Hands On: Harvard’s View21 Smart TV Freeview+ HD PVR

By Geoff Bowen,

view21 smart tv box

For the past few weeks we’ve been playing around with the View21, a set-top box developed by Harvard International who are probably better known for their Goodmans and iLuv brands. Although the View21′s design isn’t overly attractive (it reminded us of an oven dish!), it certainly packs a punch when it comes to features: pause, rewind and record live TV via twin HD tuners, store over 300 hours of recordings, enjoy free to air HD channels and, more uniquely in this crowded marketplace, the ability to interact and stream from the device using a nifty iOS app.

Check out this video where we unbox and setup the View21:

The View21 Play app enables you to stream and view content from your box as well as to control it. So this allows you to stream live TV directly to your iOS device over your home network. You can also watch recordings from your library without interfering with anyone else using the device. This is something that we’ve been keen to see Sky support and it’s nice to see a newer player beat them to it.

We had a quick play with the app in this video:

In terms of controlling your box, this is slightly less ground breaking, but nevertheless you can use your iOS device as a fully featured remote. Users can also download the View21 Photo app which enables them to push photos from your iOS device to be viewed on your TV screen.

The View21 box itself comes with a small selection of apps, in fact the company states that it’s the first digital box to integrate YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. While we can see the appeal of being able to watch ‘Harlem Shake’ on your TV, we remain less convinced by the current push by manufacturers to use social media through the telly.

View21 pride themselves on making user-friendly digital boxes and this certainly comes across in the device’s no-fuss design. The front panel contains no visual display and opts instead to use small lights to show its status: on/off, fast forwarding/rewinding and whether its currently recording. There are also some physical buttons to allow you turn it on, change the volume/channel, start recording and an “Ok” button to confirm menu options.

We found setup to be painless and straight forward – plug in the power, HDMI and aerial cables and connect it to your router. It was a nice to see the company include all the necessary cables as other companies, to save costs, often omit the HDMI cable.

We found the View21 more than capable of handling the standard Freeview+ functions, such as rewinding and pausing live TV and setting recordings. The EPG (programme guide) was adequate and it’s clear that they’ve aimed to make it user-friendly. We found that it could lag slightly when initially scrolling through the schedule, but once fully loaded it was fine.

The View 21 app performed well, there was some stuttering for the first few seconds as the device buffered the content, but after that, the stream was smooth and good quality. The ability to go to another room and continue watching TV on your iOS device is excellent, as is watching the end of a recorded programme from the comfort of your bed – rather than nodding off on the sofa!

Our main gripe, and this applies to other ‘connected’ boxes, is that the View21 doesn’t come with built in WiFi. While you can buy a wireless adapter, or use a powerline ethernet adapter, it would be nice to see these devices working straight out of the box via Wifi, a la Apple TV.

All in all, if you’re not overly fussed about YouView and if you’re looking for a device that can easily stream live and recorded content to your iOS device, then you can’t go too wrong with the View21. At the time of writing the 500GB version is available on Amazon for £199.99 or £169.99 for the 320GB.