The IP Vision FetchTV SmartBox 8000 is a £180 Freeview personal video recorder with a 60GB hard drive and access to catch-up TV services from the BBC, Sky and Fetch's own on-demand service. It promises an awful lot, but what exactly does it deliver?
The SmartBox 8000 isn't a good-looking device. It's forged from a fairly cheap plastic and weighs next to nothing. The SmartBox's shape is also slightly strange. It's not uniform and the front has a depressed area that seems to serve no real purpose. It's also strange that this depressed area is reasonably transparent, allowing you to see inside the unit. A stylistic choice, or just cost cutting? We're not sure.
On the back, there are a reasonable amount of useful outputs. Although it's not a high-definition Freeview receiver, there is an HDMI socket. The purpose of this is to allow the playback of HD media files as well as HD movie and TV downloads from the FetchTV store.
There is also an aerial input and output as well as optical digital for audio. There are two USB sockets for viewing video, music and photos, and backing up the TV shows you have recorded on the box.
Tiny record capacity
The built in hard drive has a capacity of just 160GB. In our opinion, this is really mean. It will certainly make treasuring your favourite shows totally impractical. The box has one saving grace, however -- you are able to back-up recordings to an external USB device. This means you can effectively increase your capacity by as much as you want. It's still annoying that there isn't a larger hard drive (even the HD version of this box only has 320GB), and with hard drive prices at an all-time low, it seems especally churlish not to include a higher capacity disk.
EPG and menus
The menu system on the SmartBox is a little confusing. Access to the BBC's iPlayer, for example, is hidden behind FetchTV's own interface. We don't like this, especially when Sky Player has its own menu item. We suspect this is down to Sky demanding a top-level menu placement, but we're cross that iPlayer is being bundled as part of FetchTV's premium content area.
We found the electronic programme guide quite cluttered. While it's good to have channel logos on screen, we don't like the fact that Fetch continuously tries to flog you things. There are two large banner ads at the top of your screen, which attempt to sell you pay-per-view movies.
We like that the SmartBox 8000 has the ability to use Wi-Fi to connect you to the net. Even now, with wireless Internet access ubiquitious as it is, most companies don't include Wi-Fi. It works well here, and the set-up process is very straightforward. If you don’t have a wired Ethernet port near your TV, this is the ideal solution.
iPlayer and Sky Player
One of the major selling points of this box is its ability to access catch-up TV services from Sky and the BBC. But there's a. Namely, to use the BBC iPlayer you must first register an account via the FetchTV website. This account set-up asks for a number of personal details, including your full address and a phone number.
Tedious as this application process is, you might thing there's nothing too offensive about setting up an account. If you're a privacy hound, you could just give fake details, right? Wrong. You can't include false contact information because, in addition to collecting a whole bunch of unnecessary details, FetchTV also demands you provide a credit card number.
We think this is totally unacceptable, especially with regard to accessing the BBC's public service iPlayer. We're also quite certain that this wouldn't please the corporation, either, as it could give people the impression they must pay for iPlayer.
When we questioned Fetch about this, it was unrepentant on the subject. It claimed the credit card information was used to ensure that customers were 18 or over. When we remarked that we couldn't see the relevance of this, it told us it provided security against minors viewing unsuitable content. We think this is nothing more than a smokescreen to disguise the truth of the company's strategy. That is, it's simply trying to get your credit card details in order to persuade you into impulse pay-per-view purchases. While we're not surprised by this decision, we still don't think it's appropriate, nor do we think it's fair that it hides the BBC's free iPlayer behind this paywall.
We've raised all of these issues with FetchTV, and it remains unrepentant. The sad truth is, the final score of this project has been severely damaged by its decision, and it invalidates the good things this box does.