It wasn’t that long ago when VHS recorders were common place in almost every home. Since the move to Digital TV the set-top-box market has changed dramatically. First we had DVD recorders, then Hard-Drive recorders or a combination of both. In the same period of time the “video store” has almost become extinct and we’re watching less live TV than ever with the internet serving up almost anything we need. There aren’t too many boxes which can help you meet all these needs.
I want to look at the Fetch TV box – a set-top box that until now has been sold through internet retailers iiNet and Optus, but as of June 2014 it’s going on sale at your local Harvey Norman – so what’s all the fuss?
The TiVo is the personal video recorder (PVR) of choice in then USA with huge market share and brand awareness but the Australian model while it had some level of sales success is no longer supported directly so won’t evolve as a platform in this market.
Telstra’s T-Box has been a huge success in terms of the number of units in the market. That success has been driven by the power of the Telstra machine and Telstra’s bundling package sign-ups. The T-Box offers the ability to record two TV shows while watching a third (as long as the third is from the same network as one of the two being recorded), it offers movie rentals direct via the internet and has a few internet delivered TV channels and the ability to add some limited Foxtel channel packages which are delivered via your broadband connection.
Foxtel offers a huge range of TV channels delivered via cable or satellite, and its “IQ” box is fast becoming the standard people think of when referring to “recording TV”. On the second generation IQ box you can also add your internet connection and watch on-demand content so it’s ticking a stack of the boxes – unfortunately, unlike the superb Foxtel mobile applications, the user interface on Foxtel IQ is nothing short of archaic. It’s just downright ugly, slow and feature poor.
Fetch TV has been around since 2010 and offers a similar range of features to the T-Box, but from what I’ve seen in day-to-day use of the box – there are some clear advantages to what Fetch has to offer.
The User Interface
Fetch TV is like nothing else on the market, its main menu page highlights key movie or TV content available on demand, while the rest of the system features are separated into six menu headings: “My Stuff”, “Movies”, “TV”, “Apps”, “Manage” and “iiNet” (in the case of the box I’m testing.
Underneath these headings is everything you’ll need – with all primary functions like TV Guide, Movie Rentals or your recorded items all accessible with just two total clicks of your remote on the menu (with the most regular items actually a single click away via dedicated buttons on the remote).
The interface and menus are always transparent allowing the TV show or content you’re watching to continue “in the background”.
When browsing large amounts of content like movies, on demand TV shows or apps, the menu layout is the same with a series of nine large tiles with a graphic representing the content.
It’s easy to get used to and navigate and with just a days use you’ll know where everything is.
Working against the interface is the remote. While it’s light and somewhat familiar looking to this long-term Foxtel customer, there are a couple of confusing things about it. The Menu button which is the quickest way to get right back to the main menu – is located below the primary keypad (arrows and “paw” (ok)). I found myself looking for the Menu button up the top more often than not. Up top you’ll find a key and clear EPG button, as well as dedicated “Movie Rentals” button and “PVR” button for fast access to two of the Fetch TV box’s best features.
Secondly the “paw” logo which sits in the middle of the four arrow controller should mean “ok”, but I kept pressing it to go to the main menu – because the “paw” seems like a “home” button as it’s the logo of the Fetch service overall. This is likely just me as a Foxtel user – but it may confuse some first up.
Out of the box your Fetch TV will need tuning to find your local Digital Free-to-air channels and once found they will take up a set of channels on the box between numbers 1 and 100.
Because the free-to-air channels are received using traditional Digital TV tuners they are snappy to browse and channel changes are just as you’d expect. The EPG data associated with them is where you’ll be impressed – channel info is shown on-screen and it’s shown with almost no delay. This is where we start to see the Fetch box smarts really getting to work.
If you add-on the optional “pay TV” channels you won’t believe how quickly you can flick between the channels. As a cable Foxtel user I expect channels to show the moment I choose them – surprisingly, this is exactly how Fetch delivers it’s IPTV channels. How? I don’t know – but let me tell you it’s something they pride themselves on. It’s something that people who’ve used other internet delivered TV boxes would marvel at – and Fetch know that.
Hand in hand with the channel selection comes a top-notch EPG. A bit plain to look at, the version you get on your tablet app is better than what appears on-screen, with Channel logos down the left not just the written text. I’m told that’s coming soon in an update to the user interface.
