If you're buying a TV in 2010, one of the big new selling points is Internet video like Sony's Bravia Internet Video - basically it means your TV comes with new menus showing Internet TV channels. For example, Sony's new Bravia Internet video comes with "15 Internet channels", including Billabong, YouTube, as well as a range of TV shows such as Sunrise, Highway Patrol, 30 Rock, RockQuiz, Dateline and Italian Food Safaris. It's called Catch Up TV, and to watch it you browse the menu using your TV remote, and select the show you want.
It looks like 2010 is the year Catch Up TV and online video on your TV goes big in Australia. Services such as iView, Plus7 and SBS are coming directly to new televisions from the likes of Panasonic and Sony, while Samsung and LG have cut deals with Telstra's Bigpond TV.
New TV or new Blu-Ray player - which should you get?
While I'm excited about the boom in Australian online video, I'm not excited about the prospect of replacing my perfectly good high-def television just to watch Catch Up TV in the lounge room.
Thankfully vendors such as Sony are building their online video services into their Blu-ray players, so you can spend hundreds of dollars to embrace online video rather than spending thousands on a new television.
Sony spokesman Paul Colley confirms the upcoming BDP-S370 Blu-ray player will feature the same Bravia Internet Video platform as the Bravia televisions, offering access to iView, SBS and Plus7.
|Bravia Internet Video: quality is crisp, though not all the "channels" are unmetered
Panasonic's Viera Cast service currently works on its televisions and Blu-ray players, although it offers little more than YouTube access. Panasonic is embracing Plus7 but unfortunately access is restricted to its new televisions for now - the VT20 and V20 VIERA plasmas, D25 Series LED LCD TVs and S25 Series LCD TVs.
Meanwhile Yahoo!7's Amanda Millar tells me that Plus7 aims to be "platform agnostic" and that developers are talking to a number of vendors and looking at a range of devices. It is seems that it's only a matter of time before Plus7 comes to Panasonic Blu-ray players along with a wealth of other devices such as the PlayStation 3 and maybe the Boxee Box
. Blu-Ray players - the jack of all trades?
So what does all this mean? I've said it once and I'll say it again; when you're buying a new television focus on picture quality
. Let your various set top boxes handle all the fancy new features and services such as Catch Up TV and DLNA
. It looks like Blu-ray players are set to evolve into jack-of-all-trade video devices to do most of the heavy lifting in the digital lounge room.
How good is Bravia Internet Video?
Plus7 looks very impressive on a Sony Bravia via the Bravia Internet Video platform - much sharper than Plus7 running full screen in a browser on a computer. That's because Seven optimises content for different platforms. SBS content is also available via the Bravia service.
It seems the ABC's iView is set to get the same optimisation treatment although the unfortunate trade off is that iView access via televisions won't be unmetered, even if your ISP offers unmetered browser-based iView access (a situation that the ABC hopes to remedy in the future). As for unmetered Plus7, Yahoo!7 spokeswoman Amanda Millar says "not at this stage" - which I'll take as a "watch this space".
Meanwhile I think the lack of unmetering is a small price to pay to get such crisp online video directly onto your television. It's bandwidth that would have otherwise gone on BitTorrent anyway. I suspect easy access to Catch Up TV services might put a dint in online piracy, which will hopefully encourage the other networks to accelerate their Catch Up TV services.
Nine's new FixPlay service is impressive but Ten's still needs polish. Meanwhile the content on Bigpond's online TV and Movies services is woeful and you really have to wonder if LG and Samsung have backed the wrong horse. I wouldn't be surprised if Bigpond strikes a deal with Nine's Fixplay, otherwise I don't really see the point in buying Telstra's new T-Box PVR/streaming media box (hopefully we'll take a First Look at Telstra's T-Box soon).
The Freeview consortium is also working on a Catch Up TV platform as another weapon in its war with Foxtel. Hopefully the common enemy of Pay TV will encourage the free-to air-networks to take a coordinated approach to Catch Up TV, which would be a major win for couch potatoes.