2011 Update: A lot of changes have come to Optik TV over the last year including the use of an Xbox 360 as a receiver, Remote Recording and better service for Fiber to the Home customers. See below.
With the recent re-branding of Telus' fiber optic internet and TV services to "Optik", many people are considering making the switch away from cable or satellite to Telus TV. Their service has been around the last few years, but it has only recently been widely available. Using a Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) delivery service, Telus is able to directly stream television over your existing internet connection. While an emerging technology, this system works well and is surprisingly sophisticated. For the right household, it can be a great way to watch TV.
This article aims to explore both the advantages and disadvantages of switching to Telus TV. Overall, the system is great in certain circumstances, but may not be the best solution for everyone. Couples and gadget lovers will love the sleek user interface and the flexibility of the system when combined with one or two TVs. Larger families will most likely end up fighting over the limited number of simultaneous live TV streams and recording space available. In any case, the IPTV market is rapidly changing, and it's recommended to try the system for a month before signing up for any of Telus' heavily pushed 3-year contracts.
Top 5 Awesome Features of Telus TV
5. Picture Quality
The picture quality of HD channels on Telus certainly stands up to the quality of anything that Shaw/Express Vu could offer. Channels are clear, vivid and life-like. What is truly awesome is the standard definition (SD) channel quality. These channels seem to greatly benefit from their all digital delivery and they look so much better than your standard cable fare. You wont mistake SD channels for their HD counterparts, but you will notice a huge jump in quality when coming from other TV providers.
Update: Like other carriers, Telus has also begun broadcasting 3D content both on their included free channel and as Video on Demand rentals (currently costing $9). The (rather limited) 3D content available so far is also of excellent quality.
4. The Internet Speed Boost
Subscribers to Telus TV are given a minimum 19 Mbps profile in order to accommodate the bandwidth needed for TV delivery. Most people are reporting real-life speeds of around 15 Mbps (meaning download speeds of almost 2 Megabytes a second). For many subscribers, this will vastly increase their connection speed (although see the caveat in the drawbacks section below). In addition, it seems Telus no longer monitors/enforces bandwidth caps for TV subscribers. Best of all is that this comes for free with no additional charges!
3. The Savings
This is probably the biggest reason people would even consider Telus TV - the price. Switching to Telus can save a great deal of money over the long run. Basic TV starts at just over $20 a month and includes approx. 10 HD channels. More advanced packages are generally less expensive than Shaw's comparable offerings. If you're willing to sign up for a 3 year contract, you get the additional savings of a free PVR rental. As a nice feature, Telus' plans are straightforward and clearly laid out on their website.
Update: Telus has raised prices on many of it's services. Add on packs which used to be $5 are now $7. There are also many reports of Shaw throwing out aggressive promotions to "winback" their customers who have migrated to Optik TV. Telus still may be the cheapest option, but as always, check prices carefully before signing any contracts.
Update: Telus has also been aggressively expanding asian channel offerings over the last year and now boasts one of the largest selections of these kinds of foreign stations.
2. The Set-Top Box Software
Telus is now currently using Microsoft Mediaroom for delivery of their TV services. If you've ever used Media Center on your windows computer, you'll be instantly familiar with the user interface. The system is sleek, intuitive and easily customizable. You can easily hide channels you're not subscribed to and choose exactly what you want on your guide. You get little touches like picture-in-picture previews of selected channels, transparent underlays of your current channel in any menu screen and even on-screen caller ID. In addition, this is one of the fastest user interfaces out there with zero lag in any menu screen. Simply put, this is probably the best set-top software currently available.
Update: Telus has upgraded the software over the last year, and now allows one to schedule and manage their recordings from any web connected computer or iOS/Android device. It doesn't allow streaming, but again is a great add-on to the already fantastic Mediaroom platform.
Update: Telus also recently started allowing the use of an Xbox 360 as an HD box. Unfortunately, they do not allow one to have the Xbox as a sole box (it MUST be added to a house with an existing Telus-branded box already present) and they charge a $5/month fee to use the Xbox.
1. Instant Channel Change
At first it might not seem important, but the ability to change channels instantly is actually what most people who see Telus TV notice first. You can truly channel surf again by flicking the up or down button to quickly see what is on each channel. Gone are the days of waiting for digital channels to slowly pixelate in. Even HD channels come into view the instant you select them. This also allows for quick picture-in-picture previews of a channel while surfing the on screen guide. The speed of the channel changes combined with the overall speed of the software make for an extremely enjoyable experience.