Again the content in your EPG loads fast and allows you to skip forward in your day with ease and set programs to record and “series tag” with just a few clicks.
As a replacement for the old VHS – the Fetch TV is one of the best I’ve seen. While some of the features are not first or exclusive to Fetch, they are all combined into a single box which really makes the concept of recording live TV and watching it back later.
While watching TV you can arrow forward to record shows, while in the EPG it’s a single click of the “R” button to set a recording. You can also “series tag” (most) shows for ongoing record with a second click of the R button. Yep, that’s all pretty straightforward.
It’s the little things though that make it great. So you’ve set Micky Mouse Clubhouse to record – ever episode – that’s great. When you set Nine News to record though you don’t really want to keep every single show – you just want the latest one. That’s easy. You’ve set a recording ongoing for Mythbusters on SBS – well why not keep the last two, or maybe three of those? All this is configurable when you have a recording scheduled.
Once recorded though, the method of cataloging your recordings is fantastic. With Foxtel IQ you’ve got a long list in chronological order. On Fetch you’ve got a series of “folders”. One for each program. Underneath that is each episode. If there is a huge number of them you might even see a second folder of “seasons”.
This makes finding shows so fast, so easy, and importantly it makes managing your recordings a breeze.
As a PVR alone the Fetch TV box is worth the investment.
So you once had Foxtel, or your friends have told you about the TV Hits channel and all the cool hit shows like Law & Order or Seinfeld which are on regularly. Perhaps documentaries are your thing and NatGeo channel is appealing, or there are kids in the house so the kids channels like Disney Junior or Nickelodeon would be good to have. There are another 35+ channels available to add to your normal free-to-air viewing. These channels come at a cost of $15 per month which is pretty good value.
This has come about after the Foxtel Austar company merger, which saw the ACCC ensure that any channel agreements which expire on Foxtel being opened up to competition – so when Disney Junior’s contract with Foxtel ended, Foxtel could no longer seek exclusivity over the channel – enter Fetch TV and we’ve now got a solid offering of content, even from Foxtel operated channels like TV Hits or Fox Sports News – but don’t hold your breath for Fox Sports or Showcase any time soon.
EFTM understands that in early 2015 a stack more channels will hit the Fetch platforms after their exclusivity windows with Foxtel expire.
But there’s a catch. These channels are all delivered via your internet connection. Great if you’re with Optus or iiNet because that doesn’t “count” toward your monthly data usage. But if you’re with Optus or iiNet you’re probably not the target for the off the shelf Fetch TV purchase. EFTM understands that both Dodo and Primus are trialling the service and may join up with Fetch TV in the near future so the world of unmetered viewing is expanding continually.
Of course if you’re lucky enough to have some sort of “unlimited” data plan (many TPG customers do) then this is all a non issue for you.
I’m lucky, I’ve got a fast cable internet connection and a healthy monthly allowance, however with the amount of times that Disney Junior gets a run in our house as well as recorded or catch-up TV, I’m worried about my connection’s data limit.
If you’ve got 100GB or less data per month then the additional channel lineup probably isn’t for you. No matter what your limit – check your usage daily for the first few weeks of usage to be sure of how it’s affecting your plan.
Streaming Fetch IPTV channels for four hours each day of the month would add up to around 100GB alone – now that’s an extreme amount of consumption I’d think – but as more channels are added there is probably more time to spend viewing – so alongside your regular internet usage you can see how it’s important to consider your data.
Regardless, and fortunately for Fetch TV the IPTV services aren’t core business, the box alone with its PVR, CatchUp TV services and Movie-store functionality is impressive enough to justify the purchase.
iiNet and Optus customers signed up to Fetch TV have been paying a monthly service fee for the box and the services they choose. One such service is a set of 30 movies, curated by Fetch each month which are available to watch at no additional cost. Called “Movie Box” these 30 titles are changed each month and give you a heap to watch without paying extra.
But for those who buy the Fetch TV box “off the shelf” how will that work? A $5 monthly access fee required as part of the purchase will give you that “Movie Box” access. So you’re essentially getting access to a selected group of movies each month to watch at no additional cost.
In reality, that subscription also puts your straight into the Fetch TV billing system so when you see those “recommended” movies appearing on the screen you’re just a click away from a $5.95 rental.
