CHOICE guide to electronic program guides

What’s an electronic program guide (EPG) and do you need one?
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Please note: this information was current as of August 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

What's an EPG?

An electronic program guide (EPG) is just a TV guide by another name. It's different because it isn't on paper. It comes direct to your TV, rather than you having to go out and buy it. More than that, it's a useful tool for planning and organising your TV watching. Used with a PVR, it can free you from the broadcaster's schedule and allow you to watch what you like when you like. See our 2010 review of current EPGs.

Two types of EPG

  • If you've already switched over to digital TV, you're probably already aware of the limited guides available for each channel when you press the 'Guide' button on your remote control. These EPGs are supplied free, but aren't always complete. Currently, all networks except SBS are providing seven days of information. SBS limits its information to what's on now and coming next, but this could change in the future.
  • The other type of EPG is tied to a product you have to pay for, such as Foxtel, IceTV or TiVo. The main advantage of these EPGs is that they provide more detailed program descriptions, may be more accurate (see Legal battle) and have other services such as programming a recording based on a keyword, or setting up a recording via the internet.


Why are they better than paper?

Paper guides have served us well for a long time, but in an increasingly digital world they have two major failings:

As the number of channels increases and consequently the amount of programs available grows, paper listings start to get very cluttered. Space on the page is limited and program synopses get squeezed, which can reduce their usefulness.

Paper guides don't make it any easier to program your digital (hard disc) recorder (aka personal video recorder, PVR). An EPG does. It's as simple as putting the cursor over a program and pressing the record button - no need to access timer settings or fiddle about with complicated menus. See What can an EPG do? for more.

What's TiVo?

TiVo  is a digital recorder (PVR) that's available in Australia via an agreement with Channel 7. This doesn't limit it to any particular channels' broadcasts, but Channel 7 obviously sees it as a future profitable product. It requires a broadband internet connection as well as a normal TV aerial to work, but unlike TiVo in the US there's no ongoing subscription cost. However, at the launch of TiVo there was a clear indication that extra functions and services may well come at a cost.

TiVo will learn your preferences and record any program that fits your normal viewing habits. The EPG for TiVo is sent to it via the internet connection and has more detail than the broadcast EPG.

CHOICE hopes to see competitors for TiVo in the near future. IceTV is keen to be a player in supplying its product to PVR and media PC manufacturers that want to compete, and there may be others in the future if the copyright issues can be resolved (see Legal battle).

Foxtel has a similar product called IQ for an extra cost on top of the normal Foxtel subscription.



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