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Eye on Demand | August 18, 2017

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iBox.ie Review

iBox.ie Review

Review Overview

Quality of Video Stream
5
User Interface
3
Content on Offer
7
Device Availability
4
Value for Money
8
5.4

Needs Polish but has Potential

If you’re looking for a great way to watch live and catch-up Irish television via the Internet, iBox.ie has one of the best options available. Combine this with a good Smart DNS service, and you could possibly have all the Irish TV you need wherever you are in the world!

Live Internet simulcast television has become quite common in many European countries recently, with Ireland offering no less than three different contract-free services; the official feeds from RTÉ, established multi-channel provider aertv, and more recently a third option from iBox.ie.

So what makes iBox.ie so special? As well as a selection of free-to-air Irish and British television channels aired live, iBox.ie also provide the last seven days via their own catch-up EPG. The best part, is that all of this and more can be had for as little as €3 per month.

In a way, this makes iBox somewhat of a crossover between a live streaming IPTV provider and a full catch-up television service. Effectively, it is an Irish version of the enormously popular European equivalent, Zattoo, although to be honest, with quite a little bit less polish.

iBox offer three different packages ranging between €3 and €10, with each tier adding additional channels. The seven day catch-up EPG is available whichever one is chosen, and video quality also remains the same.

Quality SD

All that said, the important part remains how good it actually looks. Video quality is described by iBox as “the same high quality you expect from satellite or cable TV.”, presuming of course that your Internet bandwidth is wide enough. Ours is, but the best we could muster was not quite as what we would describe as “satellite or cable TV quality”. We averaged around 2100kbps, which although is not bad, the video quality was still somewhat grainy and blurry if watched too close. But in all fairness, this isn’t much different to their biggest competition for the most part, aertv and RTE’s official streams.

Live TV is never as easy to stream as on-demand, since there is a fine line regarding how much of a buffer can be retained before the live stream lags too far behind real time, and fluctuations in bandwidth which is out of the control of the provider. That said, we have seen better live streams than what we experienced with iBox.ie, even from places a lot further afield.

On the other hand, the video quality is still acceptable for most cases, especially if we sit far back enough from the television set. Unfortunately, there are not yet a lot of ways to actually get the video onto a TV, as platform support is extremely weak at this stage. Hopefully this is just because iBox.ie is so new, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed that additional platforms are on the horizon.

 

  • Channels

    iBox.ie’s channel selection has its roots clearly within the primary Irish free-to-air networks, with the core channels including the most important that the country provides. These are of course public broadcasting channels from RTÉ and TG4, as well as TV3 and a couple of UK channels including BBC One, with all the channels on the iBox Essentials package accounting for the vast majority of Irish television ratings including the top 7 performers.

    As the packages becomes more expensive, this essentially adds additional British channels to the Irish mix, which at the end includes the bulk of the UK’s Freeview line-up.

    For Irish content, iBox Essentials should suffice for most people, with iBox Classic adding some fantastic additional channels. iBox Max, with over 60 live channels is something for the real TV head, or alternatively, a Brit looking for an alternative service for their own content, whilst adding some additional Irish channels into the mix.

    The list below is a line-up of channels offered by iBox.ie at the time of publication.

    iBoxChannels

  • iBox.ie via Web

    Outside of the dedicated Android app, iBox.ie works pretty much exclusively via a browser, regardless of the platform used. So considering this limitation, it is quite a bit surprising (and disappointing) that there are even further restrictions on which browsers can be used – which is to say, there is basically, one.

    Mac users can only view iBox.ie via Safari, which although isn’t a great deal of annoyance, it may still hit a few Firefox or Chrome users where it hurts.

    But most of the pain will be felt by Windows users who have no supported browsers at all. You read this correctly, at the time of publication, iBox.ie does not support Windows at all.

    Ouch.

    Unfortunately, there are quite a few bugs on the browser UI that make life a little painful when navigating and using iBox.ie. First of all, I can never really be sure when I am logged in or not, since the login button is always visible. Even once my login has been confirmed, the button doesn’t change to my name or logout, it just remains the same as before.

    Once logged in, choosing a channel to play is done simply by accessing the channel list and selecting one. However, once a channel begins playing back, regardless of viewing in windowed or full-screen modes, there is no way to easily switch channels. No drop-down list, no buttons alongside the window, nothing. Viewers will have to return to the channel page each time, and select a different option from there.