Renting movies opens you up to the larger 2500+ titles available. For $5.95 (SD – $6.95 HD and $3.95 for older “library” titles) you can watch a movie as many times as you like in a 48 hour period. Pretty standard online movie rental costs and terms.
Why the movie companies keep their libraries so small is beyond me. On Spotify, Google and iTunes you can search for between 20 and 30 million songs – straight away. Movie companies are living in the past and restricting access to what could be tens of thousands of movies – if only.
Fetch are confident they can grow their movie database to in excess of 4,000 by later this year which is a huge step in the right direction.
When browsing movies the Fetch team have done some cool things to make the choices easier. Rotten tomato ratings are available for each movie, as well as metadata driven searches. So if Adam Sandler is in a movie, click his name to view all the movies available starring Adam Sandler.
Again, movies are delivered via your internet connection, so keep an eye on that data usage kids! (unless you’re on Optus, iiNet or have some rocking good unlimited data plan)
On Demand content
This is the future. We won’t need to stream live TV and record bits of it – content will be there for us to grab at our own will. But – we’re not “quite” there yet.
Fetch TV takes you as close as you’ll get to this future world.
Catch Up services from ABC (iView) and SBS (OnDemand) are available in a single common interface, with Plus7, TenPlay and JumpIn (9) all coming soon. The browsing and viewing of all that content is in a familiar “fetch” user interface so you don’t need to learn how to browse a given network’s content. Putting it all together to browse by genre and search together would be brilliant – but you’ll have to speak to the individual networks about that one.
Then there is the On Demand TV content available straight from the menu system. These are shows available as part of the Fetch content deals to stream channels like Disney Junior etc. So a simple browse and click has you watching Mister Maker and Fireman Sam in no time.
Without ever watching a single live IPTV channel you could be getting all the content you’ll ever need.
“Catch Up” is available to all Fetch Users – however the “On Demand” content Fetch has that is not from the Free-to-airs will only be seen if you’ve got a subscription to the additional channel package.
The content is fast to load and top quality – you won’t need to record much from Live TV again.
Not to be outdone by the likes of Foxtel Go Fetch TV has a sleek app for your iPhone, iPad or Android device.
At the very least it’s a powerful remote and program guide for your TV. Browsing the guide and then clicking “Play on TV” is simple and fast.
Making it a next level app is how it allows you to view some of your content already recorded onto the box – on your tablet or Android device. Now your mobile and tablet become your second TV.
You could – in theory, record loads of great shows for the kids, and they never see them on the big TV – they could use the mobile alone for that. However, there’s a catch, and this is where the complicated world of rights comes in. For your Free-to-air recordings you can watch them around the house. For your “Additional Channel” recordings, most likely they’ll only be accessible to play on the main TV.
This is complex, and EFTM understands Fetch is working with its content providers to improve this over time.
For now though, the access to your guide, to the remote and some of your recordings makes the app a very worthwhile addition to the “smart devices” in any Fetch TV home.
Added bits and bobs
There’s a stack of other cool stuff here – it would take encyclopedia’s to document. YouTube access, NASA TV, even a dashboard showing you what is hot on TV right now based on actual viewer data across the “Fetch network” – there is more to explore.
It’s a good-sized box, would look good on any trendy entertainment unit so doesn’t need to be hidden. The user interface is excellent, and the speed at which it performs will blow your mind. The PVR functionality alone makes Fetch TV a great option.
At $350 it’s an expensive PVR. You’re going to want to be a keen movie viewing household, or confident you’ll watch the catch up services or use some of the additional channels to make it really pay dividends – and at the same time, you’re going to have to watch your home data allowance!
NB: The $350 cost includes in the box two powerline ethernet adaptors, to help you get the internet connection to where your TV is in the house.
In a world where data-caps are much higher, where more content is available on demand at the viewers choice when TV rights grow up a bit – this is the box to have. In the meantime, it ticks more than enough boxes to make it worthwhile if you can stump up the cash.
Top stuff. Locally developed software, a small and nimble yet globally backed company that can really make an impact on our lounge rooms – this is the first box I’ve seen which I feel comfortable any person could use to “replace the old VHS” machine with ease and without requiring too much additional learning.
The movie functionality adds great value while the range of content in the additional channels both today and into the future really put this in the sights of every non-Foxtel home.. Worryingly perhaps for Foxtel, it’s probably in the sights of some Foxtel customers too.