Telkom's TVB-100 set-top box: first look - TechCentral

Telkom’s TVB-100 set-top box: first look

Telkom has launched its Android set-top box, the LIT TVB-100, offering customers who sign up for certain mobile, fixed-wireless and fixed-line broadband connections free streaming music and video streaming from partner providers. And the TVB-100 — which is strangely devoid of any Telkom branding on either the box or in the software — for the most part works very well.

The box is dead simple to set up either via Wi-Fi or the integrated 100Mbit/s Ethernet port, but has a few features missing which could hold back some potential buyers. Most notable of these is that the Android app for Netflix doesn’t work, throwing up the error that “this version of Netflix is not compatible with this device” after it’s been installed from the Google Play Store. Telkom said it is in discussions with Netflix to bring the international video streaming service to the box.

The TVB-100, which is not much bigger than two decks of playing cards, is easy to install. Simply hook it up via HDMI to your TV, connect the USB dongle for the “Airmouse” remote, optionally connect an Ethernet cable, and begin the installation process. Note that you’ll need two AAA batteries for the Airmouse, which are not included in the box (or, at least, weren’t supplied with our review kit).

Users are then presented with a welcome screen, where they’ll need to select their language. Various versions of English are supported (including UK and US, but not South African), while local languages are isiZulu and Afrikaans.

We were asked to continue setup on an Android phone using the Google app by speaking the command “set up my device”. The phone wasn’t able to find the set-top box, however, so we continued with the “standard setup” option.

We then connected to a fibre connection over Wi-Fi, entered our Google account details, clicked “yes” on our phone (because we had two-factor authentication enabled) and setup was then complete. Simple!

The TVB-100 runs Android 7.1.2 (with Android TV for a “lean-back” experience), with the Android security patch level dated 1 August 2017 (let’s hope the updates keep coming). There are a range of apps preinstalled, including Google Play Music, Google Play Games, Google Play Music & TV and YouTube. Showmax, the streaming video platform from Naspers, is also bundled as a default app. Users can add more apps through the Play Store.

Voice search?

There’s an on-screen Google voice search icon, which we unfortunately simply couldn’t get to work in the short time we’ve had to play with the box. Given the Airmouse doesn’t have a keyboard, it quickly became quite tedious using the on-screen keyboard with the remote to search for content.

As mentioned, the Netflix app doesn’t work, and we hope Telkom is able to address this problem soon as the service offers some of the most compelling video-on-demand content available in South Africa. Casting Netflix to the box also failed — a Netflix icon appeared on the screen, and then disappeared, reverting to the box’s home screen. Casting YouTube works fine, though.

There are no DStv Now or Amazon Prime Video Android apps available in the Play Store on the box, which is disappointing. Though DStv Now on our phone could see the set-top box, and said it was casting to it, it simply didn’t display anything on the screen. This might be fixable with enough time to fiddle.

We had a few other issues with content services. Plex worked okay most of the time, though some videos didn’t play back sound. The box supports 4K (at 30fps or even 60fps), according to the documentation, though the TV we used to test it on was capable of only 1080p playback.

The box itself is a not unattractive (small) black slab of plastic. There’s an SD card slot, allowing you to play your own downloaded media files. There is an S/PDIF optical audio port to connect an external sound system, too (we didn’t test this output). There are 3.5mm AV and AR-in ports, too, plus two USB ports (one of which you’ll use for the Airmouse). We’d suggest hooking up a compatible Bluetooth keyboard and mouse if you can — the supplied Airmouse, though functional, is not great for quick input in search boxes (especially since we couldn’t get voice search functionality to work in the limited time we had).

The TVB-100 is powered by a 64-bit Amlogic S905X quad-core Arm processor (the A53), paired with a penta-core Arm Mali 450 graphics processing unit. It has 2GB of SDRAM and 8GB of Flash storage. This hardware makes the software sufficiently speedy not to be frustrating. Wi-Fi is of the 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac varieties and there’s support for Bluetooth 4.1.

Free streaming

Last month, Telkom revealed that it intends offering zero-rated streaming of selected services to customers on its mobile and fixed networks. The services include YouTube, Netflix, DStv Now and Showmax on the video side, and Google Play Music, Simfy Africa and Apple Music on the audio side.

