Is Foxtel?s new IQ TV worthy of the $500 that it will set you back? Some think so. Paul Zucker investigates.

The Foxtel IQ box is the type of product that is often called a PVR or Personal Video Recorder. In some ways this name sells the device short, as it is really a way to free-up the way you watch TV. How the product works is interesting, but it?s the end result that counts. Foxtel IQ is an enhanced version of the standard Foxtel digital service (cable or satellite) and now allows you to time-shift programs. It has an internal hard disk and is capable of simultaneously recording two programs and playing back another.

This seemingly amazing feat is possible because the programs are already in a digital format, and there is absolutely no loss of quality. The IQ box replaces your existing Foxtel receiver, and the new remote control has a few more buttons to orchestrate the magic. The IQ contains two receivers ? the reason for which will soon become obvious. The 160 gigabyte hard disk can store around 60 hours of programs, including full cinema-quality sound and program information.

Perhaps the best way to explain what it does is to show an example. It?s 8.30 and your favourite Channel Nine show ER is about to come on, but daughter #2 wants to watch her program on the MTV channel. Dad wins, so with a few clicks the daughter sets her program to record. Mum and dad start watching ER. One receiver in the IQ box is recording and one is playing live.

Ten minutes into the show the phone rings. ?It?s for you dad.? So dad hits the pause button on the IQ remote. Mum reads her magazine while dad spends a few minutes on the phone. He sits down and hits the play button and the program continues. Next time there?s an ad break dad simply fast forwards through the ads, and before the end of the show the IQ has caught up to the real-time broadcast.

Because the box is set to buffer up to an hour of the show being watched, dad was also able to wind back a few seconds a couple of times, to catch some of the medico-gabble they use on that show. (His hearing isn?t what it used to be.) He could have chosen to turn on the captioning but that would be admitting that he was going deaf.

You can record just about anything on an IQ. All normal programming (Nine, ABC and SBS) can be recorded and kept for as long as you like, space permitting. Most Foxtel Box-Office films can be recorded and stored for a couple of days, at which point they will be automatically deleted. Once you start watching them, you have 24 hours before they self-delete. If you don?t start watching the movie at all, you aren?t charged for it. Sweet!

The real power of the IQ is that is frees you from having to watch a program when it?s being broadcast. Even with the number of Foxtel Digital channels that are duplicated in a two-hour-delayed version, there are still clashes with other things you want to do, and other programs you want to watch. Foxtel?s electronic program guide becomes your menu to pick and choose what you want to watch now and record for later.