iPlayer on the TVonics DVRs, IPTV on Freeview

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for a while, since the PR people for TVonics kindly send me one of their DTR-HD500 units to play with (I’ve previously looked at the Z500HD for RegHardware.)

Both units have essentially the same software and UI; the difference with the HD500 is that it’s in a rather more stylish case, which you’ll either appreciate or think “That’s just bonkers!”

TVonics DTR-HD500 - unconventional styling

Both models include a two port HDMI switch, so you can connect a games console and DVD player, for example, as well as the DVR, even if you only have the one HDMI port on your TV; unlikely as it may seem to the more techy amongst us, there are still a lot of people out there who will have a shortage of HDMI ports on older TVs.

I won’t go over the main points of the TVonics kit in too much detail – read my review on RegHardware for that – but it’s a fairly straightforward interface that perhaps verges on the bland, but certainly won’t frighten people who are not used to digital TV.

The latest updates to the products add support for IPTV services, including the BBC iPlayer, thanks to support for the latest D-Book version, including the MHEG Interaction Channel.

That means that, essentially, when you’re watching a BBC channel on Freeview, you can press the red button on the remote, and you’ll get iPlayer as one of the options on the menu.

iPlayer on Freeview HD - just press Red

As you can see, it’s much the same implementation as you’ll get on a Freesat box; easy enough to find your way around with the remote control, but lacking some of the fancier touches found on the dedicated apps used by some manufactuers, like the one on Panasonic’s VieraCast, which I talked about recently over on RegHardware. However, this is what the BBC provides, not TVonics themselves, so it’ll be common across a lot of Freeview HD boxes over the coming months.

That’s not all that’s added by the latest software update, however. If you’ve browsed the upper reaches of the Freeview HD programme guide recently, you’ll have seen that, past the porn section, starting at channel 110, there are several new channels listed.

These are IPTV channels, which work using the MHEG-IC functionality on Freeview HD boxes. You can tune in to them on any box, but you’ll see a screen something like this if you do:

If your receiver doesn't support the IPTV channels, you'll probably see a message a little like this

On the TVonics – assuming it’s connected to the network, which is pretty much plug-and-play using an ethernet cable (a wireless adaptor is also available, but I’ve not had one to play with) – then you’ll see the station logo (‘Sports Tonight’ on channel 112, for instance) followed by message ‘Attempting to start video’ and then the picture will appear.

Sports Tonight, on Freeview channel 112

If I had to describe the picture quality, I’d say “VHS”; it’s hard to know if it could be better or not – certainly my broadband connection is more than fast enough, so the limitations are to do with the channel itself, and how much bandwidth it wants to pay for. Also, in the screenshot above, the programme was doing an interview via Skype, so it’s not exactly a fair example of what’s possible.

Some may, no doubt, be wondering why Freeview bandwidth is being taken up by minority channels, but the good news is that these channels really aren’t having much impact. All that has to be arranged is a slot in the EPG, and a very small amount of data, which essentially just provides the loading screen and the logo. The channel then points to the IPTV stream, if your box understands it, and all the programme content is delivered over the internet.

It’s obviously a lot cheaper for channels to get on air like this, and as more TVs come with Freeview HD and D-Book 6.2.1 support, we can expect to see more of this sort of content, including paid events and subscription services, helping Freeview fight its corner against other TV services.

For those who are curious, there’s a reasonable amount of buffering, it seems – it took five seconds from unplugging the network cable in the back of the TVonics before the channel was affected.

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