New hardware, richer experience
The technically minded may already hook their PCs or media-streaming boxes up to the TV to watch internet content, but there are easier all-in-one solutions. And, often, these can access commercial paid services as well as the wealth of free content available on the web. Examples are set-top boxes such as Foxtel’s iQ series, Apple’s Apple TV, Dlink’s Boxee Box and Logitech’s Revue, which supports Google TV. Then there are ISP offerings combining the functions of modem and router with those of IPTV such as Telstra’s T-Box and iiNet’s FetchTV. And finally there are smart TVs, wrapping the IPTV capability into the TV itself, much as they did earlier with digital tuners. Sony, Samsung and LG all have TVs that do this. So how do they compare?
· Foxtel’s iQ supports video on demand for movies and TV shows, with new releases available pay-per-view through Foxtel’s iQ or iQHD devices or an Xbox 360. If you have a Telstra mobile, you can watch Foxtel on that too, or use any smartphone to view the TV guide and set up remote recording of your favourite shows. Foxtel iQ packages range from $75 per month to $130 per month and include the Foxtel iQ device.
· Apple TV is a compact box that’ll access anything on iTunes, as well as YouTube, podcasts and internet radio. The box itself is $129, and movie downloads cost $4-$5 – you have seven days to start watching, then 48 hours to view the whole thing.
· Boxee Box from Dlink is a more open option. Boxee is a software solution – you can build your own Boxee box if you have the time, the skill and the inclination. It integrates your own content with online material from YouTube and other sources accessible through a browser. In the US, that means access to huge repositories of TV shows and movies through services such as Hulu and Netflix, but the content available here is much more limited. The box itself has a quirky design and an unusual QWERTY remote control and costs around $300.
· Logitech Revue is a Google TV-based device with a similar philosophy to the Boxee Box – it integrates all the content you have into a single interface. Predictably, the interface relies on searching: if you enter a movie title, Google TV will find it for you, if it’s accessible from any of your sources. Those sources can include YouTube’s Leanback facility, which lets you define your own channels. The Revue costs $249, with no ongoing subscription costs.
· Telstra’s T-Box provides PVR capability, a program guide and access to BigPond’s own movies, TV channels (mainly sport and news) and thousands of on-demand videos. All this and the free-to-air channels are available unmetered. You can access YouTube videos too, but these count as downloads. To boost the offering, Telstra is about to extend the service to include another 30 channels and some 300 video-on-demand titles from Foxtel. The T-Box costs $299 with a package, but price can depend on which agent you buy through.
· FetchTV is available from iiNet, Internode and (soon) Adam Internet and offers the standard free-to-air channels plus 27 more channels, three tuners and access to interactive sites such as Twitter and Facebook as well as some games on your TV. There’s both TV and movies on demand, some being free and some pay-per-view. iiNet along with Internode, Apex, iPrimus, Adam Internet and Vivid Wireless have also teamed up with TiVo to provide a service around the TiVo PVR providing additional content that’s not metered. The FetchTV box comes as a package of either $14.95 per month or $29.95 per month on top of your current ISP bill.
· Smart TVs are becoming more common and bundle either Google TV as a solution or a selection of other IPTV sources, as the Boxee Box or Telstra’s T-Box do. For example TVs with LG’s Netcast TV and Samsung internet@TV have the same access to services as Telstra’s T-Box, without the PVR capability. While this makes it easy to get into the IPTV game, you’re tied to whatever services the TV vendor provides.