The FetchTV 2 set-top box (from FetchTV) debuted quietly on Internet Service Provider iinet’s website last week, offering three HD tuners for recording two free-to-air channels while watching another, a terabyte hard drive for storing time-shifted programming, plus 20 broadband channels (five of which are available on-demand), 30 free movies a month and a pay-per-view movie service.

A seven-day EPG integrates all IPTV and free-to-air programming, plus there are separate guides for each type of content as well. The interface is clean, and text-driven rather than “colour and movement” driven. But it works, and moving about the screen menus is fast to boot. Just as fast as playback of video on demand programming, in fact.

Unique to FetchTV2 is push VOD (video on demand), whereby iinet automatically sends its on-demand TV channels and movies to the box, where they reside until selected by the customer. In traditional systems, the customer requests a program (pull VOD) then waits for it to download to their device. Depending on the hardware, this can take several seconds or minutes, but because the VOD programming already resides on the FetchTV2 box, playback is instant.

What’s to watch?

Unlike some IPTV operators, FetchTV delivers stuff you will actually want to watch. No obscure surfing or fashion channels created for a Web audience, but content from global entertainment giants such as BBC, CNBC, National Geographic, Warner TV, E! Entertainment Television, Animal Planet and the Discovery channel. All the big movies houses are on board too – Disney, Roadshow, Warner, Paramount, Hopscotch and Universal. Movies cost from $3.95, with new releases costing $5.95 (SD) and $6.95 (HD).

All this good stuff is possible by virtue of FetchTV’s parent company Astro All Asia Networks. As one of Asia’s largest Pay TV operators, it has access to programming from the world’s major content owners, which FetchTV then aggregates for the Australian market.

The leverage that being part of such a big group brings shows in FetchTV’s programming, which is stronger than current IPTV players Sony (with its Bravia TV), Tivo (with its CASPA service) and Telstra’s T-Box, which is limited largely to movies and sport so as not to conflict with its Pay TV interest, Foxtel. FetchTV, in fact, may just put the frighteners up Foxtel too. Desperate to extend its subscriber base beyond homes it can install its cable into, Foxtel will move into the IPTV space by the end of the year when it starts streaming channels over the Xbox Live service.

How much

The FetchTV2 box costs $399 outright, or you can rent it for $10 a month on top of the $20 a month subscription fee. All broadband content delivered to the box is unmetered for iinet customers, which you must be because FetchTV is currently exclusive. You also have to have iinet’s BoB home phone/internet solution, which can be purchased outright or billed at $10 a month to your account. All up, iinet reckons it can serve your entertainment, broadband and phone needs for $100 a month.

But while iinet is Australia’s third largest ISP (behind Telstra and Optus) it has only 300,000 customers located primarily in metropolitan Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. If you’re not one of them, then FetchTV is off the menu. For now.

Company CEO Scott Lorson, who headed up the Optus Pay TV business before moving to FetchTV, says the business is in “advanced talks” with eight of the nine non-Telstra ISPs, including Optus and internode. With the extended footprint these customers can provide, he reckons that 6.5 of Australia’s 8.6 million metropolitan homes are up for grabs.

One last thing…

While iinet’s IPTV device is named FetchTV2, there has not yet been a FetchTV1. So you didn’t blink and miss it, like we though we did.

It seems the ‘2’ is something of a “prequel”, with the “original” iteration (possibly intended for non-iinet subscribers?) yet to be fully developed.