When Foxtel launched their iQ4 box, it was pretty clear to many people that the new device had a lot more power under the hood than its familiar on-screen appearance suggested. Built with similar tech to the hugely popular iQ3 but capable of a lot more, the iQ4 has gotten a fresh software update that improves the box in many ways – and adds Netflix support in the process.
Upgraded iQ4 Review
This significant upgrade to the iQ4 started rolling out to customers in July, alongside a brand-new remote control that sports a very prominent new feature.
The New Foxtel Remote Control
Over the years, there have been several subtle improvements made to the familiar Foxtel remote control – such as the addition of a Bluetooth-only model for the iQ3 and iQ4, and new buttons being quietly added to enable additional features. But for the most part, the now-iconic Foxtel remote design has never significantly changed. Indeed, even the oldest Foxtel remote would still work on the latest iQ box if it was all you had around.
To accompany the new software update, though, the humble Foxtel remote is getting its most visible upgrade yet – something you’ll realise as soon as you lay eyes on it. While it retains the familiar Foxtel shape – and brings back the high-gloss finish that was dropped from the previous remote – it adds some significant new features, including a prominent group of four buttons just above the number keys. Three of them are red buttons that provide direct on-screen access to TV Shows, movies and sport (more on that in a moment). But the last one is something many never expected to see on the iQ box – a big red-and-white Netflix button. Yes, Netflix has come to the iQ4 with the new update, and getting to it will be as easy as just hitting a button on the new remote and streaming right there on the iQ4.
Alongside these new buttons, the layout’s gotten a much-needed clean-up – the play and pause buttons are just one button now, the coloured buttons are larger and easier to find – and best of all, it’s illuminated by a backlight that activates when you pick up the remote. The iQ4 will soon support voice commands via a button controlled microphone built into the new remote, bringing the platform in line with other devices like the Telstra TV 3 and the Apple TV. While you don’t need to get the remote to use the new Foxtel interface, it certainly makes for a smoother experience.
Oh, and one other change – this new remote works with both Bluetooth and infra-red, to improve responsiveness. How cool is that?
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What does the New Foxtel iQ4 Software Offer?
Your iQ4 will update itself to the latest software automatically overnight (if you happen to see its power LED light up amber, that’s the update in progress). Once you turn it on for the first time after the update, you’ll know things have changed.
For starters, the hard-to-read on-screen text has been replaced with a more modern font, and the interface feels faster and more responsive, though it’s only when you start pressing those familiar buttons that you begin to see the significant improvements that have been made.
Foxtel iQ4 Menu Changes
The iQ4 was built to be a broadband-connected device, and that’s emphasised more than ever now with the info screen that appears when you press the “i” button on the remote twice. If you’re on a movie channel, you’ll get a full-screen summary of the movie – run time, year of release, a description, and an interactive cast list. And from this screen – even while the movie is playing – you can choose to stream it, download it, or record it either now or in another time slot. There’s also an included selection of movie suggestions, both from the (former) FoxFlicks library and the Foxtel Store, making watching all the best movies and TV even easier from the comfort of your couch.
The cast list on the info screen, as mentioned, is interactive. Below each cast member, there’s a number that highlights other titles they are featured in that are available in the online library. This includes both “free” (included in your plan) and Foxtel Store titles. Though the latter isn’t clearly labelled yet since you don’t find out they’re pay-to-rent until you land on the actual movie page. It’s likely this is just a temporary glitch, as the Store designation appears everywhere else it applies.
This extended info display extends across all channels. If you’re watching AFL 360 on Fox Footy, for example, you have direct access to stream previous episodes in HD or set recordings for upcoming episodes, all from that one screen. Similarly, with a TV series – you’ll see a full episode list, past and future – from there, you can stream, download or even play your recordings if you have them. Everything comes together on the info screen seamlessly, and it’s exceptionally well done.
Netflix On the Foxtel iQ4
The big news, of course, is the addition of a Netflix app to the iQ4, and what that means for Foxtel subscriptions in the future. At the moment, subscribers to Foxtel’s top bundle plans – Platinum Plus, Sports HD and Movies HD – get a standard (HD) Netflix subscription included at no extra cost.
It will come as no surprise that Netflix on the iQ4 is identical in every way to Netflix on every other device – the “look and feel” of the app is integral to their brand – but how you launch it differs depending on whether or not you have the new remote control. With that in hand, just press the Netflix button and you’re good to go. But if you’re sticking with your existing remote, it’s just as simple. Look for the “Apps” button (that you never even noticed before) above the volume control, press it and select Netflix.
