I’ve been using TELUS TV for over a year now so I figured it’s worth reviewing as Canada’s #2 phone company gets ready to launch their HD service later this year.
The Free Trial
In early 2006, I had the fortune of being selected to participate in the free trial for TELUS TV (TTV). After being selected, a technician completed the installation within an hour because it only involved the installation of some additional hardware (two digital boxes, network switch, ethernet cabling) and some configuration in addition to my Linksys WRT54G and TELUS issued D-Link ADSL modem.
Initially, my TTV experience was average; It wasn’t much different from Shaw’s digital service. Picture quality, channel lineup, and the channel guide were very similar to Shaw Digital. However, being a free trial service I didn’t expect much in terms of reliability . That said, during the trial the picture would often be pixelated and freeze almost daily. The only solution was to reboot the digital box by unplugging the power. More about this in the Reliability section.
Free Re-installation of TELUS TV
I moved to a new place around the time the free trial ended, nevertheless, TELUS re-installed TTV in my new house free of charge (Chris likes free!), but this time the job took several hours. Being a new home, the house was pre-wired with CAT5 ethernet cable throughout, but the termination point in the garage was literally a mess of loose wires. One tech proceeded to clean up the wiring mess, crimping each set with an RJ45 connector and plugging each into the free 2WIRE 2700HG-E Gateway. The advantage of this setup is every ethernet wall jack throughout my house runs through the firewalled router — sweet! He also installed a pot splitter at the termination point in the garage so none of my telephones need DSL modem filters.
Meanwhile, the other tech solved my wall jack dilemma: At the time, I had two TVs: one on the main floor and one in the basement, but there were no ethernet outlets nearby either TV! I should mention that TTV currently only supports two TVs per household. I think it’s a bandwidth issue, so basically, if you have more than two TVs in your house, you’re screwed. But don’t worry, they’re in the process of rolling out ADSL2, which will increase the bandwidth significantly to make room for HD and allow for more TVs (hopefully). Upon my request the tech converted all of the phone jacks, which actually run on CAT5 UTP cabling but only uses two of the available eight wires (apparently standard practice in new homes), into dual jacks: an RJ45 (network) and an RJ11 (phone). And wherever I wanted to have more than one network device, TELUS gave me a free SMC EZ Switch. I was able to hard wire my TTV to the basement TV along with my Xbox via ethernet cable instead of the flaky Xbox wireless adaptor (never did get it to work–too much interference).
I should mention, the technicians were very professional, answering all my geek questions, and removing their shoes as they entered and re-entered my brand new home!
During the re-installation in the new house, TELUS provided me with the following hardware all for free (depending on your plan, see the Cost section for more info):
- Two RCA (Thompson) IP1000T IP Video Decoder Set Top Boxes: Rear jacks include digital and RCA audio outputs, S-Video, RCA video outputs, an ethernet jack, and two USB ports (not sure what these are for); it includes a universal remote (kinda looks like the Xbox remote–RCA) for up to four devices; the box runs on a Windows OS. There’s no hard drive built in and recording with a VCR is a pain because you can’t tune more than one channel at a time–translation: you can’t watch another channel when recording. But rumours suggest the HD version of the TTV box will include recording capabilities with either an option for an internal hard drive or remote storage available for a per GB charge.
- 2WIRE 2700HG-E Gateway: PROS – All in one router/modem; solid user interface; easy to setup port forwarding and wireless security; includes three internal antennas that offer excellent WI-FI coverage throughout my house (better coverage than the Linksys WRT54G) thanks to adjustable signal strength settings; CONS – no VPN capabilities; UI is slow to load.
- SMC EZ Switch: Plug it into an AC outlet, plug in your WAN cable, plug in up to four devices, ’nuff said.
- Interactive Program Guide (IPG): The coolest feature of TTV is this web page accessible on channel 1. You can access headlines for TV, news stories, sports, weather, and movies, but you can’t surf the web (although it runs on IE). There’s also a ticker scrolling along the bottom with breaking news. All this is displayed with the previous channel (before you clicked ’1′ on your remote) in a small box to the right, so you don’t miss your show while you read the headlines.
- Digital Music and Radio: In addition to 45 CD quality music channels, TTV offers radio broadcasts from across BC and Alberta. I personally enjoy listening to local hockey broadcasts of NHL and junior hockey towns. Take that Shaw!
- On-Screen Caller ID: If you’re a TELUS caller ID subscriber, your TTV box will display the name and number of phone calls on your screen so you don’t have to leave the couch–gotta love that!
- Reminders with Auto Tuning: As you browse the channel guide, you can set reminders to popup on screen when a show is about to start or have the channel automatically change to the show when it’s about to start with Auto Tuning.
Reliability and Performance
I mentioned earlier that during the trial, the image would often pixelate, freeze, or stop working altogether. Since the trial ended, these issues have been addressed. The reliability of TTV has come a long way and is now to the point where it’s rock solid–I don’t wonder when it’s going to screw up next.
As for performance, changing channels is slow when compared to Shaw’s digital service — I find this particularly frustrating because I’m a channel flipper. So if you like to punch those channel keys, TTV isn’t for you.
Another performance issue arises with the speed of the Internet connection when both TVs are being used while simultaneously surfing the web. The download stream drops from an average of 1350 kbps to around 300 kbps and the upload gets so ridiculously slow that I’m not going to bother mentioning the speed. TELUS explained that the 2Wire gateway is programmed to prioritize packets, and TV packets take top priority over a computer’s packets. They can’t fix this until new hardware is issued, and this won’t happen until HD is rolled out in late 2007. This is totally unacceptable. I argued that I’m no longer on a free trial and was now a paying customer of both Internet and TV services. Therefore I should receive the full services promised for the money I pay. When the TELUS rep asked me how he could make me happy, I said give me full service/speed or give me a discount. So I received a $5 monthly reduction off my TV bill for six months as compensation.
Unlike Shaw, you have a fair amount of choice in what channels you pay for. You start with the Essential (basic channels) package ($22), then have the option of choosing theme packs ($4.50-6.00), specialty packs (i.e. french or adult channels), or a selection of Ã la carte channels ($2 each).
As you buy more packs or individual channels, they get progressively cheaper–everything is cheaper in bulk! While you don’t get to select every channel, at least you don’t have theme packs with crappy channels rammed down your throat like Shaw!
I mentioned earlier that the hardware was free. Well, this all depends on the plan you sign up for. However, upgrades to the hardware is included regardless of which term you choose. Pricing is shown below:
Much like their cell phones, TELUS wants to rope you in for as long as they can. So they tempt you with free hardware a free Logitech Harmony Remote if you sign up for three years.
Overall, TELUS has a great TV service on their hands; Shaw should look out when TELUS actually starts to market and go mainstream with it. The reliability issues have been fixed, the hardware and installation are free, on demand headlines are cool, and the technicians are professional, and the price is quite competitive with Shaw. As I mentioned, the WI-FI signal can be jacked up a fair bit, so you may eliminate some dead spots as a bonus when you sign up for TTV.
My recommendation is to wait for the HD service to launch before signing up if you have an HDTV–stay with Shaw in the meanwhile. If you have an old CRT, switch over to TELUS TV now and get familiar with how it works. When you upgrade to an HDTV, TELUS will update your hardware for free and you’ll be good to go.
Update: TELUS recently contacted me about a free trial for their HD service. I haven’t received an installation date yet, but the TELUS rep said to expect it sometime in the fall. My understanding is that my bandwidth will be increased significantly to accommodate HD’s requirements, as well I will receive a new set-top box that includes a built in recorder.