Fetch TV personal video recorder for free-to-air and subscription IPTV.Recording free-to-air and pay TV, with minimal monthly fees, makes Fetch TV one of Australia’s most attractive lounge room companions.
Fetch TV is one of Australia’s online subscription video services which has risen up in the last few years to challenge Foxtel. Fetch TV doesn’t sell direct to the public, you can only buy a Fetch TV set-top box through a handful of ISPs; iiNet, Internode, Optus, Westnet, Adam Internet and TransACT.
Deals vary between ISPs, but generally you can buy the Fetch TV box outright for $299 or else rent it for $9.95 per month on a 24 month contract (although you don’t own it at the end of the contract). If you buy the Fetch TV box outright you still need to pay $4.95 per month for the basic free-to-air service, which lets you plug in your aerial and record two channels at once while watching a third. That third channel can be from any network, not just one of the networks you’re recording.
PAYING FOR A BETTER EPG
Some people might balk at the thought of paying a monthly fee to watch so-called free-to-air television, but in return the box has access to a customised Electronic Program Guide which is far more reliable than the EPG embedded in the broadcast signal.
Any Personal Video Recorder which relies on the EPG embedded in the broadcast signal is going to let you down if you’re trying to automatically record your favourite shows each week. For example one week the The Big Bang Theory might be called The Big Bang Theory (Includes sneak peek – Power Games – The Packer Murdoch Story), which means your PVR won’t record it because the name doesn’t match. You can thank the commercial free-to-air networks for this mess.
The way to get around this problem is to use a PVR which downloads a hand-curated EPG, one which someone has edited to ensure that every episode of The Big Bang Theory is recognised as the same show and all the metadata is intact. Other Australian PVRs which offer a hand-curated EPG – such as the Telstra T-Box, Foxtel iQ2 or an IceTV-compatible recorder – also charge a monthly fee. The exception to the rule is TiVo, which charges a monthly fee in the US but not in Australia. Here TiVo’s local backers decided to incorporate the fee into the one-off cost of the box.
After pricing itself out of the market TiVo is now dead in Australia, so perhaps the subscription model will have more success. There’s currently a TiVo at the heart of my lounge room but I’m on the lookout for a replacement and I think Fetch TV might be the box for the job.
DON’T MISS YOUR FAVOURITE SHOWS
In terms of core PVR features Fetch TV can stand toe-to-toe with TiVo and outshines off-the-shelf competitors from consumer electronics giants such as Sony, Samsung, Panasonic and LG. With Fetch TV you’ve the ability to create a Series Tag to automatically record your favourite shows each week, with global and custom padding so they start recording early and run over in case the show is running late. It doesn’t just blindly record the same timeslot and hope for the best, it actually checks the TV schedule for changes every day.
Other PVRs might promise Season Pass-style features, which check the guide, but they can’t be trusted if they’re relying on the flaky EPG embedded in the broadcast signal. Unfortunately, unlike the TiVo, Fetch TV can’t create Series Tags based around specific actors or keywords – which is frustrating if you only want to record the football when your team is playing.
The Fetch TV box features a generous 1 TB hard drive, but more impressive are its intelligent storage management options, which again are on par with the TiVo. You can tell Fetch TV to only keep the last few episodes of a show, so it doesn’t take up too much space. Alternatively you can keep every episode but automatically delete the oldest if you’re short on space. Otherwise you can keep them all and only delete them manually.
Such flexibility means the hard drive should never fill up, so you won’t miss recording your favourite show due to lack of space. To me intelligent storage management is one of the most important aspects of a PVR and the reason I’ve favoured TiVo for so long.
Fetch TV’s inclusion of three TV tuners also offers intelligent conflict management, so you still catch the beginning and end of recordings even if they overlap. You can also prioritise Season Tags, to tell the box that Homeland is more important than The Octonauts. You don’t have the ability to only record first-run episodes and not repeats, but this is on the roadmap. Fetch TV is smart enough not to record the same episode twice, unlike my TiVo, which is handy when it comes to kids’ shows.
