Internet Protocol television: not something that rolls off the tongue. Yet it's something that many of us will be watching everyday in the near future. But what is IPTV? As it sounds, it's television delivered via the internet, and the FetchTV is one of several new systems offering a wealth of content beyond normal free-to-air.
The FetchTV looks very similar to the Foxtel iQ2 when they're placed side by side, and has a piano-black finish and blue activity lights. However, the FetchTV adds some distinctive touches that mean it can't easily be confused with the cable provider's offering. Firstly, the logo: the FetchTV features the doggy logo on the left-hand side, which also doubles as a power light — a blue dog when on and a red one when switched off. Secondly, there is only one control on the front of the unit: power. While this makes the unit hard to control if you lose the remote, it also serves to keep the front of the box clean and uncluttered.
The remote that ships with the device is quite similar to others in the genre and is friendly and easy to use. Unfortunately, there's minimal backlighting, though.
The FetchTV is what could be described as a "hybrid PVR", as it includes dual HD digital tuners and an IPTV receiver. The box enables users to record two channels at a time from any source and then watch a third. The box includes a capacious 1TB HDD, which promises up to 500 hours of recordings.
FetchTV is offered by a handful of internet service providers (ISPs) presently, with the two major ones being Internode and iiNet. In addition to the digital free-to-air channels, the box offers over a dozen channels delivered through your internet connection including MTV, National Geographic and the travel-centric Luxe TV. There are also a number of football (soccer) channels such as Manchester Union TV and Chelsea.
The ISPs are offering four different ways to pay for and use the FetchTV. Subscribers can either buy the box outright for AU$399 and then pay AU$19.95 per month for the full service, or AU$5.95 per month for Lite (which only includes the pay-per-view channels). The more economical method is simply rent the box with no upfront outlay for AU$29.95 a month for the full package or AU$14.95 a month.
Subscribers get to choose from 30 on-demand movies as part of the package with content refreshed every week, though most of these are older titles. There is also a selection of pay-per-view TV and movie content from the likes of Warner Bros and Paramount.
If you've got five minutes of thumb twiddling to do, the FetchTV offers some time killers in the form of interactive games such as Patience and Blackjack, in addition to a Facebook app. Text input with a remote control remains a pain, though.
One of the FetchTV's most valuable additions is the selection of 15 music channels arranged by categories including rock, urban, indie, pop, jazz and classical. Each channel gives you cover art for the song just played, the song now playing and the next, as well as a helpful progress bar. After each song the screen changes, which is of use to users with plasma screens.
The music channels are some of the FetchTV's best features. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
In addition, FetchTV says to expect "some exciting news in 2011" as far as content is concerned. In the meantime, iiNet and Internode customers are greeted with a "Coming Soon" screen.
At present, there aren't any remote recording capabilities — something Foxtel and TiVo users have enjoyed for a while — but FetchTV says this is "still under development and is not available yet".
Connections on the FetchTV include an antenna pass-through, USB (not used at the moment), AV-out, component, HDMI, digital and optical audio and an Ethernet port. There is no wireless option.
The hardest part of setting up the Fetch TV was that it required a new ADSL router, which, according to Internode, only two companies make routers that support the Fetch: Fritz! and Billion. If you're looking to take up the service it bears to keep this in mind. Your line also needs to pass a speed test to make sure it can handle the bandwidth required.
With the router set-up completed, we hooked up the FetchTV via Ethernet and the corresponding install took about 30 minutes. The box browsed all of our digital free-to-air channels and then presented us with the main screen.
If you sign up with Internode, it will require changing to a FetchTV-specific account that apportions bandwidth to the box and your regular usage accordingly. Internode guarantees users will never receive any less than 512Kbps for normal internet usage while using Fetch, though we did notice some slowdowns with web browsing at times.
Even so, in our attempt to "max out the pipe", we were able to watch the high bandwidth Luxe TV channel, stream a song from Music Unlimited, download a file at 250Kbps and conduct a speed test simultaneously without a glitch!
While we were able to get a whole range of channels with the tuner — including regional stations — we found that reception was a little spotty. Channel 7 in particular gave us problems with stuttering and blocky break-ups every 30 seconds. While the digital tuner on our Panasonic G10 had no problems with 7mate, the FetchTV hiccuped and burped its way through daytime reruns of Airwolf and Baywatch. On occasions we'd also get some freezing on IPTV channels as well, but less frequently.
Overall, we found the user experience with the FetchTV box to be quite positive — the screens are sensibly arranged and it's easy to navigate around. The Electronic Program Guide features a Picture-in-Picture display, but we wish that it could have fit more channel information on-screen instead.
Recording and watching channels was a breeze, and setting up "Series Tag" was a straightforward experience — all recordings of a single series are also conveniently grouped into a single folder. Picture quality on live and IPTV channels was at most times indistinguishable, and recordings were also of a high standard. We were a little disappointed that all of the content — whether web- or tuner-based was restricted to two-channel audio.
Only on video-on-demand did the web-based nature of the service show itself, and we think this was due to the low bitrate content and not the "pipe" itself. For example, while the pay-per-view copy of The Other Guys was presented in standard definition, static shots would occasionally "de-rez" or strobe, and a lack of surround sound meant that action scenes lacked the oomph that an equivalent AU$5.95 purchase on the Foxtel iQ2 service would deliver.
At the end of the day, people will pay for content. The FetchTV offers more channels and the ability to record them over the equivalently priced Foxtel on Xbox 360, making it a better deal overall.
But the channels provided still seem a little scattergun, and don't particularly cater to any one taste. While you can opt to pay just AU$14.95 instead for digital TV and pay-per-view only this is a fairly poor option.
While Foxtel iQ2 is undeniably more expensive, the selection of channels and exclusive local content means it's still the king of paid content in Australia. With that said, we look forward to seeing what FetchTV can offer in the future.