The Top 5 Drawbacks of Telus TV
5. Installation Issues
Telus TV is not the cable company, it is not a simple 10 minute service call or a flick of the switch to turn on your TV. Installation takes hours (our recent move required a 6 hour long service call to activate the service). Most people have a cable jack by their TV but few probably have a phone line or ethernet port. Because the Telus box does not have WIFI, the technician will most likely spend a lot of their time running cables around your house to physically connect your set-top boxes and the modem. This also can create headaches because anytime you move or want to add an additional box, it requires a technician to come out. It's not a dealbreaker, but prepare to take a half-day off in order to have the service installed.
Update: With the recent Boxing Day deals, many people have picked up an Xbox 360 hoping to use it as a second receiver. Before doing this, be aware that Telus charges $100 to send a technician out to hook up the box for existing customers (it's free for new customers). They also charge $5/month to use the Xbox as a receiver. Some customers have reported success in negotiating with customer service for a reduced rate.
4. Customer Service
Now to preface, Telus customer service is getting MUCH better than it has been, but it still has a way to go. Telus seems to not be outsourcing TV agents overseas at the moment, which is a bonus. Unfortunately, however, these agents are friendly but they are generally not well-informed about the intricate specifics of Telus TV (a web search of online user forums often yields better results). Unlike Shaw, one cannot change packages or service their account online or through chat. Customers are forced to call in and wait on (sometimes very long) holds for any kind of change. Combine this with limited operating hours (7:30am to 8pm) and you have a formula for frustration.
3. Instability Issues
Again, it has gotten much better, but generally speaking Telus TV can be subject to some unique issues. Anytime a net connection is lost, so is your TV. Between your TV and the wall is a set-top box, router AND a switch - the combination of which can make troubleshooting difficult. Sometimes the TV picture will freeze or pixelate, although changing the channel away and back often fixes the issue. Unfortunately, a reboot of the box takes about 5 minutes before TV returns which means a poorly timed hiccup at the end of a show could really ruin your day. It's not to say other TV platforms don't have issues, but it's important to be aware of the unique flaws inherent to IPTV.
Update: An especially annoying HDMI connection issue seems to be popping up for many users. When using an HDMI connection, many people have reported skipping, freezing, inputs randomly changing or even blackouts. This has forced many users to have to switch to Component connections (which does not allow 3D programming to be viewed).
2. Bandwidth Issues
As mentioned previously, Telus does increase users bandwidth, but it becomes an issue with TV sharing the same line. If one is watching 2 or 3 programs at once, that 15 Mbps connection speed quickly slows down to 3 or 4 Mbps. While this is still a fair speed, it can be annoying to have to shut off your TV in order to allow that one last torrent to quickly finish. The good news is that Telus prioritizes packets, so heavy web-usage doesn't impact any TV's that are on. Unfortunately this issue combined with the issue of limited incoming streams (see below) makes it hard to recommend Telus TV to a large household.
Update: If one is lucky enough to live in newer residence or upgraded area where Telus has a true fibre connection directly to the premises ("Fibre to the Home"), bandwidth becomes a non-issue. Any number of TVs can be on with no impact to the internet connection. This also increases the number of TV streams available (see below)
1. Limited TV Streams And Recording
Due to bandwidth issues, a total maximum of 2 HD channels and 1 SD channel (for a grand total of 3) can be watched at one time. While this is great if you only have 1 TV (the PVR has the ability to record all 3 shows at once), it quickly becomes a challenge within multiple TV households. One recording-hungry user can literally lock out all live TV within the house. If you have more than 3 TV's, it also means you will never have the ability to watch live TV on all of them at the same time. Recorded TV can be streamed from the one PVR to any TV in the house if no live streams are available, however Telus only allows 1 PVR box for the entire house so hard drive space could quickly fill up. Telus is currently using a 320 GB hard-drive in their boxes, and while they have a USB connection, there is no ability to add an external hard-drive to increase storage room.
Update: Again, if you are lucky enough to have a Fibre to the Home connection, Telus now allows up to 4 streams with 3 HD and 1 SD channel going at any given time.