In terms of free-to-air television Fetch TV’s only major shortcoming is the lack of ad-skipping, but I don’t see this as a deal-breaker. One of the reasons I can live with the lack of ad-skipping on my TiVo is that when I press play after fast-forwarding through an ad break it automatically jumps back a few seconds to allow for my slow reflexes. I’m told this feature is coming to Fetch TV as well, which would make the lack of ad-skipping much more tolerable.
EASY TO USE?
Usability has always been one of TiVo’s strong points, making it a great option for less-tech-savvy friends and relatives. Fetch TV is a lot more user-friendly than something like a convoluted Beyonwiz, but it still falls short of the TiVo and Telstra T-Box’s slick and easy-to-use menus. Fetch TV’s interface is a rather drab grey, it really could do with a makeover. I’m a technobogan so I don’t care much about appearances, but a more attractive and colour-coded interface might be less daunting for new users.
While they’re at it they could revamp the remote control, which is also a little busy and would benefit from more colour coding. If you’ve got poor eyesight you’ll struggle to distinguish the volume buttons from the channel buttons. The central button with the paw symbol, designed to call up the onscreen menus, doesn’t work if you’ve just changed channels and the Now/Next information is still visible. Such an odd limitation will certainly frustrate and confuse some users. A “Live TV” button would also be a nice touch for people who like to keep things simple. UPDATE: I assumed that paw button acted like the TiVo button to call up the menus, but it’s actually an Enter button. Press it when no menus are on the screen and it calls up the menus, thus my confusion. So people will figure this out, others won’t.
Fetch TV’s onscreen menus could also do with a tweak. In an effort to make life easier, the menus feature a “My Stuff” tab. This offers easy access to your recordings, rented movies and network devices such as a Plex server. This sounds useful, but what it actually means is that these features aren’t where you’d logically expect to find them.
Look under the TV tab and there’s no option to watch shows you’ve recorded. Look under Movies and there’s no list of your active rentals. It’s a nice idea, but the My Stuff tab actually makes life more complicated if you’re migrating from another PVR. Including these options under My Stuff as well as where they logically belong might help.
On the plus side, once you’ve found your list of recorded shows you’ll find they’re sorted into folders. Within each folder, episodes are listed not only by name but also by series and episode number (another benefit of that hand-curated EPG). It even ticks the episodes you’ve watched and there’s the option to resume playback if you stopped in the middle.
When you press record it takes a few seconds to kick in and it doesn’t add what’s already in the buffer. I’d really like to see an onscreen timeline, stretching across the bottom of the screen, which makes it easy to see how far you are into a recording and how far you are behind a live broadcast during chasing playback. UPDATE: It’s there, but you don’t see it all the time. It doesn’t appear when you press Play or Pause, but you can see it in the Now/Next bar when you fast-forward or rewind.
If you’re running a few minutes behind live – perhaps you paused for five minutes to answer the phone – the PVR doesn’t stop you if you forget that you’re time-shifting and start to channel-flick. Switch back to what you were watching and it’s jumped to live, so you’ve lost that five minutes in the buffer. To be fair almost every PVR is guilty of this, but it’s annoying. Unlike TiVo, even if you’re recording the channel you can’t rewind to watch that lost five minutes. Overall Fetch TV’s chasing playback feature feels a little rough around the edges.
PAY TV AND RENTALS OVER THE INTERNET
Fetch TV is an impressive free-to-air PVR but what really helps it stand out from the crowd is that you’ve the option to pay for IPTV subscription packages. You can pause, rewind or record these channels just the same as the free-to-air channels. This is a lot more useful than the Foxtel channels on Telstra’s T-Box or the Xbox 360, which are watch-only and can’t be time-shifted or recorded.
The choice of subscription channels on the Fetch TV service is rather underwhelming compared to Foxel on T-Box or a full Foxtel service, but if you’re just after a few general entertainment channels then they might meet your needs. In my book the TV1-style TVH!ts is the only channel worth getting excited about. The rest of the Entertainment package ($15 or $20 depending on your ISP) is a mix of sport, music, docos, lifestyle and kids. You’ll also find extra sport and world movie options.
