While Fetch TV has been available for a number of years now, bundled with an internet connection from several ISPs, Harvey Norman have started selling the personal video recorder (PVR) as a standalone product as of this week. As a standalone product, Fetch TV sells for $379, along with a minimum subscription fee of $5 a month. This basic subscription covers the devices live electronic programming guide (EPG) for free-to-air channels, which is updated every day at midnight. An entertainment pack adding an extra 34 channels is available for an additional $15 a month. These include SyFy, MTV, National Geographic, Nickelodeon and BBC World News, and can be turned on or off month by month. For comparison, Foxtel is a minimum of $520 on a 6 month plan. So how does Fetch TV stack up?
Design & Setup
There's nothing out of the ordinary about Fetch TV's design; it's an unassuming plastic rectangle that will be forgotten about in your TV cabinet. The crisp matte finish means the PVR won't show dust as easily as some glossy devices. There are a couple of LEDs on the front used to indicate whether the device is on or in standby, as well as other various functions. On the back, Fetch TV has a lot of ports. These include an input and output for TV antennas, a HDMI input, Ethernet port, 2 USB ports, a series of RCA inputs, an optical output, and power input. Cables are included for all of these (aside from USB). The device also comes with its own remote. The remote feels good to hold and is easy to use; the remote's functions are clearly labelled and intuitive.
It should be noted that the Fetch TV doesn't support wireless. While I used a wireless bridge with CyberShack's review model, we are told that the retail package comes with two Ethernet power-line-adapters. This allows you to run a network connection from one power outlet to another, removing the need for a wireless bridge. In terms of other internals, Fetch TV is pre-fitted with a one terabyte hard drive, reportedly able to store up to 585 hours of recorded television.
While the vast number of cables involved means setting up Fetch TV can take a little time (especially if you're entertainment unit has a case of electric spaghetti like mine), as soon as you're powered up and online, everything just works. My review unit was preconfigured, but when a user first powers the box on they'll see a URL directing them to a sign-up page. This has to be done on a separate device. The user then enters the activation code they get from the sign-up process, and can start watching instantly. While it seems a little inconvenient to sign-up from a different device, this is something that only has to be done once.
Features & Performance
Fetch TV's rolling EPG is at the heart of what makes the PVR special, and is much more reliable than the EPG included in the free-to-air broadcast signal. As aforementioned, this programme guide is updated every night at midnight, ensuring the device always has the latest timing for shows in case of last minute schedule changes. The fact the guide is hand-curated stops problems like shows not recording because of a mismatch. For example, if one week 30 Rock was broadcast as Thirty Rock, a traditional PVR would not record it. The reliability of Fetch TV means you'll never miss a program. When testing it, every show I recorded was 100% complete.
Fetch TV is able to record two separate channels at once, while you watch a third. When scheduling a show to record, you have the option to record a few minutes extra after, just to ensure you don't miss the ending. By default, Fetch TV records 10 minutes over, but this number can be customised. The PVR can also be set to record every episode of a TV show, ensuring you'll never miss a minute of your favourite programs. On top this, Fetch TV elegantly organises recordings, placing each show in its own folder. This is a nice change from other PVRs which often just dump everything into one spot, making it a hassle to find what you actually want to watch. In addition, you can also pause and rewind live TV.
As part of the default subscription package, a feature called Movie Box is included. Movie Box refers to the 30 movies users can choose to watch each month, for no additional cost. Seven titles are rotated each week. This is great for those time's nothing on TV, but you're not feeling like renting one of the movies in Fetch TV's vast catalogue. On the subject of movie rentals, most films are priced around the $6 mark and available to watch for 48 hours after purchase.
Additional channels such as Disney, SyFy and National Geographic are delivered over the internet. The performance of these will be heavily dependent on your connection. I get roughly 1.8 megabytes a second at home, but online content still didn't look quite as good as free-to-air broadcast. This also means you'll be using extra data, so make sure you have a big monthly limit! Nonetheless, there is more than enough additional content available to justify the added price of the $15 entertainment pack. There are also content packs available from a variety of various languages, ranging from Cantonese to Manadarin and Korean.
ABC iView and SBS OnDemand are both available on the PVR straight out of the box, and the other networks are said to be adding their apps soon too. Rather than loading up their own separate interface as on a PlayStation 3 for example, this content has been incorporated straight into Fetch TV's UI. This is great in terms of creating a cohesive user experience. Update: As part of the update released on July 7, TENplay is also available
In general, Fetch TV's UI is quite good, even if a little drab. It's easy to navigate, bring up the EPG, watch recorded programs and rent movies. It does lack a little bit of the spark in the user interfaces found on Netflix or the PlayStation 3 and 4, but at the end of the day, it works.
While the upfront price may seem a little daunting given the additional subscription, Fetch TV can revolutionise your television experience like no other PVR. The product's biggest downside is the seemingly daunting initial upfront investment. When compared to the cost of a cable subscription over an extended period of time, this all comes out in the wash. The bottom line is Foxtel should be worried, very worried.
Written by Alex Choros for Cybershack | 04-Jul-2014
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