Hands On: ITVN IPTV Set-Top Box (Verdict: Rough Around The Edges, But Works Well)

Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) is supposedly one of the next big things in the world of consumer electronics and a company by the name of ITVN has on its hands a pretty decent entry. Little more than a set-top box with several AV-out ports, ITVN should be a hit with two types of people: European football (soccer) fans and people who enjoy, uh, adult entertainment. Intrigued yet? Find out more after the glorious jump.

I've been playing with ITVN for the past few weeks and can conclude that, while there are indeed some rough spots that will be addressed in time, overall, it's not a bad piece of technology. Let's take a look at the hardware first. When you open the box, a seemingly innocuous black box, remote control, AV cables and an ethernet cable are pretty much all you see. There's a small instruction manual that gives advice on the scale of "if the ITVN box doesn't work, please makes sure it's plugged into the wall." I dare say most Gizmodo readers won't have much trouble setting it up, though. I, on the other hand...

Hands On: ITVN IPTV Set-Top Box (Verdict: Rough Around The Edges, But Works Well)

Hands On: ITVN IPTV Set-Top Box (Verdict: Rough Around The Edges, But Works Well)

After I figured out how to get my university network connection to play nice with the ITVN box (this is entirely my university's draconian policies' fault, so I place no blame on ITVN for having tough time getting the box to connect to the Internet), I was up and running. Literally, all you have to do is plug the box into an outlet, plug the AV cables into your TV and connect the box to your broadband Internet connection via an ethernet cable and you should be good to go. Hit the power button on the remote control (there's no power button on the box itself, meaning that if the remote's batteries die, you could be in some trouble) and watch the GUI boot up.

Once powered on, you're greeted by a somewhat bland-looking GUI. To me, the GUI just looks so incredibly dated and in some weird lower-than-low resolution. My setup involves plain old composite AV cables hooked up to a 26-inch Samsung HDTV. Having no access to a standard definition TV, I can't speak to whether or not it looking better there. That said, the GUI still looks like it was designed by an amateur: think the World Wide Web back in 1995 to get an idea of how "off" it looks. At the end of the day, however, the relative ugliness of the GUI doesn't get in the way of its functionality. Hitting up on the remote control moves the cursor up, down moves it down, etc. Sometimes the GUI froze on me, necessitating a full reboot. A software bug I presume that can be fixed with a software update, which seem easy enough to apply. (Hint: click on "software update" in the main menu.)

After booting up and hitting "Launch ITVN," users find themselves in the main menu. From here, you choose what channel you want to watch: one of the Starz movie channels, Setanta Sports (for the soccer hooligans), etc. Each channel carries its own monthly fee. Therefore, if you only want to pay for one, that's all you have to pay for. Yes, à la carte. The two channels likely to get the most "air time" as it were are Setanta Sports and Late Night. As I mentioned earlier, Setanta Sports specializes in European sports like football (soccer) and rugby. Prior to the launch of ITVN a few weeks ago, the only way to receive Setanta Sports was with a satellite dish, something of an impossibility to install if you're living in an apartment. Now, so long as you've got a broadband connection with sufficient bandwidth (300 kbps is too slow, ITVN claims) you can watch Frank Lampard miss penalties week-in, week-out and Sheva not score a goal for the life of him.

Late Night is, well, porn. And lots of it. I mean like more than 175 channels of porn. Granted, many of the channels are just repeats of the same genre (Blondes1, Blondes2, etc.) but if you've ever wanted more flesh than you could ever want on your TV screen (yes, I fully realize that your hard drive is already filled to the brim with the entire "Young, Dumb and Full of 'Intelligence'" series, but seeing it all on the big screen is a nice change of pace) and for one low, low price ($30 per month), you should be in heaven. 18-years-old and older only, by the way.

How's the streaming quality? Overall, not bad. During the big Chelsea vs. Liverpool match from a few weeks ago, the stream stuttered twice so badly that it kicked me back to the menu screen. Now, my university provides a disgusting amount of bandwidth, so that's not the problem, but this hasn't happened any other time so it might have just been a fluke. Honestly, I wouldn't exactly call the picture broadcast quality, but it's better than the average Internet video stream. Think of it as somewhere in between watching "regular" TV and watching a stream online, with it leaning more toward the "regular" TV than the stream.

OVerall, I'd say ITVN is worth taking a look at, since they do give you like a month to try it out in case you change your mind. The technology itself is what's promising, and with bandwidth prices falling (or at least they're predicted to be...where's my fiber optic connection?), services like ITVN should improve dramatically. If you can get past the clunky menu system, have a decent Internet connection and love porn and/or European sports, ITVN could be just what the hooligans ordered.

Product Page [ITVN]