The big Digital Switchover (DSO) is upon us. This means analogue channels (the ones your TV used to receive until now) are being migrated to new digital technologies. While the channels may be the same, older TVs may not be able to receive them because of the way digital broadcast works.
The new digital platform is Freeview, which is broadcast via terrestrial or satellite standards. Sky is a competing subscription-based digital TV platform.
To get digital TV content the options are plenty. You can buy a new digital TV, buy a set top box (receiver only) and plug to your existing TV (yes, even the old ones), buy a DVR (digital recorder), pay a monthly Sky subscription or the new Igloo box, a mix of all those.
Igloo is a set top box that will bring digital HD TV content (from Freeview) to your TV. Optionally you can extend the services to bring more channels (supplied by its parent company Sky) or pay per view events, movies and TV episodes.
You connect Igloo to your TV using supplied cables or for higher end TVs you can use a HDMI cable. This is what I used here, so that I could get the best HD TV possible when available. This also means most of the old analogue TV sets in use around are still able to receive the new channel after the DSO.
When you first plug Igloo it will scan for the free channels available in your area and make them available. That's where it's like the set top box receiver. If you add a USB key with plenty of memory you get the Live Pause option, which allows you to pause live TV while you go to the kitchen to get a new cup of tea, so you don't miss anything important. The amount of time available for Live Pause depends on the storage size of your USB key - in my setup a 8GB USB key provides about 57 minutes pause.
That's where its similarities with a DVR ends. Unlike DVRs Igloo will not record programs on schedule. If you would like to record programs then Igloo is not for you.
If you want to extend the features you have other options with Igloo that aren't available in competing products (yet). For these to work you may need your Igloo connected to the Internet either via WiFi (wireless) or an ethernet cable connecting it to your router.
You can buy a 30 day Channel Pack that will add some new channels to your lineup. This is prepaid and you can renew on a monthly basis or buy it only on the month you want them available (for example if someone is house sitting for you and you want to give the helper some more options). Channels include UKTV BBC, National Geographic, Comedy Central, Vibe, BBC Knowledge, Food TV, Animal Planet, MTV Hits, BBC Worldwide, TVNZ Heartlands and Kidzone 24.
You can also rent movies (from $6.99) and TV episodes (from $1.99) or buy sports events (prices from $14.95).
You can buy access to sports event over the phone, on their webiste as well as directly on the Igloo using the remote control. You can buy a channel pack on their website or using your remote control. Movies and TV episodes rental must be done using your remote control.
Once you rent a movie or TV episode your Igloo will start streaming the content over your Internet connection. You have 48 hours to watch the content so you can pause it and return later, or watch multiple times in that period. Streaming started in a few seconds, and will obviously depend on your broadband connection speeds and if no one else is using the Internet for heavy downloads at the time.
I got the Igloo out of the box and plugged the cables: power, antenna, ethernet, HDMI and a 8GB USB key for Live Pause. The boot process took a few minutes and the box was ready for use after scanning for available channels in my area.
It's important to note you must be in a Freeview terrestrial coverage area. If you can only access Freeview via satellite in your area then Igloo is not for you!
You have many options to connect Igloo to your TV but for best quality you want to use HDMI. Also note that HD TV is available in the free channels only.
Live Pause worked fine in my experience, but you have to remember if you change channels then Live Pause stops.
Menus are easy to operate, responsive and pretty much self explanatory.
To make things easier when buying/renting content you should register your Igloo box and record a credit card in your account. You can do this when you first connect the Igloo to the Internet (easier if you do it when first using the box) but I decided to do this using their web site - mainly because using a PC keyboard is so much faster than a remote control. You also get a free 30 day Channel Pack when you first register your Igloo:
I rented a Dr Who episode for $ 1.99 and the box tried to stream it. After waiting ten minutes in the "Loading" prompt after the transaction was complete I hit the Back button and went to My Rentals. The title was there and I tried to play it again. This time it started playing in seconds and had no problems keeping up.
Igloo worked with some ISPs to make their rentals "unmetered". This means if you are connecting to the Internet via Slingshot; Xnet, Woosh and Snap! then the download is zero-rated. Their documentation says a movie can use between 500 MB and 1.5 GB to stream while TV episodes vary from 200 MB up to 600 MB.
There's a second USB slot on the side of the box, and the promise of a Media Player functionality. It is there in the menu now but if you try it the response is "Coming soon". I am told an update will allow users to play their own content on the box - music and photos for example. The second slot is handy in case the one in the back is already being used for Live Pause buffering. When asked what types of content Media Player will support I got this response:
"We are reviewing this, as the number of different formats out there is enough to give anyone a headache. We will confirm closer to the time, but it will be compatible with all the mainstream commonly used formats"
For the more tech people out there, Igloo uses its own MUX to broadcast the Channel Pack lineup and sports events over the Kordia/JDA network. The free to air channels are picked up from the other MUXs including Kordia, TVNZ and Mediaworks.
Now to answer the question: who shouldn't get Igloo?
Obviously people who want to record TV programs should explore DVR alternatives. If you are happy with free-to-air channels only then get a Freeview DVR or if you want more channels then a Sky subscription.
Note that when Igloo was launched Freeview announced a competing platform for content rental in a partnership with Quickflix. Quickflix operates a subscription service with unlimited access to their TV shows lineup and a collection of movies included in the subscription (the newer ones are on pay-per-view).
If you see yourself renting lots of movies and TV episodes then the rental model might be more to your liking. You can get Quickflix in PCs, tablets and some digital TVs now but the Freeview option (more suitable for an all-in-one experience) is not yet available.
- Movie rentals are good price
- Instant digital switch with free service
- Option to extend line up with channels pack subscription, movie and TV episode rentals and pay-per-view sports events
- Easy to operate
- Wireless connection to the Internet for ease of use
- TV episodes cost more than I like and perhaps a TV episode subscription pack should be available
- TV episodes are mainly older British series - large selection but nothing current or recent
- A couple of glitches in some of the settings menu that don't affect normal operation
- Even though the Sleep time is set to Never, the box went to sleep overnight
- No moving window buffer so you can't rewind live TV to view a bit you missed