Stream Netflix in 4K Ultra HD
You sign in to the app as usual, which takes you out of the Foxtel iQ ecosystem until you’re done. On the iQ4, Netflix will stream up to 4K Ultra HD if you have that plan on your Netflix account (you can see the current streaming quality and bitrate by pressing the “i” button on the remote). However, though the new iQ4 hardware supports HDR (High Dynamic Range) video, the Netflix app currently doesn’t activate it. Hopefully, that’ll be added soon.
The integration of the Netflix app works exceptionally well, and the streaming quality is first-rate, providing a far better experience than many will get from the Netflix app that’s built into lower cost smart TVs, for example.
The New Foxtel iQ Menus
The final major component of the new software update is heavily focused on streaming – and integrating it into your day-to-day use of the iQ4. A press of the Home button will be a shock the first time you do it – the interface and everything in this section has been completely re-done. The Home screen presents some current highlighted programming in big graphical tiles across the top, and then all the shows you’re currently watching – recorded or streamed – are resumable from the list below.
Scroll further down, and you’ll see rows of recommendations based on what you watch and record, a selection of complete seasons to stream on-demand, and even a “New on Netflix” row. A significant surprise especially for those who never thought they’d see such a thing on Foxtel!
Across the top of this screen is a menu that lets you access everything in your iQ4 – the TV guide and your recordings library are also directly accessible via the buttons on old iQ remotes, while the new remote instead gives you direct access to the TV Shows, Movies and Sports sections.
New and Improved Library Hub
The TV Guide is unchanged, but the Library page is entirely new – and vastly improved. All your recordings are laid out clearly in an easy to read menu that provides an overview of each recording (including the number of episodes) and an always-visible hard disk capacity meter. You can playback recordings quickly and directly from this menu, but if you want the detailed info screen (as mentioned above) just highlight a recording and press “i” twice. There are new shortcuts too – recordings are sorted into categories now, with “all” as the default while TV shows, movies, sports and family/kids can be browsed separately. Your upcoming recordings live in this menu just like any other Foxtel Store rentals. You can go straight to any menu using the number keys – so for your movie recordings, just press the Guide button, then “3” on the remote’s number pad.
While playing a recording back, too, you can hit the “i” button – once to get a quick synopsis or twice to get a full-page series guide listing all episodes that also allows you to download or stream the ones you haven’t recorded. Brilliant.
New Foxtel Category Pages
As mentioned above, the new remote has three big red buttons for TV shows, movies and sports – and it’ll be no surprise that pressing any of those takes you straight to a dedicated page for your choice on the iQ4 (those using the older remote can simply press Home then use the direction buttons to navigate between categories).
Each page brings together broadcast and on-demand content in with the familiarity of FoxFlicks and Fox Showcase sections from the old iQ4 software. Fortunately, now that branding has been dropped, the coverage of each section has drastically improved.
Fox Minis for Sport
Sport, in particular, gets a much-needed facelift, with dedicated sub pages for AFL, League, Motorsport, Rugby and Cricket, and on-demand access to replays and shows, as well as something new – “Fox Minis” – condensed versions of matches similar to Kayo’s extremely popular Minis concept. You can also manage Team Link recordings from this page (it’s well-hidden enough that it took us a little while to actually realise that’s where they’ve put it!).
Aside from a dedicated category page for the kids, there’s also one for the Foxtel Store, where you can rent the latest movies (as well as classics not available for streaming on regular Foxtel) in HD or SD. New releases are usually $6.99 to rent, which is on par with other platforms such as Google Play and the iTunes Store.
Searching the Foxtel Library and Store
Of course, browsing suggestions and new releases is exciting and introduces you to new movies and shows, but what about when you want to watch something specific? In the past, you’ve had to head into the Movies menu, select a category and then spend ages scrolling through thumbnails to find what you want. Foxtel, well aware that this wasn’t fun in any way, has changed the way you seek out content on the iQ4. Now, the search page searches everything – and the upcoming voice search capability of the new remote comes into its own here. You’ll just press the voice button, speak the name of an actor, movie, or show and you’ll get an instant batch of results that you can select to begin streaming, downloading or to set a recording.
Without the new remote, you’ll have to use the direction keys to enter your search – but don’t worry, even this has been improved, with a much less infuriating on-screen keyboard and much faster (and more accurate) search results. Still, if you’re going to be doing a lot of searches, the new remote might be something worth considering.
Foxtel iQ4: The Pros and Cons
Summary: The New Foxtel Experience is Well Worth It
With all of these major user interface improvements arriving alongside new features, improved functionality and overall more fluid and responsive operation, this new Foxtel iQ4 experience is an absolute winner. Some who don’t take well to change might have to spend a bit of time coming to terms with the familiar remote being so different – but it’s worth getting accustomed to since everything the Foxtel software team has done here is an improvement. It makes the iQ4 even more of a pleasure to use than it already was, regardless of which remote control you’ve got.