When Foxtel launched their iQ3 box, it was an ambitious product that aimed to revolutionise the pay TV set-top box. Three years later, with the release of the iQ4, the revolution finally arrived!
Foxtel’s ubiquitous iQ3 box received its fair share of bouquets and brickbats over the four and a half years it’s been around. Many people immediately warmed to the more personal interface, which was a welcome change from the earlier iQ2’s “hotel movie channel chic” menu system. The generous 1000 GB hard drive allowed for recording of a week’s worth of HD channels, an important upgrade as more and more HD channels came online. Its plethora of tuners — a remarkable ten in the satellite version, including two for free-to-air TV — meant you could easily record multiple shows at once without regular viewing being interrupted or recordings clashing with one another.
But the Foxtel iQ3 set-top box wasn’t without its annoyances — not least being the simple fact that the underlying hardware, the micro-computer running the box, simply wasn’t powerful enough for the tasks being demanded of it. It did what any good DVR should do — prioritised recording and playback integrity at all costs, even if that meant slow, sluggish on-screen menus, and a user interface that occasionally made the simple act of browsing through available channels feel like an exercise in slow-motion.
iQ3 vs iQ4: Key differences
That wasn’t Foxtel’s fault, either — the iQ3 was a product of UK set-top box experts Pace, who presumably under-powered the box when it came to CPU power and memory. The result was like trying to run the latest MacOS on a 2009 MacBook — it works, but only slowly!
Pace is no longer around, having been absorbed by US company Arris just after the launch of the iQ3. And it was Arris that was tasked with delivering the long-rumoured update to the iQ3. It’s a box that slots into the same niche as its predecessor, but does everything far, far better (and a lot faster). It also happens to support 4K video. It’s the Foxtel iQ4, and trust us, if you use Foxtel, you want one.
Whats New with the iQ4?
While the external appearance of the iQ4 is almost the same as that of the iQ3, you can tell them apart instantly if you know what to look for — the iQ4 has a pair of buttons on the right hand side of the front panel, while the old iQ3 has a single power button. But the lookalike appearance is deceptive — what’s inside the newer box has pretty much nothing in common with the iQ3 except the software it runs on, and the same ten-tuner count (the iQ4 is only available in a satellite version, by the way, as Foxtel slowly phases out cable connections over the coming years).
Under the hood is a variation on Arris’s MS6505 device, with a powerful processor, gigabytes of fast memory, and hardware support for the very latest video standards. HDMI 2.0 support solves the issues some had with the iQ3 and modern TVs, while also providing full support for 4K video — both broadcast and streamed. But most important of all, the upgraded hardware gives Foxtel’s interface all the breathing room it needs to really shine — the difference in speed and responsiveness is night and day.
The iQ4 isn’t actually entirely brand new. Foxtel had been shipping it to customers for half a year before its official launch, under the guise of it being a “slightly changed design” of the iQ3 — they even named it the “iQ 3.5” for a time. If you have one of these boxes already (look for the two front panel buttons) then a simple software update is all you’ll need to find yourself with the new iQ4!
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What New Content Does the iQ4 Deliver?
The main reason for the iQ4’s arrival — above and beyond being a drop-in replacement for the no-longer-made iQ3 — is 4K video. Foxtel launched Australia’s first 4K broadcast channel in 2018. For now, this is a single channel (available at no extra cost to anyone with the Sports HD pack or Platinum HD) playing various forms of live cricket as well as Formula 1, Rugby League and AFL in full 4K, alongside movies and documentaries as 4K demo material when there’s no live or replayed sports coverage.
But make no mistake, they’re not going to stop at one channel if all goes to plan. Satellite is an ideal delivery method for 4K, freed from the constraints of free-to-air broadcast TV when it comes to available bandwidth –— the only real limit is how much capacity Foxtel has on the satellite.
This also means that even if you’re one of the many suffering from slow broadband and can’t stream 4K video via the internet, you’ll have no such problems with the iQ4 — the use of satellite means pristine 4K video is available to everyone.
The iQ4’s output also supports two different forms of HDR (High Dynamic Range) video — both the industry-standard HDR10 and the broadcast-specific HLG, which only a handful of TVs support (LG’s OLED TVs are among the ones that do). We don’t know yet whether Foxtel intends to show any HDR content — their teasing of Planet Earth in the menus suggests they might, though — so we’d recommend plugging the iQ4 directly into your TV when possible, rather than through an amp or sound bar (many such devices don’t pass through all the HDR information to the TV). As for 4K streaming, Foxtel hasn’t committed to it at all just yet. But the iQ4 is more than capable of doing it, with support for the H.265 format used by the likes of Netflix to help keep streaming rates low. That support also means the door is open for Netflix to stream in full 4K right there on the iQ4 – which is does. More on that below.
What Features Does the iQ4 Have?
Despite being a completely different box internally, compared to the iQ3, the iQ4 has quite a bit in common with its older sibling. This is not entirely surprising, as it’s very likely that some of the same designers worked on the newer box. And so once again we have ten tuners (eight satellite and two terrestrial), a 1000 GB hard drive for about 160 hours of HD recording, and a Bluetooth remote control. New customers who get the iQ4 delivered from August 2019 will get the latest, upgraded remote control, which also works with infra-red, making it more reliable and responsive.
