Foxtel today unveiled the creatively named Foxtel Now Box, a set-top box specifically designed for Foxtel Now. You know, just in case the name didn't give it away. The $99 puck - which Foxtel has been teasing for almost a year now - will go on sale this Friday, and will be available directly through the Foxtel website. It will also be available through Kogan shortly after, and other retailers are set to range it later this year.
The Foxtel Now Box runs a highly customised version of Android TV, designed to mimic Foxtel Now's web interface. While the puck explicitly highlights content from your Foxtel Now package, third party apps for services such as Stan and iView are also available.
Netflix is noticeably absent, but Foxtel says it is currently in discussions with the streaming giant. Netflix does however have an existing Android TV app, so it may be possible to sideload it if you're happy jumping through hoops (we'll certainly be trying to).
Since the Foxtel Now Box is powered by Android TV, it doubles as a Chromecast. This does mean you could also cast Netflix content from a smartphone or tablet directly to the Foxtel Now Box, avoiding the need for a dedicated app.
Android TV gives you access to the Google Play Store, and apps optimised for Android TV. Foxtel has however said that it will block access to apps that potentially facilitate piracy.
In terms of quality, the Foxtel Now Box is able to playback 4K HDR video, though Foxtel's on demand content is currently restricted to 1080p. Foxtel says it is looking at its 4K strategy, but there's no concrete timeline.
The Foxtel Now Box also has an antenna input, allowing you to use it for free-to-air TV without needing to swap away from whatever HDMI port you've got it plugged into.
Foxtel's cable set-top boxes (iQ2 and iQ3) won't be replaced by the Foxtel Now Box, and are treated as completely separate products. The Foxtel Now Box can only be used to access your Foxtel Now subscription, and the iQ set-top boxes will only work with a traditional Foxtel subscription. There is no compatibility between them.
The Foxtel Now Box is the latest in a string of high profile set-top boxes made available locally in recent months. The most recent new entry was the second generation Telstra TV, which has similar free-to-air integration. Telstra TV 2 has more content options thanks to apps from every free-to-air network, Netflix, Stan, and Foxtel Now, but is pricier thanks to its $192 RRP (although you can get it free with select Telstra broadband packages). Android TV is however a more open platform than Telstra TV, so the Foxtel Now Box may be a better option if you're interested in third party apps like Plex or just seeing what's available on the Google Play Store.
The other new kid on the block is Apple's 4K Apple TV, where one of the major points of difference is 4K movie rentals through iTunes. There's no Foxtel Now app available for Apple TV yet, but Foxtel says it's working on one.