The Telkom LIT deals include LIT TV, offering unlimited ADSL, fibre and LTE SmartBroadband customers zero-rated access through the TVB-100.

Telkom said at the launch that customers who sign up for its Unlimited Home 8/10Mbit/s and faster ADSL and fibre offerings, as well as LTE SmartBroadband Wireless 50GB and 100GB packages on promotion, will receive a free LIT TVC 100 (while stocks last). The offer is also available to existing customers upgrading to those plans. The box can also be bought for R1 099 or R49.99/month over 24 months.

In summary

In summary, you’re probably going to have to do quite a bit of fiddling with the TVB-100 to get it working the way you want. This may require some technical nous. The basics work well, it’s easy to set up and it’s reasonably affordable. But with a direct competitor in the market in the form of Kwesé Play’s R1 599 Roku media box, consumers should consider both options before making a purchasing decision. If it’s a set-top box for Netflix you’re after, the Kwesé Play box is undoubtedly the better option for now. – © 2017 NewsCentral Media

  • Andrew Fraser

    Your review throws up a few red flags.
    1. If the Android TV app for Netflix doesn’t work, that indicates that Netflix have not approved the device. Netflix is quite strict about devices and the Widevine approval required. I’d be very cautious in buying this device as it is possible that it’ll never work with Netflix.
    2. There is currently no DStv Now app for Android TV, plus, DSTV Now’s standard Android app doesn’t allow output via HDMI. So I wouldn’t get too excited about getting a box that supports DStv Now.
    3. Android TV specifically enables voice search, so, if it isn’t working there is a serious problem with the implementation.
    4. Typically (due to lean back environment), Air Mouses (mice?) aren’t required for Android TV, and this box having one makes me suspicious. The UX of an Air Mouse is really awful, and that is the reason for specific Android TV apps that allow voice search, and simplified navigation with a simple direction pad. If this device doesn’t offer voice search, I’m suspicious that it isn’t an authorised Android TV implementation.

  • Valis

    Just put Kodi on it.

  • Muzi Makhaye

    Let’s welcome LIT TVB-100 as a one pretender to the throne. As they say, the more the merrier. Howvere, one supposes that given sufficient testtime this review would have come out complimentary. Besides, a test device (post launch) should perform better; it should give fewer errors. It should deliver on its key promised applications. Telkom promised a disruptor and the LIT TVB-100 dissappoints. Technologically, one doesn’t doubt that this is a good box; but it sinks on non-technology aspects. As such, Telkom may have to consider halting the rollout and fix the bugs, as a priority. It will take a few unhappy early adopters who shall experience the listed functional errors, unrsponsive Apps, absent licences, et al, to kill the LIT’s chances on the throne. The company might have rushed the product to its launch; or is to its death? Let’s wait and see…

  • Andrew Fraser

    I wonder why Telkom didn’t contact Xiaomi for their MiBox. I have one from the US. Runs Android TV perfectly, Netflix, Showmax, Kodi all work out the box. US price is $70, so similar price level.

  • Muzi Makhaye

    I steer away from discussing other people’s prices. However, I do know of five South African companies that could produce a similar-specced Android-based device from design within 6 months to final test, given a chance. I can imagine their emotions swirling as they read this write-up.

  • Andrew Fraser

    Tech specs aren’t really the issue tbh. The integration of AndroidTV requires active implementation from Google and the DRM requires approval from Netflix. Those are the big barriers to entry. Difficult in a small market like SA to compete with international brand players.

  • Muzi Makhaye

    Again, South African companies (more than the 5 I referred to above) already integrate, or have integrated, Google Apps in numerous devices for all types of applications. Deploying any one of the leading reputable CAS is the first step to DRM approvals. I am just saying, these barriers have lowered over time and are no longer beyond SAns’ capabilities.

  • Andrew Fraser

    That wasn’t my point, I was saying that for a small market like SA, the volumes don’t justify doing that. The costs outweigh the potential sales when international alternatives are available at low prices.

  • Muzi Makhaye

    Fair point Andrew; the numbers have to jell. The SA manufacturers I am talking about are bidding for work and supplying overseas markets; since they are overlooked by local consumers/buyers. But I accept your point entirely.