Sky-like offering but without recording

GERARD CAMPBELL
Last updated 08:42 11/12/2012
Igloo box

FRESH: With Freeview, Food TV and pay-per-view sports, igloo is the new entrant in the set-top box market.

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REVIEW: Igloo, the joint venture TV service between TVNZ and Sky, has finally launched after months of delays, and it's the latest entrant in set-top boxes vying for your money.

Let's get this out of the way first: igloo can't record TV content, so if you want a set-top box that doubles as a DVR to record your favourite programme, igloo isn't for you. It offers all the channels you'll find on Freeview, as well as 11 channels in a pack that you can buy from month to month, meaning if you don't want it one month you don't have to buy it. You can also rent movies and TV shows and pay-per-view sport. Take note, though: You need to be in a Freeview terrestrial coverage zone to use igloo. So if you need a satellite for your TV reception, this isn't for you.

I guess you could say igloo is Sky-lite as the 11 channels in the 30-day channel pack are available on Sky, also, but it's a good selection that includes Food TV, BBC Knowledge, Comedy Central, Vibe and UKTV. It'll set you back $25 a month. They're not in HD.

In terms of pay-per-view content, igloo offers sports events on its Front Row channel. When I set up the unit last week, offerings included a Pacquiao vs Marquez boxing match, an upcoming WWE wrestling event, a Wellington Phoenix match and a Breakers basketball match, costing between $15 t0 $25 to watch, which I think is pretty expensive. It could be a pretty expensive month if you buy a $25 channel pack and watch two sports events. I'm told the sports offered on pay-per-view will vary. I'm requesting Tour de France or spring classics, please.

Streamed on-demand movies cost about $7 each and TV shows around $2 each. Igloo says it has a movie catalogue of 1000 movies, including new releases. The online rental space is getting crowded now, too, with Quickflicks and Apple TV already established but igloo offers a pretty good selection of movies.

Some ISPs - including Snap! Slingshot, Xnet, Woosh, Orcon - are "zero rating" internet usage with igloo, meaning if you watch a movie the data that it uses won't count against your monthly allowance. I'm with Vodafone, which isn't "zero rating" igloo content. I hope some of the larger ISPs consider zero rating their content over igloo. Keep your monthly data allowance in mind, too: a movie could use anything between 1Gb to 1.5Gb of data, while a TV show will use anywhere between 100Mb and 600Mb. Like other online rental services, the rental period lasts 48 hours once you've started watching it.

Setting up the igloo box was simple: just plug in the aerial, power and video cables (I used an HDMI cable rather than the supplied cables as I want as high a quality picture as possible).

Igloo doesn't come with an HDMI cable: you'll need to buy one yourself.

Once switched on, the unit takes a few minutes to boot up, then scans for all the available channels in your area. It couldn't find all the channels in my area on the first attempt, but a quick re-insertion of the aerial cable into the wall socket and a re-scan sorted that out.

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When you register the igloo box - either over the phone, using igloo's website or connecting to the internet via the igloo box (either wirelessly or wired) - you get a 30-day channel pack for free. You can also choose to register your credit card details online for future channel packs: I chose not to.

The igloo box has two USB ports which can be used to plug in a USB flash drive so you can pause, fast forward and rewind live TV - and you'll need a USB stick with a good chunk of memory to do that because igloo doesn't come with an inbuilt hard drive. Also, if you change channels, you'll lose the live-pause buffer that has been created.

It's extremely early days for igloo, but I'm not 100 per cent sure what its target market is yet: is it current Sky subscribers who think they're paying too much or is it for people who want a Sky experience but don't want to pay a fortune?

I like the idea of paying for a channel pack when you want it, and that makes it worth considering for people on a budget who want a Sky-like experience, but not being able to record content is a pretty big omission. I'm suspecting igloo will evolve over time. I'll be paying close attention.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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