UPC unboxes its ultimate set-top box – say hello to Horizon TV

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Cable broadband player UPC today unveiled its new Horizon set-top box, which acts as a home hub for all wireless devices, telephone, internet, apps and most importantly, TV – effectively turning any TV or device into a smart TV.

The new set-top box will come with an introductory price of €50 per month with up to 100Mbps broadband, telephone and 19 HD channels as standard.

The device, which has been in R&D mode for five years now, introduces a newly designed EPG (electronic programme guide) and the ability to record up to four programmes at once and still watch a fifth. In fact, in the household this can be expanded to up to eight or more channels when you consider users using their Horizon TV app or TV Online service on various devices.

The new set-top box comes with a new range of apps, beginning with 27 apps, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Score.ie, Google Maps, Picasa and The Irish Times.

One of the intriguing features of the apps on the Horizon box can be best seen in the YouTube app – if you are watching a TV programme and switch on the app, the page loads with search results for videos driven by the context of the programme you had just been watching.

The set-top box has a built-in Wi-Fi radio and comes with 100Mbps unlimited broadband as part of the Horizon Essential Bundle.

It comes with free evening and weekend calls to local and national landlines, as well as 21 international destinations, and multi-room viewing can be activated for an extra €6 per month.

After the first six months, the €50 service will increase to €73 per month.

The Horizon set-top box can store up to 320 hours of content and is capable of learning a user’s viewing habits, responding with suggested content.

The Horizon TV set-top box comes with 19 HD channels as standard, including broadcasters RTÉ, TG4, Sky and BBC.

‘A defining moment in Irish TV’

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UPC Ireland’s new CEO Magnus Ternsjo described the arrival of the new set-top box as a “defining moment in Irish TV” and “well beyond what our competitors can provide.”

He said the new Horizon TV set-top box, which comes with a double-sided remote control for standard remote control and a keyboard for surfing the internet and discovering content, can also be controlled with an iPhone or an iPad.

Doron Hacmon, managing director of products and Online Media Group at UPC’s parent company Liberty Global, explained that the launch in Ireland is the third such launch of the device anywhere in the world, following the Netherlands and Switzerland.

“This will change consumer TV behaviour,” Hacmon said. “This is the result of the development of linear TV to time-shifted TV to on-demand content. It allows us to infuse in real-time everything that happens on the net.”

More fundamentally, the arrival of Horizon TV, which Hacmon described as linear, HD and DVR “on steroids”, represents the biggest transformation in UPC’s interface since 2005.

UPC Ireland vice-president of sales and marketing Mark Coan said the decision to make HD channels the first 19 channels in the new EPG was crucial.

“We decided to go HD up front and integrated into the EPG because we don’t believe HD should be seen as a separate thing in today’s world.

“The intelligent suggestions capabilities are constantly watching what you are watching to make sure you get the content you are looking for.”

In terms of availability, Coan said users will be able to sign up for the new set-top box from today in tandem with a marketing strategy that kicks off on TV tonight.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com