In particular Liberty's Horizon box, produced by Samsung on an Intel platform and powered by NDS software, seems to be a serious contender for a standardised IPTV/OTT high spec box.
It was being bigged up again this week by the impressive CEO of Liberty, Mike Fries. Remembering how he had the whole of the European cable industry senior execs wrapped around his little finger at CTAM this year, I find it difficult to dispute him.
Essentially, what is happening is that cablescos and ISPs have finally realised that putting mobile phone chips into their set top boxes and then asking users to wait several seconds for the box to change a cursor position on an EPG (as my brand new Samsung Virgin Plus box on their highest tariff does) is a false saving. Clients get pi**ed off and go to another provider.
Forgive me for mixing my metaphors, but by lowering the bar, Intel has raised the bar for the traditional STB players.
Virgin, of course, have jumped into bed with Tivo, although I have heard nothing of this as a consumer as yet, so they have also gone 'upmarket'.
If you're asking someone to stump up £50 a month for TV and £100 for a bundled service, then you had better give them a decent experience, and the boxes out there are just frustrating. My Humax Freesat box takes days to think about changing from one line to the next on the EPG, doesn't handle overlay properly and has a barking remote and UI, so Virgin aren't alone...
The trouble is that great customer experience in STB UIs is expected by consumer, and by the time they've acquired a service it's too late, so they put up with an awful experience that would make a web user cringe.
Unfortunately, bad UI/EPGs don't win new customers, they just loses existing ones. It doesn't have the same impact as content bundles and PVR and OTT features, but I bet if someone put out a lightening fast UI on an STB word would travel fast and someone would be onto a winner. Without having seen the Horzon box I can't comment on its performance.
Meanwhile, I have to wait almost a minute and a half for the Virgin on demand service to load. By then I've switched over to my Mini Mac, navigated to iPlayer and cut my cable, sort of...
If only Apple had a product that would do to this what they did to mobile and to computing. Hey, they could call it 'Apple TV' and we'd all want one!
In the meantime, for YouView, it's game over...