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Time to abandon the TV schedule?

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Gadgets on the go

Adam Turner is an award-winning Australian freelance technology journalist with a passion for gadgets and the "digital lounge room".

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The Big Bang Theory.

The Big Bang Theory.

Network programmers are convinced they're doing a great job. Is it time to sack them?

The contempt with which Australian commercial television networks hold viewers is legendary, making it near impossible to keep track of your favourite shows each week. Yet the country's programmers actually rate themselves pretty high in terms of the accuracy of their Electronic Program Guide (EPG), according to TV Tonight. Seven and Ten's programmers rate themselves a perfect 10 out 10, while Nine rates itself a more modest 8 out of 10.

These programmers are living in some kind of fantasy land, not the real world where the Australian TV schedule is constantly shuffled and shows deliberately run late to deter you from changing the channel. Programmers' efforts to outsmart each other have certainly helped drive a new generation of viewers to BitTorrent.

The networks also like to alter the names of shows, which can foil attempts to automatically record them with a season pass. Nine is especially guilty here as it likes to include "Sneak Peek" details in program titles, such as The Big Bang Theory (Includes Sneak Peek - Love Child). If your Personal Video Recorder is set to automatically record The Big Bang Theory, it will probably miss episodes with extra details added to the title.

One way to escape this mess is to abandon the free Electronic Program Guide completely. Instead opt for a personal video recorder with access to a custom EPG, such as the Fetch TV box I reviewed this week. While off-the-shelf recorders might brag of season pass-style features, they're crippled if they rely on the EPG embedded in the broadcast signal. To be more reliable they need to download a more accurate TV guide.

Fetch TV sources its EPG data from the networks via HWW, receiving the same details included in the broadcast signal. But behind the scenes Fetch TV goes to great efforts to standardise the EPG formatting, add missing metadata and update the "to-the-minute" start times to allow for last-minute schedule changes. The PVR then downloads this polished EPG via the internet. As a result, it's more likely to record your favourite show, from start to end, every week. You still might be left in the lurch occasionally, but the odds of everything going to plan significantly improve.

TiVo, Foxtel's iQ2, Telstra's T-Box and IceTV-compatible PVRs also rely on hand-curated EPGs which are more accurate than the mishmash churned out by the networks and embedded in the broadcast signal. Another advantage of a custom EPG is that data for every channel is automatically downloaded in the background. PVRs which rely on the EPG in the broadcast signal often can't update channels in the background, they rely on you to regularly view each channel. Without an EPG update they'll fail to record your favourite shows.

The downside of these custom EPGs is that they're mostly offered as part of a monthly subscription package, and the thought of paying to watch so-called free-to-air television doesn't sit well with many people. Subscribing to a better EPG seems like a small price to pay in order to sidestep network bastardry and improve the chances of seeing the last 5 minutes of your favourite show.

What do you use to record television? How often does it let you down?

66 comments so far

  • The wrong EPG details are a pet peeve of mine. Surely it can't be too difficult for part of the broadcasting regulations to include mandatory hefty fines for networks providing incorrect EPG data and for having programs that run over time - the only exceptions should be for breaking news stories, emergency broadcast coverage or live sporting events running overtime (not because dancing with the Z grade celebrities runs over time).

    Between a US Netflix subsciption, some bit torrents and using a PVR with plenty of padding around each end of broadcasts my reliance on FTA broadcasts had pretty much diminished. All I need now is a way to watch the AFL in decent resolution without having to rely on Ch7 or take out a Foxtel subscription. I'd happily pay for the AFL Live subscription if it provided decent resolution but I haven't been able to find out what resolution the 2014 subscription gives (would screen cast from my tablet to TV).

    Commenter
    The Shadow
    Location
    Margaritaville
    Date and time
    February 12, 2014, 1:05PM
    • You'll find the AFL app blocks attempts to show it on tv screens.

      Commenter
      Mike
      Date and time
      February 12, 2014, 4:58PM
    • The other huge problem with AFL on 7 is that you have the unpleasant experience of having to listen to Mcavaney and Cometti. The ads you can fast forward through those two you cant. If only a radio station would delay their broadcast of a match as does 7 then the tv experience would become bearable.

      Commenter
      rastus
      Date and time
      February 12, 2014, 6:19PM
    • The problem will eventually disappear along with the programmers and they will not be missed.
      I rarely watch local TV due to frustration with this problem, I purchased a ROKU media player amd almost exclusively watch movies from a selection of channels, including Netflix, You Tube, Hulu etc there are heaps available, and not a commercial among them, all for about $14 a month.including the VPN.

      Commenter
      john
      Date and time
      February 13, 2014, 10:48AM
    • rastus, there are three commentators I refuse to listen to; Mcavaney, eddie everywhere especially when the Magpies are playing ( and I am a Collingwood supporter) and James Brayshaw, I love my Test cricket, how is it that he has been engaged to spoil the experience?

      Commenter
      john
      Date and time
      February 13, 2014, 6:55PM
  • I use the internet to record TV. I download everything in 720p (greater than what FTA now shows). Screw FTA TV, they can go choke on a big fat one.

    FTA TV Free for 4 years! Do the same, download everything, never watch an advert.

    Commenter
    Blake
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    February 12, 2014, 1:21PM
    • The only thing watched on FTA these days in our house is sport, or news, everything else is either through catch up on demand, or downloaded.

      Commenter
      damienf
      Location
      Perth
      Date and time
      February 12, 2014, 1:39PM
      • Same here - very little FTA is watched given the junk that proliferates these channels. At leat with Foxtel we have a wider selection.

        Commenter
        dexxter
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        February 12, 2014, 3:26PM
      • Frostwire has changed the way my family watches tv forever. Watch what we want when we want in high definition with no ad breaks. Downloading is the way of now and the future. Why be a slave to the networks when there are options. Only way to go...

        Commenter
        Danny
        Date and time
        February 13, 2014, 7:56AM
    • I have been using IceTV with Windows Media Center for years with around 99% success.

      Commenter
      Australian Videocamera
      Location
      Echuca
      Date and time
      February 12, 2014, 1:52PM

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