Thursday, 11 November 2010 15:04

FoXbox 360's only potential issue is bill shocks

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With no ISPs in Australia offering to unmeter Foxtel's live video and on demand or catch-up streams, the biggest issue Foxtel on Xbox 360 users need to be aware of is the potential cost of streaming large video above and beyond your existing download limit.

Last night, Australia's biggest pay TV operator, Foxtel, had a launch event for its new IPTV service, one which delivers streaming TV channels through Microsoft's Xbox 360 games console.

The development opens up the Foxtel pay TV channels to an even bigger audience, and especially to those who have wanted Foxtel but either didn't have HFC cable going into their place of residence, or who didn't have enough line-of-sight for a satellite dish to work properly.

That's because they can now get their pay TV fix through a broadband Internet connection, as long as that connection works at a speed of at least 1.5Mbps, is in a 'metro' area, the user has an Xbox 360 with an Xbox Live Gold connection, and has plenty of available monthly download limit in their monthly cap.

Naturally, if a user goes over their download limit, they'll either be paying expensive per megabyte charges for any usage over the limit, or they'll find themselves slowed to something almost criminally slow, like the dial-up equivalent of 64Kbps, through which you'll be lucky to get TV 'snow' to show on your screen, let alone 30+ channels of Foxtel content.

There's also the issue of the channels and content in question. While the standard 'Get Started' package costs $19.50 per month, the Sports package costs an extra $10 per month, the Showtime Movies package an additional $10 per month, the Movie Network package costs yet another $10 per month, and an 'Entertainment' package an extra $15 per month.

Add all of these up, plus whatever it costs for your monthly ISP bill, the cost of an Xbox Live Gold subscription, not even including the cost of an Xbox 360, and you'll find that it all adds up.

Indeed, if you're able to get Foxtel over a standard HFC cable connection, or via satellite, then those are better ways to get the service, but if not, and you still really, really want Foxtel instead of a Telstra T-Box, Fetch TV or something else, and you live in a metro area, well'¦ it's now available.

Interestingly, I know someone that lives very close to the Sydney CBD, yet doesn't have HFC cable running down their street, nor are they in a position to use a satellite dish either. For them, this is the perfect solution to getting most of their channels back, even if it is a roundabout way of doing it.

So what's the service actually like?! Please read on to page two!!


After all, it wasn't offered this way at all before, so the fact the service is available means Foxtel has at least one happy customer able to get Foxtel once more.

But for the service to really succeed, people need to not have to worry about download limits or busting through them.

Sadly, Foxtel itself does not offer an Internet service, despite Telstra selling broadband down the same cables Foxtel sells pay TV. If Foxtel did offer such a service, it could have offered its own unmetered option, but it doesn't, so it doesn't.

With some ISPs setting up their own pay TV services, while already unmetering content such as the ABC's iView service (not including ABC News 24), few ISPs would want the added 'pressure' of millions of Foxtel streams travelling over their networks without the ISP getting a cut.

Perhaps those ISPs wanted too much of a cut, but it's all just speculation. For now, make sure you have a huge download limit if you want Foxtel on Xbox 360 so you can enjoy it without worry.

So'¦ what was the service actually like?

Well, in a word, smooth. It was a very smooth, slick experience, using the Xbox 360's 'Windows Media Centre-esque' interface, letting you easily choose from available live channels, free catch-up TV channels and on-demand pay channels.

The Xbox 360 has a 'viewing room' where you can sit in a virtual lounge with your friends to watch TV and even chat with them using an Xbox headset, but naturally you can also view each channel in full screen as per normal.

Streaming quality was smooth in the live demo that I saw, but you'll definitely need a connection of at least 1Mbps for any performance, or you might see the dreading buffering occur.

You can even use a Telstra Next G wireless broadband modem as your Internet connection, although download limits for Next G modems (or anyone's USB modems) are always far smaller than similarly priced plans in the fixed world.

To conclude, the service looks fantastic on an Xbox 360 and will easily impress viewers, looking much better even than the standard Foxtel IQ experience.

You'll just need to make sure that your ISP's download limit is generous enough (or you'll need to change to a more expensive plan), but if you've been unable to get Foxtel for whatever reason and you've always wanted it, a new way has appeared at last, potentially ensuring a very Merry FoXboxmas for Foxtel on Xbox 360 subscribers!


 


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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