YouView's mission is simple: "YouView is a joint venture by some of the UK's biggest names in TV and broadband. Together, we're going to change TV in the UK for the better – forever." Lofty claims.
The companies involved so far are the BBC, BT, Talk Talk, ITV, Channel 4, Five and Arqiva, and their plan is to bring users streamed video on demand via their broadband service. Previously known by its working title Project Canvas, it's rarely been out of the technology news of late due to a gaggle of broadcasters criticising it for anti-competitiveness.
In October 2010, Ofcom published a response to complaints by 11 companies (including Virgin Media and BSkyB), announcing that it wouldn't be launching an investigation into YouView because it would be premature in the service's development.
According to Ofcom, "Whether or not YouView and its partners will harm competition in the ways alleged will depend upon how this emerging market develops and how the YouView partners act, particularly in relation to issuing technical standards and providing access to content."
YouView must still tread carefully – there may befurther challenges ahead. Another worry is that not even the people behind YouView seem to know how they will make money from the service, which wasn't an approach that worked especially well for past contender Joost.
When asked about about this, Anthony Rose, YouView's chief technology officer, answered: "It's an open platform. Whatever you do on the internet, you can do here. We don't want to king-make any one payment service provider."
Despite these worries, YouView is special, as James McQuivey, Forrester's principal analyst on consumer products, points out: "In the UK, YouView is intriguing because it essentially creates a single platform that any manufacturer can build for and any content provider can push content to.
"That's a very open playing field and doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. If YouView gets into people's homes, it could be the new hotbed of innovation in TV."
YouView gathers the free and paid-for content from numerous companies in one place, making it agenuinely unique, open platform that anyone can write applications for. In many ways, it picks up where Freeview and BBC iPlayer left off.
You'll need to invest in another form of set-top box if you want to watch it on your television. It won't launch until at least the first half of 2011, and it's likely there may be more technical issues and legal challenges from competitors ahead, which could easily delay it again.
Boxee Box is a device from D-Link that enables you to plug the Boxee internet TV streaming web app into your television. Like Google and Apple's services, Boxee Box gives your TV access to free entertainment on the internet – playback movies, TV shows, music and photos. It also lets you share movies, TV shows or YouTube clips with your friends on Facebook and Twitter with the push of a button.
It doesn't have the clout of a big name like Apple or Google, but it does have the advantage of being available in the UK way before Google TV.
At £200, it's twice theprice of Apple TV, but it isn't ring-fenced into that iTunes-based, Flash-less world. It also offers 1080p Full HD.
There's no worry about a lack of power either, because it features the same Intel-powered chip you'll find in the first Google TV products. It also has a stylish QWERTY keyboard and remote.
Boxee's revenue stream seems simple: it offers you access to every web-streaming service it can get its hands on, and plays all non-DRM-protected media. Boxee clearly hopes that not being dedicated to just one service is the key to its survival.
If you want to try before you buy, you can download it to a laptop, then attach that to your TV. If you like it, you can buy the Boxee Box (and get your laptop back).
Boxee boasts 1080p HD and can play almost every video codec. It's easy to use and displays your content along with other services. It also offers social networking.
It's double the price of Apple TV, and you can't browse the internet as you can with Google TV.
BBC iPlayer was one of the first internet-streamed TV services, and in many ways it's paved the way for the others featured in this list – especially YouView. Launched in 2007, the UK-only iPlayer started out as a website-based catch-up service, which enabled you to watch any popular BBC TV programs that you missed earlier in the week.
iPlayer was a success from the start, and has continued to adapt to keep up with the way people want to view television. Initially it was only accessible on your PC via the BBC website, but with three versions now under its belt, adding HD programming and social networking services, it can be found on games consoles, Blu-ray players, and Freesat and Freeview boxes.
In fact, a large proportion ofthe service's traffic now comes from set-top boxes that are supplied by third-party companies such as Virgin and Sagem.
So what's in it for the BBC? Well, it gets its content out there. As the corporation explains, iPlayer isn't about money, because the BBC isn't a profit-making organisation.
Of course, this has upset numerous other organisations that do want to make profit, and believe the BBC should concentrate on making programmes, not developing new broadcasting methods. They need to check their history though, because the BBC has been at the forefront of broadcasting tech since its creation.
Other criticism has come from ISPs, worried about the levels of traffic the service generates: in August alone there were 119 million requests for programmes. However, with the arrival of so many other services, this is unlikely to remain a problem caused only by the BBC for long.
It's free, and a lot of the content is available in high definition. It's also supported by a major publicly funded corporation, which is unlikely to disappear overnight. New additions, such as social networking and programme reminders, help users find exactly what they want to watch.
iPlayer only carries BBC content – although there are eight channels of it available – most of which disappears after seven days. High definition content is available, but requires a very good internet connection to stream correctly.
Before long, iPlayer will just be one of numerous web apps available on other internet TV services from the likes of Apple and Google. Even if this doesn't happen, iPlayer will be eclipsed by YouView when it launches, due to the variety of extra content that will be available alongside the BBC's offerings.
First published in PC Plus Issue 303
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