The new set top box might look vaguely like Foxtel or TiVo, but there are key differences.
Up till now, questions over download limits, bandwidth, and the quality of shows and movies have limited the appeal of IPTV technology in Australia. But some are beginning to look more enticing, including the new Fetch TV box.
This is one of the most significant things we took away from our brief demo session this week - Fetch TV represents the emergence of better set top quality video over the Web, without impacting your download quota (it's all unmetered).
Unlike Boxee, for example, Fetch TV is designed for content controlled, broadcast quality, subscription video channels, rather than a raw stream of whatever Web feeds you can plug into the box.
The one interesting upshot is that the ABC's iView isn't yet built into Fetch TV, which we're told is due to quality reasons. This makes sense, if you're paying for content, you'd want something better than the free Web feed everyone else gets on their PC - although it's something to keep in mind if you're a heavy iView user.
Cost and content
On a basic level, the black Fetch TV box gives you yet another way to plug into more TV channels, and movies on demand - in this case a selection of TV channels including National Geographic, BBC World News, Discovery Turbo, Discovery Science, and MTV Music Television, plus a choice of 30 movies at any one time (seven new titles added to the mix every week), and on demand TV series like Big Bang Theory and Gossip Girl. Sport is popular with Pay TV viewers - we didn't see much of it in our brief demo, so it will be interesting to see if this has any impact on Fetch's popularity.
These are all included as part of $19.95 per month fee (or $29.95 if you rent the Fetch TV box). On top of that, you can watch pay per view movies, either in standard definition for $5.95, or HD for $6.95.
This does appear at first to be a relatively good deal - thought keep in mind the rest of the associated broadband charges. At this stage you have to be an iiNet customer and sign for 24 months. Say you're buying the box outright for $399. If you're not an iiNet user you'll need to add in a broadband plan, bringing setup to $79.95. Then you need to pay for the BOB modem - that's either $9.95 per month, or $369 outright, plus your broadband bill.
iiNet is quoting two broadband speeds needed for anyone wanting to signup to Fetch TV - 4.6Mbps or more for the full service, or 1.5Mbps for Fetch TV without the subscription channels. They estimate the TV channels themselves use up approximately 2Mbps.
Fetch TV includes quality of service (QOS) features which aim to alleviate bandwidth/latency issues resulting from other people in the same house using the Internet at the same time.
Pick your box
There are a myriad of ways to get digital video onto your TV right now. Above all the technical reasons, one of the biggest things Fetch TV has going for it is that it's family friendly. It's DLNA compliant for networking your PC or NAS box, the intended function is as a TiVo-style recorder and video on demand service.
In one device, Fetch also gives you a PVR for recording TV, along with a video on demand service - whereas boxes like Apple TV and Western Digital's WD TV Live only focus on one of these things.
Not everyone will have the connection speed for this, and we'll be waiting to see how much more movies and TV shows are added to the service. But for anyone sick of fees at their local DVD rental shop, or wanting to access more channels, IPTV boxes like this one are beginning to look more appealing.