IPTV, which allows movies to be streamed to a TV, is starting to take off in Australia and the recent release of a new IPTV offering from Telstra has given the entire category a kick along due to the introduction of a simple, but highly effective, personal video recorder called the T-Box.
While most good PVRs cost around $700 or more, the T Box is only $299 outright, or it can be purchased on a plan. For this you get access to over 1500 movies from as low as $3.99 to $6.95. But there is a catch. Users have to be connected to the Telstra BigPond network to get the service.
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If my litmus test of consumers is right, most users of TVs want simple, easy-to-use devices, and this is what the T Box is about. Good content, easy set-up, and a very easy-to-use menu.
The simplicity of the device is noticeable as soon as you plug it in, due to the development of a software interface that's easy to navigate. Users are presented with a series of clear options from My Recordings which delivers access to previously recorded content.
Then there is a very clear and well laid out Program Guide which Telstra has got right by using the right fonts and not trying to squeeze too much information into a small space. This is followed by Watch TV, which gives users access to all free to air TV stations including all HD digital channels.
The most interesting category is Big Pond Movies which is where Telstra has really excelled.
IPTV is new and appears to be more popular than 3D TV which has limited content. With the T Box, users don't have to go searching web sites for content. All a user has to do is go to the BigPond Movie section and download. Charges are made directly to a Telstra bill which is activated when the device is set up.
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Out of the box, the T Box is easy to set up, however I do recommend that you have your computer or notebook switched on as you will need it to activate the service. When setting up, users are stepped through a menu that tests the availability of broadband. It then prompts users to activate a number that pairs the device with an existing Telstra BigPond account. Users are then prompted to activate the TV channels for their State.
A key requisite of this service is the need for a broadband connection. The device can be connected directly into a home network or router, or as I did via a Netgear powerline connector, which delivers the service over existing electricity cables in the house.
Powerline is a new technology. All you do is plug in a powerline plug into a power point close to your router to run an Ethernet cable between the powerline device and the router.
You then take the other powerline connector which looks a bit like a two way plug and plug it into a power socket in the room where you want to connect your T Box. Once you have done this all you have to do is run an Ethernet cable between your powerline device and the T Box. It's extremely simple.
For those of you who don't want to do this, Telstra will shortly launch a Smart Ruckus 802.11n Wi-Fi system for the T-Box. The Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi systems are being offered as an option for people who need to connect their set-top box beyond the reach of an Ethernet connection or normal Wi-Fi connectivity.
To take advantage of Ruckus Wi-Fi routing, T Box customers have to purchase and plug in a pre-configured Ruckus Smart Wi-Fi system that includes a 5GHz 802.11n access point and 5GHz wireless adapter.
T Box works as a personal video recorder and includes a 320GB hard drive, allowing users to record pause and rewind live TV through twin HD tuners. While this is smaller than the 500GB hard drive on the Foxtel HD box, I believe it is superior for the simple reason that it's extremely easy to attach an additional 1TB drive to the T Box via a USB port on the back of the device.
A big benefit for sports lovers is that The T-Box TV channels are heavily centred on sport due to Telstra's exclusive rights to AFL, NRL and V8 supercars.
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This content is accessed via a category called Watch BigPond Movies which also gives users access to a 24/7 news channel operated by Sky News which is the same news channel that is found on Foxtel.
Another big benefit is that a lot of the content is unmetered which means that BigPond customers will be able to access all of the content without eating into their monthly download quotas. For people who don't want the high cost of Foxtel which includes additional costs for sports channels like those delivered by the T Box, the Telstra offering is real value for money.
Recently Telstra started adding high definition movies and the quality that we were able to download was excellent.
Right now there are over 1500 movies available to download on the T Box. However, if the T Box takes off in Australia, there is a real possibility that the big Hollywood Studios will back it and allow Telstra to stream first run movies weeks after they have been released from their cinema run.
Some of the new release films available today through the service include: An Education, Capitalism: A Love Story, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, The Brothers Bloom, More Than A Game, Time Traveller's Wife, Case 39, Mao's Last Dancer, Halloween 2, 2012, Moon, This Is It, Julie & Julia, The Damned United and Ice Castles.