    As far as video quality is concerned, I never experienced any major issues during live playback, which is a good thing as this is the crux of the biscuit, so to speak. Video streamed without any major buffering, and quality was average. By this, I mean I wouldn’t go as far as calling it standard definition, but it wasn’t too far behind. It helped a lot to sit back from the iMac’s 27″ screen in order to avoid a blurry video. My own tests averaged approx. 2150kbps*, which technically speaking could have resulted in a standard definition quality stream.

    iBox Safari bitrate 2150kbps

    Catch-up is accessed via the Prog Guide page, which is a bit like a clunky version of Zattoo’s guide. There are no recording options here, just playback from the last 7 days, but generally speaking it works well enough – as long as you just want to play content back.

    I found no way to actually fast forward or rewind catch-up content, which to be honest, is a little odd. Considering that there is no Resume feature with this service, this could be quite a handicap if you want to return to an unfinished show.

    At least there was a way to pause catch-up content, which is something I couldn’t find on the Android app.

    (Keep in mind that in order to successfully use the EPG, your computer’s time zone should be set to Ireland)

    Platform Pros:

    • Video plays back ok.

    Platform Cons:

    • U.I. is a bit clunky and could be more fluid.
    • EPG isn’t smooth and only uses a small portion of screen.
    • No Windows browser support.
    • Limited to Safari on Mac OS.
    • Sub SD quality streams.
    • No easy way to flick between channels.
    • No FFW or REW.

    (Accessing iBox.ie from outside of Ireland may require a good Smart DNS service)

    Catch-up BUTTON Sub SD BUTTON Live TV BUTTON

     

     

     

     

    iBox.ie on this platform are geographically unblocked to provide global access by the following Smart DNS providers:

    Ad GetflixAd SDNSP

  • iBox.ie via iOS

    When I first tried out iBox.ie on my iPhone or iPad, I was forced to use the Safari browser. Thankfully these days iBox offer a dedicated app which can be downloaded for free from the Irish iTunes store.

    All up, it’s actually a pretty nice app. While it won’t win an award for design, it still looks a lot nicer than iBox’s Apple TV app, and for the most part it works relatively smoothly.

    The app is divided into five main sections, with the most important ones being:

    Now & Next: This is the main channel guide that lists all the channels available via iBox.ie, including those not under your subscription. Simply tapping a channel will immediately begin live streaming, which also starts with a small info box about what is currently on.

    Favourites is where you can view your favourite channels. These can be saved at the Now & Next screen by swiping to the left on any channel and hitting the heart button. This way you can create a simplified list of channels that you prefer.

    The Guide is the next most important page, as this lists a basic EPG of the channels within your subscription plan, where you can easily scroll back and forth to play back any show from the last 7 days. You can also set reminders for upcoming shows.

    Search: Actually, this is a really nifty feature, as it allows you to easily find any programme from the last 7 days which you can play via catch-up.

    As for the playback screen, there is a pause button which will halt the live stream for a maximum of 60 seconds, plus a 30 second backwards button that will only work twice at any given time. Ignore the Closed Captions button for the moment, as it doesn’t appear to do anything yet, and there is no AirPlay button to be found directly on the playback screen.

    AirPlay is possible though, but you have to use the device’s global AirPlay button and there are no multitasking options, meaning you can’t switch off the iDevice or use it for another purpose as the video will stop playing. If you have an Apple TV 4, you’ll probably be using the native app anyway.

    Video quality during playback tested at the expected 2130kbps*, which looked fine on the small screen, and ok when airplayed over the main TV.

    iBox iPad bitrate 2130kbps

    Like all other iBox.ie platforms, there are no FFW and REW options via catch-up, which is a little disappointing, but all up the app is not a terribly bad way to access iBox.ie all up.

    Platform Pros:

    • UI is one of the better attempts.
    • Favourite channels.
    • I liked the search option.
    • Basic AirPlay support.
    • Reminder option in the EPG for future shows.

    Platform Cons:

    • Sub SD quality streams.
    • No easy way to flick between channels.
    • No FFW or REW in catch-up.
    • No Resume.
    • Closed captions don’t seem to work.
    • No multitasking AirPlay or direct AirPlay button.
    • No Chromecast support.

