Freeview has beaten Sky TV to the punch with a device that will let you watch live TV without an aerial or satellite dish (Vodafone TV has bragging rights as the first full-stop).
The new Freeview SmartVu widget, designed locally in partnership with Dish TV, delivers all of its content via broadband – from broadcast channels supplied by Freeview partners TVNZ, MediaWorks and Māori TV to TVNZ OnDemand, 3Now and third-party apps from the likes of Netflix (which are not free, if you choose to subscribe to them).
The SmartVu is tiny – smaller than its power plug (see pic below) – and is designed to magnetically stick to the back of your TV.
It connects to your TV via an HDMI jack and to your internet router via Wi-Fi.
SmartVu features Google Chromecast built-in, coupled with voice search on the Bluetooth remote. It’s priced at $139.
The SmartVu runs on Google’s Android software and features Netflix, Lightbox and YouTube apps via Google Play and supports 4K or ultra high definition video (though you’ll need a UFB fibre connection to get the highest quality picture, best coupled with an unlimited data plan).
It’s as easy as watching broadcast TV, the only difference is that with the Freeview streaming device, the broadcast is delivered over the internet, rather than over the air, Freeview chief executive Jason Foden says.
SmartVu sounds like just the ticket for Spark’s pending Spark Sports app, which it will use to deliver the 2019 Rugby World Cup and other streaming sports content next year. It could prove a relatively idiot-proof way to get broadband-delivered content onto a regular telly.
However, a spokeswoman for the telco said it was too early to say the Spark Sports app would be available on SmartVu.
There is one catch: Not all of Freeview’s channels are available live via SmartVu.
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Sky TV’s free-to-air channel Prime is conspicuous by its absence. Choice TV and a number of ethnic channels are also missing.
Foden says he expects the full channel line up will be added over time, “including, hopefully, Prime”.
He says diplomatically, that Sky has “other priorities”, right now.
Longtime industry watchers will be flashing back to how Sky TV withheld Prime from the TVNZ-backed TiVo until a full two years after the platform’s launch – by which time it was clear it was struggling.
Sky launches Download to Go
Sky TV says it also has an Android-powered “puck” on the way, which will also let people watch its service without a dish, and stream content (including Netflix and potentially Lightbox) via apps.
However, it won’t be released until February at the earliest.
The pay-TV broadcaster did launch a new “Download to Go” option for its Sky Go service today – which means you can now save Go content and watch it later offline.
There are a couple of provisos. Once you start watching Download to Go content, you’ll have to finish it within 48 hours. And some content will self-delete after 30 days due to rights issues, Sky says.
Download to Go is available via the Sky Go app for Android and Apple’s iOS. The mix of channels you get on Go depends on your Sky subscription.
Freeview has also released a larger set-top box, the $439 Freeview Recorder, which does require a UHF antenna or satellite dish, but also runs on Android and offers a full range of app options plus a 1 terabyte hard drive.
The general trend over the next two years from both Sky and Freeview will be away from bulky set-top or “decoder” boxes, however.
Beyond its puck being released in the New Year, Sky is readying an app-only service for later in 2019.
It’s the way the world is inexorably moving, even if it might make some Sky managers and shareholders miss the days when you could monopolise viewers’ attention by buying up scarce satellite bandwith.