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Review: Fetch TV, the little hybrid television box that can

A box that offers Freeview channels and additional stuff over IP, including Netflix and Stan. But is it any good?

By James Cridland
Posted 4 December 2016, 6.49am est
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While Australians have good access to a number of on-demand video services, like Netflix, Stan and others, there's less choice for live TV. You can choose Freeview - which offers a wider choice of channels from the same free providers; or Foxtel, which is subscription television via satellite or cable with a variety of packages that can cost AUD$135 a month or even more.

Stepping into the middle-ground is Fetch TV, a hybrid set-top-box with echoes of the UK YouView service: and access to Netflix and Stan too.

Fetch TV is available from a number of internet companies as a differentiator for subscribers. Optus is the largest; they brand it as "Yes TV by Fetch", though it's much the same service. Alternatively, you can buy it in stores.

Fetch TV: what is it?

"It", in this case, is a choice of two set-top boxes: a 'mini' AUD$149 (US$109, £89) box the size of four stacked CD boxes, or a larger, 'mighty' AUD$399 (US$299, £239) box. The main difference is that the mighty includes a hard-drive for recording and the mini doesn't. I bought the mini.

Fetch TV is a hybrid television service. It has a TV antenna input, and picks up all the Freeview services. And it has an internet connection (either ethernet or wifi), which supplies additional live TV, catch-up services from the big broadcasters, and additional apps like Netflix.

For $15 a month, you can get a set of about 35 additional channels over IP. BBC First, BBC Knowledge and BBC UKTV are here - the latter incomprehensibly showing both Eastenders and Coronation Street. Other big names include three NatGeo channels, Viacom channels like MTV and Comedy Central; NBCUniversal channels like, um, Universal and Syfy; and two from Disney and Nickelodeon for the kids.

The service is very strong for news, with BBC World News, CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg, France 24, Euronews, NDTV, ChannelNewsAsia, AlJazeera English and CCTV all present.

You also get 30 free movies a month (from a choice of 30). You can pay extra for a few specialist channels (beIN sports, CBeebies, Horse and Country) and there are also language packs in a variety of different languages.

What's it like?

The remote control is neatly made, and controls both the television (for volume and power), and the box itself. It's nice and simple-looking; the number pad is hidden until you hit the button marked "123..." which then illuminates the numbers on the keys that otherwise control other things. It's a nice solution, and the remote looks relatively simple as a consequence.

Incidentally, a Samsung TV in Australia will also happily control the Fetch TV box with its own remote. All you need to do is have a degree in computer science in order to navigate the Samsung's maze of menu options.

The IP-delivered channels appear immediately on tuning into the channel - there's no buffering or anything else that makes it obvious that they are being delivered over the internet. The video quality appears to be adaptive, and you'll occasionally watch the quality improve a little once the box is happy you've got enough bandwidth. Channels like ESPN, NatGeo, CNN or BBC World News are in HD; the rest at varying qualities of SD. I've not seen a single buffer or missed frame, in spite of not being on a partner ISP (I use Telstra), and in spite of being on wifi.

Some of the channels aren't massively great quality: both Euronews and Al Jazeera, as two examples, are available elsewhere in HD and I'm surprised that they're not on this box. I'd also guess that the BBC channels are also available in HD too.

Fetch TV comes with a decent EPG: something you might take for granted in the UK, but the Australian version of Freeview doesn't broadcast a full EPG; and instead, televisions will flick between different multiplexes to slowly populate the EPG as you flick through. It's a frustrating experience. The Fetch TV guide is clear and contains logos for the channels: both the ones delivered by antenna and by IP. The text is a little small. Might be our fault for using a relatively-small 32" television, though.

The catch-up services: well, they work. Unlike Youview (say), there's no way of going 'backwards' in the EPG and selecting a program from there; instead, you need to go into individual catch-up sections in the menu. Programs are presented in a consistent manner between providers, which is both good and bad, since the user interface is a bit dull and not very curated. ABC iView on my Samsung TV is a much nicer experience, so I'm just using that instead.

The apps are Netflix and Stan (and Presto, until it closes in a month's time). Then there's a rather confusing app called NASA TV, which, when clicked on, gives you a live feed of, um, NASA TV. I don't quite know why Fetch TV haven't put this in the EPG instead. There's a Wikipedia app, provided so you can check on things you're watching about, it appears; and a weather app, which is relatively pointless but still, it's there.

The 'mini' appears to be well specced, with a decent speed processor that is responsive and speedy. The UX is mostly well-designed and attractively put together. The hybrid nature of the box is particularly well done, and it's interesting comparing this to an internet radio device, as one example.

Suggestions to improve it might be to include Chromecast capability inside; to add an internet radio tuner app or podcast app; and to expand further its list of channels where possible.

Verdict

If you're looking for a decent way to watch some more channels, and Fetch TV has the channels you're looking for, then it's definitely recommended. And if you want catch-up from the main channels, or just a cheap way to get Netflix on the big screen, then this is also a great box for you at the price.

James Cridland — James is the Managing Director of media.info, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. His website is at james.cridland.net, where you can subscribe to his weekly newsletter.
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