    (Accessing iBox.ie from outside of Ireland may require a good Smart DNS service)

    Catch-up BUTTON Sub SD BUTTON Live TV BUTTON AirPlay BUTTON

     

     

     

    iBox.ie on this platform are geographically unblocked to provide global access by the following Smart DNS providers:

    Ad GetflixAd SDNSP

  •  

  • iBox.ie via Android

    It’s amazing what a difference a native app can have to an on-demand service! It is all very good mucking around with a web interface while trying to watch TV, but a dedicated app just makes things not only easier to use, but considerably more enjoyable as well.

    Once logged in, just hit the Channel tab from the menu and make your selection from the list of available channels that pops up. Information clearly identifies now and next shows along with their times on-air – but keep in mind this is GMT in winter, or IST in summer, and a single click will take you to the live feed.

    Here it starts to get interesting, as the Android app offers quick channel hopping, a feature that may sound minor, but is actually a big deal. If there is one thing I hate with some live IPTV services, is that they often make it harder to do something which was easier on a 30 year old television set! Take flicking through channels for example. Anyone old enough will remember even decades ago, viewers could change channels from the comfort of their sofa with little more than the press of one button on the remote.

    iBox.ie provide their equivalent with this app, by simply swiping left or right on the screen to flick between channels. (Try doing this on their website, and you will see what I mean). This is a great feature, and is accompanied by two additional gestures. Swipe down for programme information, or up to return back to the main menu.

    There is also a seven day EPG, which displays all shows from every channel over the last week, and subscribers can play back any show. Playback is achieved by a long-press on the selected programme, but although the show will play back with no issues, like the other platforms, there doesn’t seem any way to fast forward or rewind, and additionally, no pause either.

    Video quality remains the same as with the other platforms, a good, but slightly subSD stream averaging  2120kbps*, which in all honesty, could have provided a slightly better feed for that bitrate.

    iBox Android bitrate 2120kbps

    Platform Pros:

    • Best UI of all supported iBox mobile platforms.
    • Nice channel hopping feature.
    • Easy to access live and catch-up streams.

    Platform Cons:

    • No pause, FFW or REW in catch-up content.
    • No Chromecast support.
    • SubSD quality streams.

    (Accessing iBox.ie from outside of Ireland may require a good Smart DNS service)

    Catch-up BUTTON Sub SD BUTTON Live TV BUTTON

     

     

     

    iBox.ie on this platform are geographically unblocked to provide global access by the following Smart DNS providers:

    Ad GetflixAd SDNSP

     

  • iBox.ie via the Apple TV 4

    Best 2iBox.ie were quick to launch an Apple TV 4 app which arrived on the platform only a matter of weeks after the box itself was released into the wild. It beat direct competitor aertv to the platform, along with any of the major broadcasters who still somehow haven’t managed to provide an official catch-up app on the world’s hottest streaming set-top-box.

    This means that at the time of publication, iBox.ie is not only the best way to watch live and catch-up Internet-delivered Irish television on a real TV, but outside of an LG Smart TV, Airplay or Chromecast, it’s actually the only way.

    On the downside, their rush to get this app out came at serious cost in eyeball comfort. On an Apple device which oozes style and design, iBox’s complete lack of it screams at the top of its lungs. We know iBox.ie is a small local outfit in Ireland, but that’s also the reason Apple have provided tvOS templates for developers.

    iBox’s cluttered and quite frankly unattractive UI ruins not only the visual appearance, but also the usability of their EPG – a vital aspect of this otherwise fantastic app.

    But let’s be fair here and concentrate on the good bits for a while. At its heart, iBox.ie provide access to Ireland’s (and the UK’s) linear television, and once a channel is selected, live playback is for the most part seamless and visually reasonably good. Our technical test revealed a solid 2070kbps* average bitrate without any major fluctuations or buffering issues, and whilst actual quality isn’t quite SD levels, it is not far below.

    iBox ATV4 bitrate 2070kbps

    Unfortunately, there was no easy way to hop between channels, something which I feel could be achieved easily via the remote’s touchpad, along with an “on now” guide that should also be available. But it is possible to pause the live stream for up to a minute, just long enough for a quick toilet break, but if you pause for longer than a minute, it will only return back to the live feed.

    The app also provides an EPG for catch-up content, and this is where the cluttered and poorly designed UI fails somewhat. While it certainly is possible to access every program from the last 7 days, it is not as easy and fluid as it should be. There is also the matter of the intriguing “Favourites” tab, of which I have failed to figure out how to use directly on the app. If I create favourite channel on another platform like the iOS app, they will show up here though.

