BT is finally trialling a full IPTV service in the United Kingdom, with linear television channels delivered over broadband rather than over the air. While BT is still unable to deliver multicast channels to YouView, it is continuing to develop its BT Vision platform with a new look. Which is nice if you can get the necessary BT Infinity broadband service, but it is a shame about the interface.

User reports suggest that the multicast channels, including a number in high definition, are comparable in quality to those received over the air, if not better, which is hardly surprising. In addition to the output of the main public service broadcasters, they include premium channels usually offered by pay-television providers.

The new look user interface appears to have been designed by engineers. Visually, it can best be described as functional. Notably it sports a “bTV” logo, borrowing the “b” from the branding BT now uses for broadband, as well the “BT Vision” logo.

Apparently it is being delivered to the original BT Vision boxes, minus the Microsoft Mediaroom software. That is intended to save BT some money in licence and operational costs.

BT is continuing to support its legacy BT Vision platform, despite its involvement in the YouView consortium. YouView does at least have an attractive user interface, even if it did cost millions to develop.

Astonishingly the BT YouView box does not yet support multicast. BT is expected to bring the multicast channels to its YouView boxes later in the year. It will subsequently migrate users to that platform, which it is currently promoting as “YouView from BT” to new customers. At the last count BT Vision had an installed base of slightly fewer than 750,000. We have yet to see any numbers from YouView.

Both the original BT Vision and YouView were designed as hybrid broadcast and broadband services due to concerns about the capabilities and capacity of the BT broadband network, notably its lack of support for multicast.

The IPTV channels reportedly require customers to have the BT Infinity service, which is currently only available in areas served by exchanges that have been upgraded and therefore support multicast services.

Rather misleadingly, BT describes its Infinity service as “fibre optic broadband” although in most cases it is delivered as fibre to the street cabinet, with the remaining link over a traditional twisted pair telephone line. It claims to offer download speeds of “up to 76Mb” per second, which is more than enough for several simultaneous high-definition channels. In its last results, the company reported 875,000 customers were connected through BT Infinity. BT plans to cover two thirds of the UK by the end of 2014.

In the long term, IPTV channels can be expected to replace terrestrial reception for many people, but BT has been making slow progress on this compared to its continental counterparts. France leads the world in the penetration of IPTV, with 28% of homes receiving such services.