Aside from the major internal upgrades, the iQ4 also boasts 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi for a faster, more reliable connection to your home network (we still recommend using an Ethernet cable, though) and the aforementioned HDMI 2.0 output, for which you’ll need a premium-grade HDMI cable (one is supplied in the box, though a bit on the short side at only 1.5 metres – though Foxtel will apparently provide a longer one on request).
How is the iQ4 User Experience?
Now, here’s where things get good — the moment you have the iQ4 plugged in and turn on the power. The box does its usual iQ start-up procedure — but multiple times faster than the old box did — and then will automatically install the latest software and reboot. And from that point on, after quickly pairing the Bluetooth remote by tapping the front panel button and choosing your output resolution (up to 2160p for 4K TV owners), you’re let loose on a device which is an absolute treat to use.
We cannot stress this enough — the difference in responsiveness and performance compared to the iQ3 is night and day. It’s hard not to smile a little as you seamlessly fly through the on-screen menus, deftly navigate around the program guide, sail through the channel list and swiftly explore the On Demand section. This is undoubtedly the sort of hardware the designers of the iQ software were expecting their system to run on, and set free from its underpowered older sibling, it becomes a much more usable, pleasant and fun experience.
And with the long-awaited software update now released to the public and included on all new iQ4 boxes, that experience is even better. The completely redesigned interface streamlines everything from the Home screen (with program highlights and your in-progress titles) to the genre-based on-demand streaming sections for movies, TV shows and sports, and of course your library of recorded and downloaded programs. Foxtel spent a huge amount of time with actual users testing out design improvements to see what worked best, and the result is brilliant – finally, the iQ4 feels like a true multi-faceted entertainment device, embracing both broadcast TV and on-demand streaming within the same seamless interface.
Accompanying the new-look interface is the aforementioned new remote control, now backlit and equipped with buttons to directly access on-demand movies, TV shows, sports… and Netflix! That’s right – the iQ4 also includes a full-scale Netflix app right there on the box. You can sign in with an existing account (or sign up through Foxtel for six months free) and get streaming in up to 4K – just press the big white Netflix button on the remote (or, if you’re still using the older remote, press the “Apps” button).
The new Home screen on the iQ4 highlights key shows and movies that you might be interested in based on what you watch – and these highlights include titles from Netflix as well, which you can directly access from the Home screen. Make no mistake – the new software for the iQ4 makes this device easily the most full-featured and user-friendly digital video recorder you can get.
How to Get the iQ4
Even if you don’t have a 4K TV — at least, not yet — the iQ4 is still very much a worthwhile upgrade if you’ve ever found yourself frustrated by the slowness of the iQ3 menu system or its other assorted quirks. If you want to upgrade to the iQ4, you simply need to give Foxtel a phone call — what the actual cost of swapping out to the new box will be varies wildly depending on your current setup, as well as your Foxtel package subscription and other factors, so you could be up for as much as $150 (most likely less, though). We still think it’s worth it regardless! Note, though, that the iQ4 is only available in a version for satellite setups. If you get your Foxtel via cable, you’re going to have to hang onto your iQ3 for a little while longer. Cable customers wanting the iQ4 can often make the switch to satellite, which means having a tech over to install a dish and run cables. You’ll need to speak to Foxtel about whether this is possible, and if so, what it’ll cost.
It’s worth noting that the new 4K channel is going to need a satellite installation that has dual outputs — in other words, if your Foxtel point at home only has one socket, a tech will need to visit to upgrade your dish and run a new cable.
How to Get Foxtel On the Go
Watching Foxtel at home with your brand new iQ4 box is one thing, but did you know that you can also take it with you and watch anywhere you go? Thanks to the Foxtel Go app, you can watch all the shows, sport, and movies that are included in your subscribed pack through a number of mobile devices.
Using this app is completely free — so long as you’re subscribed to any Foxtel Pack. You can stream instantly, even prior to setting up your iQ4 box at home! Check out the table below for the complete list of compatible Foxtel Go devices and start watching Foxtel on the go.
Device Compatibility Table
|iQ2||Yes||No streaming option, or apps. No HD playback|
|iQ3||Yes||No app access|
|iQ4||Yes||Access to 4K content included|
|PC/Mac||Yes||Web browser only (Chrome for PC; Chrome & Safari for Mac)|
|iOS Mobile Devices||Yes||Via native app (iOS 9.3.5 or above)|
|Android Mobile Devices||Yes||Via native app (Android 5 and above)|
|Google Chromecast||Yes||Via casting (only on Multiroom service)|
|Apple TV||Yes||Via AirPlay (only on Multiroom service)|
|Smart TVs||Yes||Via casting only (only on Multiroom service)|
|Gaming Consoles (PS4, Xbox One, etc)||No|
Summary: The iQ4 packs serious power!
Foxtel’s iQ3 has long been one of the most user-friendly DVRs (digital video recorders) around, completely separate from its obvious task as a receiver for your Foxtel channels. But the sluggish performance of that device was always an annoyance to one degree or another. With the iQ4, that annoyance is completely gone, replaced by a fast, feature-rich and hugely capable box which makes the experience of simply using Foxtel magnitudes better. The fact that it comes with access to 4K broadcasts via satellite, well, that’s just the icing on the cake. If you love your TV, you’ll want an iQ4 connected to it.