    Still, the EPG can be scrolled by date and time and shows playback at around the same quality as the live streams (as seen in the graph below). The obvious missing feature here is the lack of FFW and REW. Effectively, content streams directly from their servers and treated almost the same way as a live stream, with no Resume feature.

    iBox ATV4 catch-up bitrate 2080kbps

    Overall, iBox.ie’s Apple TV 4 app wins the EOD award for their best platform. It’s a great way to watch Irish TV, whether you have a bad signal back in Ireland, or anywhere in the world with the help of a good Smart DNS provider.

    Platform Pros:

    • Currently the best way to watch iBox.ie on a TV
    • Great way to watch live Irish TV abroad (with Smart DNS)
    • Video quality looks ok on the big screen.

    Platform Cons:

    • No fast way to channel hop.
    • No HD streams.
    • UI is visually unimpressive and cluttered.
    • EPG is a bit awkward to use.
    • No FFW or REW on catch-up content.
    • Can’t figure out the mysterious Favourites option.
    • No cross-platform support.
    • No Resume option.

    (Accessing iBox.ie from outside of Ireland may require a good Smart DNS service)

    Catch-up BUTTON Live TV BUTTONSub SD BUTTON

     

     

     

     

    iBox.ie on this platform are geographically unblocked to provide global access by the following Smart DNS providers:

    Ad GetflixAd SDNSP

  • How to Watch iBox.ie from outside of Ireland

    Officially, iBox.ie is only available within the Republic of Ireland. However, watching Irish TV via iBox.ie on your home television outside of the Republic of Ireland is not only possible, but incredibly easy to do. The trick is to grab yourself a good Smart DNS service. While some people tout VPNs, that method is a little out of date these days and nowhere near as good as Smart DNS.

    Smart DNS is faster than a VPN, easier to set up than a VPN, cheaper than a VPN, and unlike a VPN, it can be configured on most smart TVs and set-top-boxes. So how easy is it?… well that depends on which device you are using. The easiest of all would be the Apple TV 4 (Apple’s latest model), which incidentally is our favourite platform in this review.

    Although other platforms are also possible, including mobile devices and laptops, nothing beats watching TV on a real television from the comfort of your sofa, and the best thing about the Apple TV 4 is that you can add the iBox.ie app, and place it on your Apple TV’s hub alongside apps from your country of residence, so you lose nothing.

    So grab yourself an Apple TV 4 and watch Irish TV today! You’ll need to add the iBox.ie app to the Apple TV, and outside of Ireland this is incredibly easy to do (Note: Earlier Apple TVs do not provide the iBox.ie app, and you must use the Irish version of the app, not the British one from the UK tvOS app store). If you don’t already have a Irish iTunes account, create a free one using this guide. Then add the iBox.ie app from the Irish tvOS app store. Remember, the iBox.ie app can sit happily side-by-side with apps from your own region, so there are no issues there.

     


    Now, you just need to unblock iBox.ie. Normally the app notices if your IP address is outside of the Republic of Ireland and blocks access to the streams. The easiest way to unblock this is via a Smart DNS service.

    Important: Smart DNS is not a method to break through paywalls! Not only is not paying for a subscription service morally wrong, but also considered theft. Smart DNS simply breaks through geographic restrictions and you will still need to subscribe to iBox.ie, even if it is the lowest €3 monthly fee.

    There are a lot of Smart DNS services out there right now, but very few support iBox.ie. However, of the ones that do, our current favourite is Getflix, not only because they work great for iBox.ie, but they also have fantastic support for the Apple TV 4, meaning plenty of other apps like the BBC iPlayer, TV Player, TenPlay, Hulu, Netflix, Plus7, 3Now and more also work outside of their respective countries.

    Ad GetflixAd SDNSP

    Getflix offer a two week free trial with no credit card required for the trial period! This means you can test it out risk free, to see if it works in your home network. If you are happy with the service, they’ll charge only US$3.95 per month and cheaper if you go for longer plans – and that’s less expensive than a cup of coffee these days! Not bad really when you consider full access to iBox’s Irish live and on-demand content, as well as an enormous range of other services as well.

    So why not give it a go and see how easy it is to work for you.

  • Conclusion

    Before we go any further, I have to admit that iBox.ie has rather impressive potential. Here is an Irish version of Zattoo, with both live channels as well as seven day catch-up – at least in principle. Watching Irish television live on the Internet has just found another player, and one that’s willing to shake the tree a little.

    There is no doubt though that iBox is still in its infancy. Platform support is seriously low, although their new Apple TV 4 app raises a few eyebrows, and we consider this to be the best way to watch Irish television via the Internet.

