Channel 4's new on-demand TV service, confusingly named '4oD', is similar in concept to the BBC's iMP project, allowing you to watch TV shows you've missed. There are, however, a couple of important differences between the services.
The BBC's player is rumoured to be similar to its seven-day radio player, which lets you to catch up on programmes you've missed in the last week. The 4oD player provides some classic archive television shows like Spaced and Drop the Dead Donkey as well as the chance to catch up on recent programmes. On the flip side, while the BBC's player will be free to licence-fee payers, many of the 4oD shows are provided as pay-per-view. This means that you'll be paying 99p each time you watch an episode -- let's be honest, that's a bit steep.
Installing the application was simple enough: the program makes sure that you have the latest software, and where required will help by updating anything that is out of date, such as Windows Media Player or your .NET libraries. Registration is also pain-free, with no need to put in credit card details until you've decided to buy something.
The really bad news is that the videos are DRM wrapped to prevent you from watching them past their expiry date and from sending them to your friends. Crave is not best pleased as this really restricts your playback options -- forget putting any of these videos on your iPod or other portable device. And don't forget you can buy both series of Spaced on DVD for just £14 -- a price suspiciously close to the on-demand cost and unfettered by any DRM nonsense.
On our PC's monitor the quality is far from high definition, but is fine for catching up on other people's bowel movements on You Are What You Eat or watching Supernanny telling off naughty children. We haven’t had a chance to look at the video on a proper telly yet, but we would expect somewhere between VHS and DVD quality.
So, Channel 4: great idea, just a shame that it's too expensive and restrictive at the moment. We do live in hope as it is a beta, so the service may improve in the future -- especially once the BBC provides some competition with the launch of its own free player. -IM