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Project Canvas approved: Everything you need to know

The BBC Trust has given the go-ahead for a joint venture between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, BT and Talk Talk that aims to create a Freeview-style service for Internet TV

Today, the BBC Trust announced it's given the go-ahead for Project Canvas, the joint venture between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, BT and Talk Talk that aims to create an equivalent of Freeview for Internet TV. So what is it, and why should you care? Here's a handy primer.

What's it all about?

Project Canvas is a service mooted for launch next year, which will offer streaming TV and radio through a set-top box hooked up to your broadband connection. It'll offer PVR-style pause, rewind and record options, as well as tying into the current video-on-demand services from its partners, such as iPlayer and 4oD.

Is it ready to launch?

In a word, no. The green light from the BBC Trust means Auntie and her partners can get started creating the technical specification for the Project Canvas set-top boxes, which will be required by the companies making them. The service itself has to be built and tested, and the partners will be canvassing (sorry) other broadcasters and online TV firms to sign up. And this being the BBC, there's a further consultation process to be waded through, which won't deliver a final ruling until the spring.

Is everybody happy about it?

Not quite. Commercial TV providers such as BSkyB and Virgin Media have raised objections -- they are competitors after all. The fact the licence fee is partially funding the scheme has also attracted criticism -- something worth bearing in mind if (as seems likely) there's a new government in place midway through the development process.

Is it just about TV?

No. The Beeb has already said it's keen to open up Project Canvas to "Internet-based content or services", citing Flickr, Amazon and NHS Direct as three examples. We can think of plenty more though: YouTube would be an obvious partner, while social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter will surely be interested too -- although users would probably need a keyboard to get the most out of them. Meanwhile, streaming music service Spotify has made no secret of its desire to get on to TVs in the future -- Project Canvas may offer the perfect opportunity here in the UK.

This all rings a bell... something about a koala?

Ah, you'll be thinking of Project Kangaroo. That was another project involving the BBC and commercial broadcasters, designed to let people watch and buy shows from BBC, ITV and Channel 4 through their Web browser rather than their tellies. Essentially, it was the UK equivalent of Hulu. It was shot down, however, by the UK's Competition Commission earlier this year, due to fears that it would be too much of a threat to commercial rivals.

So, I'm excited: when can I get one of these set-top boxes, and how much will it cost?

Assuming it all goes smoothly -- and that's quite an assumption -- the first boxes are expected to go on sale before Christmas next year. The Freeview comparison hints that you'll pay a one-off fee for the set-top boxes -- the BBC itself has plucked the figure of £200 out of the air. Today's BBC Trust announcement stipulated that people will have to be able to access Project Canvas without a subscription, though.