detachable HDD)|
|Requires||Broadband internet (Pay TV) or Satellite (Pay TV and FTA). If you don’t have satellite, you can plug in an antenna for FTA.|
|Connectivity||WiFi (2.4Ghz or 5Ghz supported) or Gigabit Ethernet|
|A/V connectors||HDMI (preferred), S/PDIF optical digital|
Foxtel iQ5 Features
Probably the main thing about any Foxtel service is the content options, and there’s a lot.
Starting at $49 a month, you get 50 odd channels of entertainment, drama, lifestyle, documentaries, reality TV and more. This will get you a lot of what’s available on Foxtel, with a couple of notable exceptions – movies aren’t included, and nor is sport.
There are some various special offers too:
- $54 a month gets you Movies HD, which is basically a $5 bolt-on to the base package. Not only do you get the movie channels (which broadcast a range of movies on a set schedule), but you can stream more than 1,000 movies on demand, too.
- $59 a month gets you the base package with Sports HD – if you don’t watch a lot of movies, but prefer live sports, this is your best bet (though, unfortunately, Foxtel lost the A League rights).
- $84 a month gets you the Premium package which contains nearly everything – base package, sports, movies and kids channels.
- $99 a month (on special at the moment, down from $139) gets you everything – movies, sports, kids, crime, history and home shows, and multi-screen (so you can watch Foxtel in another room via the app / Casting). As an added bonus, it comes with Netflix included, too.
It’s not just about the content though. Foxtel’s iQ5 does let you record content but .. I find myself wondering in 2021 who’d actually use this feature given you can stream whatever you want whenever you want. Say there’s a movie starting at 8.30p but you won’t be home until after 9 … no need to record it, when you can just jump on when you get home, hit the “play from start” button, and watch it.
Streaming something to record it now, only to watch it later, seems a little unnecessary to me unless you’re recording something off FTA TV which mightn’t make it onto the catch-up apps.
Foxtel’s iQ5 also includes a heap of apps and services from others – there’s already Netflix, ABC iView, SBS On Demand and YouTube integrated into the user interface, and there’s plans to bring Amazon Prime, Vevo and others too. There are notable exceptions, though – there’s no plans to bring Disney, Stan, Paramount+ or others.
This brings an interesting point; while Foxtel includes all these extra features, there’s a good chance you may already have them. Most Smart TVs already have these apps built in, so one wonders why you’d want to use them on Foxtel instead of just through your TV, especially when the native apps might actually have better features (e.g. native HDR and Dolby Vision, which Foxtel can but as yet does not support).
In our place, we’ve really not used the Foxtel iQ5 to watch anything other than Foxtel, because we’ve got Netflix, Amazon Prime and such set up on our Smart TV already and the interface is a little easier to use.
That said, there’s much to be said for putting everything in the one place, and if that means – as it might for you – that you can use literally one remote for everything, that’s probably not a bad idea.
Should you buy a Foxtel iQ5 and subscription, though?
Foxtel’s problem isn’t – and hasn’t been for a long time, if ever – the quality of the hardware. The Foxtel iQ5 streaming box is a pleasing mix of design and function, and the Foxtel remote has long been a powerful way to interact with your TV.
The issue, rather, is whether Foxtel’s subscription fees are value for money. At $49 a month for a basic service, many people may find that some combination of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ or Stan offer better value. It depends almost entirely on what you enjoy watching.
Foxtel has some exclusives, such as HBO and a swathe of live sport broadcast rights, but if your sport isn’t included, and if HBO doesn’t mean much to you, then Foxtel’s draw is significantly reduced. In our household for example, we watch A League Mens and Womens, and Foxtel doesn’t have the rights to either. We tend to watch a lot of old TV programs, which we stream from a home media server. The kids watch a lot of Netflix and Prime content, but they don’t need Foxtel to do that.
For us, then, Foxtel doesn’t make a lot of sense – I’m not sure we’d get the value from the packages on offer. We just don’t watch that much TV (though the last few months of working and schooling from home have shifted that balance a little).
However, if you do watch a lot of TV (or you’d like to), Foxtel is a great way to do it. If there’s something in particular you want to watch, you can “search it up” and watch it. If you don’t know what you’d like to watch but just want to watch something, there’s almost always something moderately entertaining on.
Foxtel has allowed Ausdroid to retain the Foxtel iQ5 with a time-limited service preview for a few months.