Akimbo began life as a set-top box, offering IPTV programming via a broadband Internet connection. After buying the set-top box hardware (originally $199, now $69), Akimbo subscribers would pay a $9.99 monthly fee to download content from more than 100 channels, with additional pay-as-you go fees or add-on subscriptions for so-called premium programming. Last year, Akimbo launched a software-only, PC-based version of its service, dubbed Akimbo for Media Center. Instead of buying a set-top box, Akimbo is now available under the Online Spotlight tab in Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition OS. The monthly subscription remains the same at $9.99, but you aren't required to pay the initial hardware fee. The service has now been updated to include high-definition content, something not available through the set-top box version.
Akimbo makes a lot more sense as a PC-based IPTV service than as a set-top box, but the HD selection is still pitifully small, and many of the mainstream (read: free) shows are similar, if not the same as, those found on basic cable channels. What Akimbo does do right is specialized content, from yoga and karaoke channels to foreign language programming and global cinema. If one or more of those channels appeal to you, the service might well be worth a look.
Anyone with a Media Center PC can access Akimbo by launching Media Center, navigating to the Online Spotlight menu option, and looking in the TV & Movies subsection. Clicking the Akimbo button will bring up the interface and prompt you to either sign up for a monthly subscription or a 30-day free trial.
The look and feel of Akimbo for Media Center will be familiar to Windows Media Center (MCE) users. The interface can be navigated with an MCE remote control, and the menu options are clear. The same limitations are there as well, including Media Center's clunky video transport controls. Fast-forwarding a show can be a slow, dreary affair, and some programs are front-loaded with as many as 10 minutes of promo clips. If you stop in the middle of a recording and do something else, Akimbo won't remember where you were the next time you try to access the file. Those looking for instant gratification will be disappointed to find that this isn't true streaming media; you must wait for a program to fully download before you can view it. That being said, most 30-minute shows download within a few minutes.
From the main Akimbo for Media Center window, you can browse your library of downloaded content, go through available shows by channel or theme or search for a specific program. Setup options are sparse, limited to management for premium content subscriptions and setting parental controls.
In addition to the $9.99 monthly subscription, many of the more interesting programs require an additional fee, usually a buck or two per show. Once you download them, most of these programs are available for only a set viewing window, from 2 days to 30 days. Other content will remain viewable for an indefinite period of time.