The set-top box has most of the capabilities of a box you can buy in a store, except that it won't allow you to archive recorded shows to your PC. There is an easy to use program guide, a nifty timer function that allows you to easily add time before and after the recording, and easy to use parental controls. You can even tell it to delete old episodes of a recurring recording (such as the nightly news, for example). It also supports applications; currently there are Facebook and Twitter apps that can give you updates on your TV. Additional applications are being worked on in-house and by FetchTV, and iiNet is encouraging outside developers to get in on the act too, but there won't be an app store.
With its three tuners and 1TB hard drive, the set-top box is great value on its own (the twin-tuner, 500GB Topfield TRF-7160 costs $599, for example). Bonus: the remote control that ships with the box is universal, so you can also use it to control your TV.
In order to be eligible for the FetchTV service with iiNet, you will need to be connected to an iiNet's DSLAM and have a connection speed up to 4.5Mbps. Although the FetchTV service will only take up 2.5Mbps, iiNet stipulates 4.5Mbps so that you can still comfortably use the Internet while the set-top box is downloading content. iiNet says it may also consider applications from users who can get up to 3Mbps if they are adamant they want the IPTV service and that 500Kbps will be fine for their Web browsing.
The other major current requirement is iiNet's BoB modem. While some may see this as an opportunity for iiNet to gouge its customers, the company says that the chipset in BoB has been developed with IPTV in mind and that it matches the chipset in iiNet's DSLAMs. The BoB is finetuned to handle the noise cancelling and error detection protocols that will be running over it. Furthermore, by standardising on a single modem, the company's customer support can be more focused and efficient.
iiNet says the second-generation Belkin firmware for the BoB is in testing and it will probably be released in a few weeks. According to the ISP, it won't be looking at other modems for the FetchTV service for months, but it will be bringing its customers' most popular modems through the labs and having a play with them to see how they handle the service. So at this stage, all users will have to migrate to BoB, but this may change in the future.
No sharing between dwellings
Because the FetchTV service uses multicast technology that relies on physical identifiers such as a MAC address to work, if you have access to more than one iiNet connection (for example, one at your place and one at a relative's) you can't just plug in BoB and the set-top box and log in to the network to watch IPTV. The physical location of your DSLAM needs to be matched to the MAC address on your gear for the multicast distribution to work. However, a scenario where a user has one account and can switch it via the Web toolbox between two locations that have set-top boxes is something that is being looked at.
iiNet is the first ISP to make a deal with FetchTV, but FetchTV is working with other ISPs to offer IPTV over their networks too. As such, if down the line you want to change ISPs but want to retain the FetchTV service, you might be able to churn. In the spirit of fair play, iiNet said it's working on setting up a churn program so that you can use your set-top box with another ISP that offers the FetchTV service.
None of the IPTV data will count towards your monthly iiNet quota, which is just as well because during the course of a month about 300GB worth of data will be pushed to the set-top box. All the FetchTV data will be in the iiNet Freezone, except for data that is used by the Facebook application, which is peer to peer. Services that have traditionally been in the Freezone, such as ABC's iView and the iTunes music store, will continue to reside in the Freezone, too.
Facebook data is not in the Freezone.
At first glance, the FetchTV service appears to be a winner. We're impressed by the simplicity of its menu layout, and the hardware specifications of the set-top box. But most importantly, there is good content available, such as National Geographic documentaries, plenty of cartoons for the kids, and stacks of movies, so it should appeal to a wide audience.