First Look: Vodafone TV

Sky and Vodafone are working to offer a unique streaming service, Vodafone TV. From a price perspective, it’s not a bad deal.

Vodafone TV setup

Sky and Vodafone are working to offer a unique streaming service, Vodafone TV. My main thought when using it was: “Why didn’t they do this sooner?”

Vodafone TV is only available to those on fibre or cable (“FibreX”) connections and runs out of a set-top box and an app. A Vodafone TV subscription costs $140 a month (add $20 to get an extra box) and comes with a “basic” Sky subscription – this includes Sky’s Starter and Entertainment packages – and a Vodafone unlimited-data Fibre 100 or FibreX 200 plan.

From a price perspective, it’s not a bad deal. To get all that separately would cost $210. Those broadband plans are $95 per month by themselves, a basic Sky subscription with a My Sky box costs $50 per month, and then you’d need to add the extras, including Sky’s $10 “tax” to get HD content (Vodafone TV content is HD where possible).

The box requires an Ethernet connection to a router (or WiFi extender) as it doesn’t have built-in WiFi and it doesn’t connect to an aerial or dish.

The TV part is a mix of live TV (Sky and free-to-air channels) plus access to Sky’s on-demand catalogue. The box also has built-in apps for TVNZ OnDemand, ThreeNow, and Netflix (but not Neon or Lightbox).

You add channels as you would with a normal Sky subscription. To use Netflix, you’ll need a separate Netflix subscription.

Sky’s previous online offerings have been lacklustre, most notably, the dropouts suffered by Sky Go when too many viewers logged on. But Vodafone TV seems to have fixed these issues. For example, I had no issues watching popular Winter Olympic events.

The new features brought in by Vodafone TV are on-demand, delayed viewing of live content and the ability to watch it all via the app on your mobile or tablet.

The app

The Vodafone TV app runs on Android and iOS and works as an extra screen. So I was able to watch two curling matches at the same time, one on the app and one on the TV. The app also has a button to start playing what you’re watching through the box, so you can start watching in the bedroom then move to the lounge. The app is much easier to navigate than the box.

The box

The box is a media hub, like an Apple TV, and comes with a remote control. Mostly, it works fine, especially if you’re watching live TV. However, I found the remote and on-screen menus clunky and not very intuitive.

For example, on-demand content was easy to find but playing it was difficult because of confusing options. When playing, getting back to the guide took too many button presses, and most of the remote’s controls required guesswork as to their function.

TV on your terms

On-demand worked well. I watched a lot of shows delayed (starting from the beginning while the show was still being broadcast) and via full recordings. I set these recordings via the app on my phone and then watched them when I got home.

Working with Sky means working with a range of copyright holders. Sometimes these holders impose odd rules for their content while they come to grips with this new form of distribution.

“Some content owners may not want you to be able to rewind, others may allow you to live pause, but not want you to skip scenes,” says Vodafone technology director Tony Baird.

“We can add and remove these controls as necessary for each piece of content. And with over-the-air updates, we can quickly implement new features when they become available.”

What lets the system down is a lack of clear descriptions available for each piece of content. Without this the system becomes confusing. Even a simple message saying “this on-demand content cannot be fast-forwarded” would be enough.

I was watching the Olympic figure skating on delay and went to skip the ads, only to discover I had been returned to the start of the broadcast and couldn’t get back to where I was.

Vodafone did poorly in our telco satisfaction survey, so it’s good to know some of its products can work well. This new broadcast platform is the best thing to happen to Sky TV. Hopefully, it won’t let it slip away.

Services compared

  Price per month Unlimited broadband[tick] Sky starter[tick] Sky Entertainment[tick] Ability to record[tick] On-demand viewing[tick] HD[tick] Two screens[tick]
Vodafone TV $140 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fibre 100 $95 Yes
FibreX 200 $95 Yes
Sky TV $50 Yes Yes Yes
My Sky + $70 Yes Yes Yes Yes
My Sky + (with HD) $80 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

First Looks are trials of new and interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons. The Vodafone TV and Sky subscription were loaned to the writer by Vodafone.

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