review Australia’s fourth-largest ISP iiNet has partnered up with Australian wholesale subscription TV provider fetchtv to provide iiNet’s new internet television (IPTV) service for iiNet broadband and DSL customers. The partnership was launched in June and August this year.
The hardware received was fetchtv’s standard set-top box (STB) with 3 TV tuners and a 1 terabyte hard drive. We also received one of iiNet’s BoB ADSL routers (compulsory to use the service) and a remote. The STB is encased in a black gloss case, sits horizontally and is not much bigger than an Xbox 360. BoB is a high gloss finish, slim design similar to a monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey on a much smaller scale with some added width and sass.
The original remote received was dead on arrival, but a replacement was shipped the next day. The new one was a universal remote, albeit a basic one that can control 3 devices.
The fetchtv service is quota-free so it does not go towards iiNet customer’s monthly quota, nor are there any viewing restrictions — watch as much as you want. There are five major categories of entertainment included in the package:
- Free to air digital channels
- Subscription TV Channels: CNBC, BBC World News, National Geographic, MTV, Discovery Science.
- Video On Command: WarnerTV (comedy/drama), Frontiers (Sci-Fi), HiJinx (kids), GekkoTV (kids), Profiles (documentaries), Chronicles (documentaries), Earth Touch (documentaries)
- Movie Box Movies on Command: Movies from Disney, Warner Bros, MGM, Village Roadshow, Hollywood Studios
- Pay per View movies: 40 new release titles available at given anytime and are re-watchable within the 48 hours of renting it. The price for a movie ranges from $3.95 to $6.95.
Other features casual games, social media applications and 24/7 support. Also available is international programming packages — an Indian package and a Pakistani package — available for $19.95 per month.
The Movie Box movies on demand available were mainly hits and pure cheese films from the 1980s, 1990s and a scattering from the naughties. Genres included a mix of martial arts, comedy, horror, romantic comedy and drama. Old favourites are present such as Reservoir Dogs and Blazing Saddles. With 30 titles available at any given time, the library is refreshed with seven titles on a weekly basis.
You can see a video of the service’s interface here:
Movies on Demand took a while to download the full 30 movies on the list, however this didn’t seem so bad taking into consideration all of the other programs that were downloading — and the fact 30 movies to download is not a small amount. We tested the service on a 10Mbps ADSL connection.
Two movies were left to run in sequence but a warning appeared part way into the second movie — “lost connection to STB” — and this happened again on the second attempt. The warning was to the effect that “due to inactivity the current program will stop and the STB will go into standby mode”.
TV on demand was varied from lifestyle documentaries to current popular American drama and comedy series to the sci-fi channel. It seemed that once a few episodes of a series have been watched, new ones were downloaded automatically.
To record a video series was easy and handy. Although episode downloads would double up because of replays on other channels — say a series from ABC1 and a rerun on ABC2 — there was no clear way to differentiate the original stream or choose from which channel to record the series.
Watching IPTV did not hog the bandwidth and did not slow down Internet speeds on other devices. Changing channels using the fetchtv remote was a little slow, but channel shortcuts could be learned/programmed in.
BoB is required to receive the service, which has been an item of dissent among iiNet customers because of the inability of consumers to use their own routers.
“BoB has built in QoS, video support and TR69 for remote diagnostics and config. This means all pieces work together: set top box, gateway, DSLAMs, core, content network,” said iiNet chief executive officer Michael Malone. “I want this to work and the more foreign pieces in the equation, the more chance of failure, and high support load. We’re just not going there. We’ve seen this play out overseas as well, and this is the normal model.”
Before BoB was set up an attempt at using the STB with our own router — an ASUS RT-N16 running tomato firmware and modded to the eyeballs — was made. But the STB would not operate without BoB; the channels including free-to-air were not viewable.
A second attempt was made after BoB was set up where BoB was replaced by the ASUS router. The result was no access to channels and iiNet would not allow the ASUS router connection to the Internet. We probed its ports to see what services were running and only found two open ports — they weren’t easily exploitable – and the port scan showed the STB was definitely running Linux.
The STB only needed rebooting twice during the test period and that was a required reboot after one of the firmware updates. A second reboot was needed when the frame rate dropped and viewing became laggy. The firmware was stable and only needed an update twice: once when it was first set up and a subsequent update a short period later. The firmware updates were brief and not a length of time that would put a viewer out.
The revised fetchtv 2 pricing models are $29.95 per month to rent the required set-top box, along with a $99 setup fee, for a total spend of $817.80 over 24 months. Buying the set-top box outright will cost $399, plus a monthly access fee of $19.95 over 24 months, for a total cost of $877.80 over 24 months.
My time with the iiNet fetchtv service was a breeze from the start. Initial set-up assistance was top shelf customer service. I have to admit I was pretty slack at returning the customer service fetchtv setup calls but when we finally arranged a time to chat on the phone the set-up was a breeze.
Viewing and changing between modes — for example from video on demand to free to air — was easy and there were no recurring issues. If the STB is turned off at the mains, it takes a long time to start up, therefore standby mode is recommended for day to day operation.
The record TV option handy and a feature which our media centre — usually used in the household — is missing. The PVR capabilities supported in this STB are a handy feature that a normal STB or cable box might not support.
I would recommend the service, however I would like to see iiNet provide more content — which it has promised will come — and drop the price just a bit more. It could be a powerhouse once that happens, although iiNet has only sold 300 of the boxes so far (with no advertising support as yet).
Image credit: fetchtv