HomeChoice review

Reviews, Wireless home

So you don’t fancy cable and you don’t want to swell Mr Murdoch’s coffers. Well how about TV and video on demand via an ADSL broadband line?

HomeChoice, which was originally launched in 2000, is back with a revamped service in the London area and The Guardian has many positive things to say about it.

Click here or read on to read the review

The service, HomeChoice, was originally launched in 2000, delivering video on demand and internet access to homes in the London area. While it was undoubtedly a pioneering service (video on demand via ADSL to a TV in 2000 was a world first) and worked reasonably well, there were some hiccups with the ADSL, and the quality of the video (MPEG1 standard) was awful.
I subscribed to the service for a time, more out of curiosity than anything else. I enjoyed being able to peruse a vast library of movies and TV programmes and then, after one click, being able to watch them. In the days before Sky+, Home Choice’s ability to pause the movie you were watching seemed revolutionary.
Then after a year or so the service went quiet. Although it continued to cater for its existing subscribers, it didn’t seem very interested in attracting new ones.
Then, a couple of months ago HomeChoice announced that a completely revamped service was being rolled out across London.
“The new services are all down to local loop unbundling (LLU)”, explains Roger Lynch, Chair and CEO of HomeChoice’s parent company Video Networks.
“When HomeChoice first launched we had to buy wholesale ADSL packages from BT, which was very expensive. Since LLU we have been able to start putting our own equipment into local exchanges, which not only significantly improves the services we can offer, but means our operational costs are eighty per cent cheaper than when we worked with BT.”
Among those new services are broadcast TV: HomeChoice offers a similar set of channels to Freeview, plus fast internet access, with users receiving a 1Mbps service with its basic package, with a 2Mbps upgrade if they prefer.
HomeChoice has also come up with some innovative features. For example subscribers can configure the HomeChoice box to lock out all its services bar its on-demand children’s channel Scamp, which makes it ideal for parents hoping to enjoy a Saturday morning lie-in. Another neat feature is the way subscribers can create a playlist of their favourite music videos rather than having to view the channel’s choice of music.
A deal with the BBC means that subscribers can also view the previous week’s editions of EastEnders, and many other programmes, whenever they want. And central to HomeChoice is its library of around 1,000 video-on-demand movies, which can be paused, rewound and fast forwarded.
The biggest improvement of all is that the picture quality is now MPEG2, rather than MPEG1, and is similar to other digital TV services. The company is likely to upgrade to MPEG4 (“a world’s first”, says Lynch), at some point in the year, which offers even higher quality pictures at lower bandwidth.
“We are pretty unique in the world in offering video on demand over ADSL in this way”, adds Roger Lynch. “And at present other services can’t offer a similar system.”
Given how attractive movies and TV on demand are to consumers it does seem incredible that Sky and the cable companies aren’t yet talking about adding video on demand via broadband to their portfolio of services.
“I suspect that the cable companies will start rolling out video on demand at some point in the next 12 months” says Roger Lynch. “However there are still parts of their network that will have to be upgraded before they can do this.”
“As for Sky, well it would have to work with BT to deliver video on demand and I don’t think BT is ready yet. BT recently announced a four to five year plan to upgrade its network and I am sure Sky will be looking at what it will be able to offer in the future.”
“We are also looking at new ADSL technologies such as ADSL2 and ASDSL+ which will enable us to increase the bandwidth available to each home. So for example we could offer multiple channels streamed to different TVs or even high definition TV.”
So is HomeChoice the tortoise to Sky and the cable companies’ hare?
At present the service is only available to 1.4 million homes in London, but Lynch insists the whole of the capital will be able to access the service soon, and that other cities will follow next year.
At £35 a month, which includes a 1MB broadband pipe plus a basic selection of channels, it is certainly competitive too. And there’s no denying that movies and TV on demand is a compelling proposition.
HomeChoice might have got the product right this time. Yet whether it has the marketing nous and deep enough pockets to take on its competitors remains to be seen.

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