Freebox Revolution: Best Set-Top Box in the World

With 250GB HDD and Blu-ray drive, at €36/month, in France only
By Jean Jacques Maleval on 2010.12.22

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We don't know any country in the world where you can get such a lot Internet services at such a low price with the new set-top box Freebox Revolution from Free, an Iliad subsidiary.


Look at what you get for €35.98 per month
and a fixed amount of 96€ to pay
when you subscribe:

  • two boxes - a player and a server -that can sited separately and connected over mains wiring using supplied Freeplug Powerline adapters; they include:
  • a 250GB NAS (it was only 40GB on the former Freebox) with UPnP protocol to record contents but also to share them on different terminals in the house as well as multi-terminal viewing (TV, computers, smart phones, notepads, etc.)
  • a Blu-ray optical reader for 12cm media only, compatible with CD and DVD
  • WiFi 802.11n 3x3 450 Mbps
  • Compatibility with ADSL over a phone line at up to 28Mb/s, or fiber connection at up to 100Mb/s
  • a TNT tuner to receive some free French HD TV programs
  • a hub with 4GbE (1000 Base-T) ports
  • a DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telephone) Cat-IQ base with the possibility to connect eight DECT handsets
  • several external ports: two USB 2.0s and one eSATA for external HDDs and peripherals (digital cameras, MP3 players, etc.), one audio video input/output
  • front panel 128 pixel OLED display that can show the time
  • two loudspeakers
  • a remote control, of course, here using radio communication (no need to point the remote control at the box in order to use it), but also an accelerometer and a triple-axis gyro that enable subscribers to interact with the box via hand movement and to surf the Web with ease

That's for the hardware based on two boxes running on Linux Kernel, the player using Intel Atom CE4100 processor at 1.2GHz and the server an ARM9 at the same 1.2GHz.

And now, among the services:

  • Phone calls to France including mobiles and in over a hundred countries for free (as well mobiles in USA)
  • Over 400 TV channels available, of which 185 included in the package, some of them in HD
  • Hundreds of radio channels
  • TV guide
  • Cinematographic encyclopedia
  • Download of files to the server over HTTP, FTP and torrent protocols and downloadable applications to be available through Freestore app store
  • iPhone and iPad application allowing recordings to be set remotely.
  • Whole host of downloadable applications: practical applications, news and weather applications, social network applications, games, etc.
  • Free has teamed up with Gameloft in order to provide HD-games
  • Possibility to connect a keyboard and mouse if required

Our Comments

In 2002 Free designed the first triple-play box, the Freebox, at €29.99/month, but is fighting against Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom in the competitive French broadband market.

Its owner, Iliad (revenues of €1,105 billion in the first six months of 2010) claimed at the end of June 4.5 million ADSL subscribers with 3.9 million under the Free brand name and 600,000 for Alice, another acquired set-top box offering.

This  Revolution unit is impressive but we have two questions:

  • Why two boxes? They authorize surely to simplify the management of the server and the player but it has a cost and we could imagine an integrated unit with a unique and faster processor for a lower price.
  • Why an expansive Blu-ray drive has been added? With VOD growing, we could get HD movies directly from the web. Rather than this optical unit, we would prefer a higher capacity HDD, at 1TB for example.

Two million Freebox Revolutions would have been ordered in under a day, after the announcement - but this rumor has to be confirmed.

What's sure is that in France, with this kind of high-end and low cost set-top box, the vendors of home NAS and A/V units (Qnap, Seagate, Synology, Thecus, WD, etc.) will see their market declining in the country. The only real device to be added to the new set-top box is eventually an external HDD to increase the capacity available to store more than 250GB of contents.