Gaming laptops are traditionally full of compromises.
Foxtel on Xbox 360
If you’ve already got an Xbox, this is a cheap way to watch Foxtel (and the Olympics)
- Good range of channels
- Acceptably detailed video quality
- Low price for basic package
- No HD option
- Slightly complicated setup process
- Extra packages drive price up
If you’ve got an Xbox 360 hooked up to your big screen, it’s more versatile than you think. The Foxtel app is a little complex to install and get running, but if you’ve got broadband internet and plenty of download quota, you can get over three dozen Foxtel channels for half of the traditional cable/satellite pay TV price.
Price$ 19.50 (AUD)
When we took a test-drive of Foxtel on Internet TV, we were impressed with the service’s reasonable range of channels, ease of use and the quality of the streaming video. Its appeal was limited, though, with only Samsung Smart TV owners able to access the app.
Foxtel on Xbox 360 broadens the potential user-base to anyone who owns the seven-year-old game console (well over a million in Australia), and the service is available Australia-wide as of the start of July.
Foxtel on Xbox 360: Setup and interface
The Foxtel on Xbox 360 app usually sits in the Video section of the Xbox’s dashboard interface once it’s installed, but we initially had to navigate to the App section, enter the Marketplace, and find it amidst the 360’s other apps.
After it’s downloaded, you can open the app and navigate around all the different sections, showing off the TV guide, live TV, London 2012 Olympics coverage, catch-up TV and movies, and so on.
The Foxtel on Xbox 360 app loads into a welcome screen promoting different content — you can watch Sky News National for free, but to access any other channels you’ll need to purchase the service and sign in using your Foxtel account.
You’ll have to enter your username and password by navigating the on-screen keyboard using your Xbox controller, but thankfully user details are saved after the first login.
Foxtel on Xbox 360: Pricing and channel range
Foxtel on Xbox 360 has a wide range of features for a seemingly simple application. In addition to the streaming TV services found on Foxtel on Internet TV, the Xbox app can access a limited range of recently-broadcast catch-up TV and movies, and pay-per-view TV episodes and movies from a wider catalogue.
You must have an Xbox Live Gold account ($89.95 per year) to download and access the Foxtel on Xbox 360 app. Remember to factor this into the ongoing costs of the service. It also uses some of your monthly Internet download quota, unless you've got your 'net through Telstra.
The base Foxtel on Xbox streaming TV package is, in our eyes, a great all-in-one. For $19.50 a month — no lock-in contracts, no installation fees — you get 17 channels ranging from FOX8 to National Geographic to Nickelodeon and BigPond AFL, NRL and V8 Supercars. If free-to-air TV isn’t showing the sports or programs you want, there’s a fair chance they’ll be on one of these channels.
A further $15 a month nets you the Showtime Movies package — Showtime Premiere, Showcase and half a dozen catch-up movie categories. More streaming movie channels and catch-up movies are available on the $15 monthly Movies Network pack. The Entertainment package expands on the basic channels with more MTV, more Nat Geo and plenty of others — again, $15 a month. Extra Sport channels come at a $10 a month cost.
The network’s 24-hour, eight-channel constant coverage of the London 2012 Olympics is a $50 one-off fee.
Catch-up TV and movies are an additional feature that the Foxtel on Xbox app has over the Foxtel on Internet TV service, with categories mostly from the Showtime and Movie Network movie channels as well as some TV episodes. This content changes regularly, but every time we checked there was something that we’d consider worth watching — it’s a worthwhile extra over the Internet TV service.
Foxtel on Xbox 360 also includes access to the network’s pay-per-view section, where new release movies and TV series from Foxtel’s Box Office catalogue can be rented. The average prices for new release movies, archive movies and TV shows are $5.95, $3.95 and $2.95 each respectively.
Foxtel on Xbox 360: Picture quality and performance
We tested Foxtel on Xbox 360 on a busy ADSL2+ connection, on a wireless network hosting four PCs and half a dozen other wireless devices. This is a good example of what to expect if you’re trying out Foxtel on Xbox 360 in a household with other users and computers already chugging away.
Foxtel says that a minimum of 2Mbps speed is needed over a broadband Internet connection to access the Foxtel on Xbox 360 service. We’d say that’s about right — even at the busiest time, with several downloads and online gaming running on the network’s PCs, we were able to get a solid Foxtel on Xbox 360 stream running.
Opening the app takes around 15-20 seconds, and opening one of the streaming TV feeds takes around five seconds in total. If you’re changing channels, there’s a two- to three-second delay before the stream starts again — this is acceptable, although somewhat slower than free-to-air digital or analog TV.
You can choose between Low, Medium and High video quality settings in the Live TV interface, while you’re watching a program. Changing to each one of these quality settings takes only a few seconds, and for the most part we didn’t encounter any slow-downs or pauses in playback in any of the three modes.
Low quality video is a safe starting point — looking roughly as bad as 240p YouTube video, it’s certainly watchable but is by no means detailed. We found that for most channels, Medium quality hit a good compromise between video quality and bandwidth usage, with good detail that’s on par with standard definition free-to-air digital TV broadcasts. High quality is by far the most detailed — if you’re watching the Olympics or Sky News National, for example, it’s the only one that clearly displays on-screen graphics (like the swimming split times, or the news ticker during Sky News programs, for example).
We do wish there was a proper HD video option, even though it would be of limited appeal and would be restricted to high-bandwidth connections. As it stands, Low isn’t detailed enough, Medium is a good middle ground (although we do wish on-screen graphics were slightly clearer) and High consumes a bit too much bandwidth in a busy household setting.
Foxtel on Xbox 360: Conclusion
Foxtel on the Xbox 360 is much, much cheaper than getting a cable installation and subscription. It may not have the same quality video and same vast selection, but in the majority of our testing we found that it was detailed enough and diverse enough — especially considering the much friendlier asking price.
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