BT has today unveiled its V-box which is a Freeview PVR (personal video recorder) device that will support video on demand (VoD) content streamed over a broadband connection. The website for the product is http://www.btvision.bt.com/ and will at present only be available to existing or new BT Total Broadband customers. The launch is taking a phased approach with those who have previously registered for the service being given priority.
Freeview recorders are not new and can be found easily on the high street, the big difference is the inclusion of support for a broadband connection and the ability to stream an MPEG4 encoded video to your TV. This video on demand content along with the PVR should free consumers from the shackles of a traditional TV schedule, since you can schedule recordings (the unit will store up to 80 hours of video) from the electronic programme guide (EPG) or record whole series, but also scan the on demand library and watch specific episodes from a series, or in the case of Channel 4 content access the 4oD library.
The V-box itself is supplied free, and there is no requirement for an ongoing subscription, beyond having a BT Total Broadband connection. Assuming you have no broadband connection at all, the first year costs including a basic broadband service would be £379.65 for the BT Vision service, £446.50 with a Sky+ and £434.88 with a NTL TVDrive service. Breaking the BT Vision costs down a bit further, there is a £30 connection fee and £60 install fee, so for existing BT Total Broadband customers that is it. Where the service is going to make money for BT is the fact that on demand content is paid for, with material costing between £0.49 and £2.99. For people who want a flat rate fee, there are subscription options as follows: Kids package £6, Music package £6, TV package £6, TV Replay package £3, or you can subscribe to all four options for £14 a month. For those who feel competent to connect it all up themselves and avoid the £60 engineer install fee, a self-install option will appear in a few months, but the ability to book an engineer visit will remain.
For those who want the technical low down on the service, the on demand content is streamed over a TCP connection using a 1.5Mbps bit rate, with content playing as soon as you select it. Content is tagged with quality of service controls over the network from the exchange to the content servers, and to cope with intermittent errors or ADSL line resync's a 10 second buffer will be built up in the unit. Physical connection wise the box has a HDMI connection for High Definition TV output (it should be pointed out the unit does not offer HD content at launch, it will offer standard definition content to any HD TV connected), SPDIF optical audio output, stereo phono connectors, two SCART sockets, one Ethernet connection (for connecting to the BT Home Hub), 2 USB ports. There is a small fan at the rear of the case, and while this was inaudible at the launch this is difficult to judge as the room was fairly noisy. With a 1.5Mbps video stream, the minimum speed ADSL connection needed will be a 2Mbps service, which in theory is available to around 90% of households if using the rate adaptive up to 8Mbps Max services. Quality wise it was possible to see some effects of compression on material if viewing a screen from a few inches, but standing at a distance similar to what most people will view their TV from it was adequate, which means most people will not notice it.
2007 will see Vodafone offering the BT Vision product to its broadband customers once it launches in the New Year, and other providers may well offer it as an option. Future improvements to the product include: special-interest programming, increased viewer participation in content, video telephone and instant messaging and many more potential applications.