If you’re looking for Showcase, FX, Syfy, Fox8, Arena or live AFL/NRL then you’re going to be disappointed. Shows on TVH!ts are still crammed with ads, most of them for other Foxtel channels which you can’t get on Fetch TV.
In my home I don’t think it’s worth paying extra for subscription TV channels, but it’s nice to know the option is there on the Fetch TV. It’s also good to know that Fetch TV is no longer reliant on multicasting in order to deliver its full spread of services, so customers on a Telstra Wholesale DSLAM have access to the same content as everyone else. Now the NBN is a fragmented mess it’s hard to know which homes will have access to multicasting features.
Other Fetch TV internet features include the ability to rent new release movies, plus there’s free access to an ever-changing library of 30 movies – with a nice mix of old and new that offers something for everyone. With only 2500 movies in total, the library falls short of what you’ll find on something like the Apple TV. Yet Fetch TV also lets you watch Catch Up TV from the ABC and SBS along with other online music and video services, depending on your ISP. The box is also a DLNA client with broad format support, letting you stream video from your computer or Network Attached Storage drive. Most of the data consumed by Fetch TV should be unmetered, but once again this can vary between ISPs so check the fine print.
Fetch TV’s cross-platform search features are also impressive, letting you simultaneously search through the TV guide, your recorded content and the online movie store. Incorporating Catch Up TV listings is also on the roadmap. Unfortunately the actual search page feels rather clunky and would be assisted by predictive search.
The icing on the cake for Fetch TV is an impressive iOS/Android app. Along with scheduling recordings remotely, it also lets you lets you stream recordings from the box to your handheld gadgets over wi-fi – perfect for people who want to access the Fetch TV’s hard drive from the bedroom. You can also watch the live subscription IPTV channels over wi-fi or 3G, but not the like free-to-air channels (thanks to the Optus case). You can’t even get around this by pressing record on the Fetch TV and using chasing playback on your mobile device, because you can’t stream recordings in progress. Unfortunately you can’t stream recordings to another Fetch TV box elsewhere in the house either, a feature which is creeping into mainstream gear from the likes of Panasonic.
One surprising omission is the box’s lack of built-in wi-fi. If you can’t run Ethernet to your lounge room then you’ll need to use either a wireless bridge or Powerline AV adaptor. They should be available as optional extras when you buy the Fetch TV, but you’ve the freedom to use your own solution. The lack of support for a USB wi-fi dongle is surprising, but Fetch TV tells me that it’s concerned about wi-fi dongle with the streaming IPTV channels.
SO WHAT’S THE VERDICT?
Fetch TV ticks a lot of boxes for the modern lounge room. As a TiVo user there are little frustrations but if you’re looking for a TiVo replacement then Fetch TV or a Foxtel iQ2 are most likely to impress you in terms of core PVR features.
It’s true that some of the IceTV-compatible recorders are slick, such as the Humax 7510T, but the schism between local and remote EPG and scheduling options can be frustrating. The Fetch TV EPG is tightly integrated into the box, just like a TiVo or iQ2, so you’ve got full functionality whether you’re holding the remote control or your smartphone. IceTV is talking about releasing its own PVR this year to address these issues, but Fetch TV has set the bar pretty high.
Fetch TV’s movie service isn’t as broad as Apple’s. The subscription channel options are very disappointing compared to Foxtel’s. But as an all-in-one box Fetch TV is hard to beat. Even if you don’t care about pay TV, which I don’t, you might find it’s worth the money just for a reliable free-to-air PVR with remote scheduling and streaming along with the added bonus of Catch Up TV, movie rentals and DLNA streaming support.
If you’re in the market for a new PVR and your ISP offers Fetch TV, you should consider it the benchmark which other devices must meet before they deserve a spot in your lounge room.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.