    At the business end of things, iBox.ie does a reasonable job once the live or catch-up material begins playback, which is really the most important thing. Video streamed with minimal fuss and we never experienced any buffering issues. However, video quality was far from what I would consider at a satellite or cable TV level – a claim made by iBox.ie. I can’t rule out that this was due to my geographic location, but from my experience, this was not a major factor.

    I do have issues with iBox’s billing policies however, especially over the way they charge for multiple concurrent streams, which can be registered by error when adding new platforms. I have also rarely come across a streaming service that charges for a month before that month begins.

    How would I like to see iBox.ie improve? First of all, don’t charge viewers for changing platforms or months that were not yet started. This is simply not how it is done in the industry.

    Secondly, I would like to see a wider selection of apps and devices supported, perhaps adding the Roku, AFTV and Nexus Player, with the latter two being especially easy for the company to port since they can use their existing Android app as a reference point.

    Thirdly, higher quality streams. The video quality is average, but not television quality as their website claims – at least in my tests.

    And finally, although I praise the Apple TV app, I still believe they need to put a bit more effort into their user interface.

    Although iBox.ie debut quite low on our review of their service, we have to take into account that this is a young company starting out. Given a bit more time, perhaps more platforms will be added, and bugs ironed out. All our reviews at Eye on-Demand are dynamic, and we do our best to update them when new features and services become available. So bookmark this page and come back at a later date to look out for any changes.

    Finally, with Ireland’s RTÉ Player making it harder to access abroad so that they can push their cut-down International version, many an expat has been looking for alternatives to access Irish television. Thankfully, this new service has recently started up that offers not only the main channels live, but seven day catch-up as well

    Pros:

    • Excellent range of channels.
    • Great value for money, especially for the base package.
    • 7 day catch-up as well as live TV.
    • Great to see an Apple TV 4 app.
    • AirPlay possible.
    • Does not suffer the bizarre blackouts experienced by RTE’s IPTV streams.

    Cons:

    • Potential issues with their billing system.
    • Fees for changing browsers or platforms.
    • Limited number of platforms that can be used.
    • No concurrent streaming on more than one device.
    • Limited platform support.
    • No Chromecast support.
    • No FFW and REW on catch-up content.
    • No Resume feature to remember last spot on catch-up content.
    • No recording options.

     

    Catch-up BUTTON Sub SD BUTTON Live TV BUTTON AirPlay BUTTON

     

     

     

     

    Log:

    30.06.2015: Review Published. Score 5: Needs Polish but has Potential

    21.01.2016: Review updated. Apple TV and iOS app added. Score increased to 5.4.

    * Video quality results are averaged from multiple tests and may be affected by geographic location as well as available bandwidth.

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Comments

  1. Noel Furlong

    Great review, thanks. I am one of those frustrated Irish expats. For those of us without the time or opportunity to watch live tv, this could be a great way to get Irish tv. If ibox could improve their user-friendliness and one of the major DNS redirecting operators took it up, this could be THE solution. Aertv is just too expensive and too limited in terms of what is on offer. Let’s hope ibox makes a breakthrough in the near future.

  2. Ross

    iBox.ie is available for Fire TV, you just have to side load it on. Their website says this, and recommends which version to use. I believe that they can’t officially have a Fire app, as the Fire TV isn’t officially available in Ireland. I don’t however know yet how good it is, just can’t find the time yet to side load it myself!!

    • Hi Ross, thanks for the info. I think I may have to give this a go when I find the time myself, but I’ll probably wait until after the Fire OS 5 update onto all devices, as that should allow sideloaded apps to be able to be launched from the main hub and the recent list). This will make it a far more attractive option.

  3. Dele

    the only issue I see is that it requires an Address in Ireland you have to put one in otherwise you cant continue to next page….

  4. Pat

    I am finding it impossible to connect to Ibox via Android or Amazon Fire Tv. I use Smartdnsproxy, my DNS settings are in my Router. All works well on my Apple TV, Ipad and my Windows 10 Laptop.

    I get this message when trying to use Android:-
    Something is preventing this app from connecting to the Ibox servers. Please check if your internet connection is working on this device

    • Jo Chambers

      Hi Pat, contact SmartDNSProxy as although I haven’t tested this on Android for a while (my subscription has recently ended), it definitely used to work. So perhaps an update is just needed at SmartDNSProxy’s end.