Foxtel Go app for iPad.

Foxtel Go app for iPad.

Live channels and Catch Up TV rolled into the one slick app helps Foxtel subscribers get more bang for their buck.

With Australia's extra digital free-to-air channels and wealth of online video services, it's getting harder than ever to justify paying for Foxtel each month -- although you might argue the dearth of high-definition sport on the free-to-air channels has played right into Foxtel's hands. Even so a Foxtel subscription isn't cheap, so Foxtel is clearly working hard to improve the value proposition by developing new apps and services. It's not just about attracting new customers, it's also about convincing existing customers to keep handing over their money each month.

While the Freeview consortium has been promising a multi-channel Catch Up service for years, Foxtel has actually been putting runs on the board. Back in 2009 it launched Foxtel Download, letting Foxtel subscribers download TV shows for free and watch them on their computer. Then in 2010 it introduced Foxtel On Demand, letting you watch TV shows and hire movies streamed over the internet to Foxtel's iQ2 personal video recorder. Earlier this year we saw the launch of a Foxtel Catch Up TV service and an Olympics iPad app, and now we've got Foxtel Go which rolls live channels and Catch Up TV into the one iPad app. The icing on the cake is the ability to program recordings on the iQ2 using the app. as well as remotely change the channel on your Foxtel box. The app requires iOS5 or above, so you can still use it with the iPad 1.

Foxtel Go is a free app but, as with Foxtel's other similar services, you can only tap into content from the channels you already subscribe to. You need a full Foxtel subscription, Foxtel doesn't offer a basic iPad-only package as it does for the Xbox 360, T-Box and Samsung televisions. What's impressive is that you can run the app on two iPads at once, watching different content on each. Initially it might seem like a cheap alternative to a second Foxtel box in the bedroom, but the major limitation is that you've got access to so few channels. To quote the press release;

Foxtel Go offers 21 live channels including lifestyle, kids, music, live English Premier League, and dedicated 24-hour news channels, plus catch up episodes from hundreds of titles with award-winning drama, documentaries, as well as the edgiest shows from around the world express from the US.

The Foxtel Go live channels available now include The LifeStyle Channel, A&E, Sky News, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Disney, Cartoon Network, Channel [V], Cbeebies and dedicated sports channels such as SPORTS PLAY

Powered by FOX SPORTS (live sport highlights are Rugby Union, Cricket, A-League and Tennis), FOX SPORTS PLUS 1, 2 3 and 4 which are four Barclays Premier League specially programmed football channels, and Eurosport. Catch up titles include ROVE LA (FOX8), The Walking Dead (FX), Magic City (SoHo), Territory Cops (CI Network), The Only Way is Essex (LifeStyle YOU), Project Runway Australia (Arena), Grand Designs Australia (The LifeStyle Channel), Aqua Teen Hunger Force (The Comedy Channel), Haven (13th Street), Duck Dynasty (A&E), MegaTruckers (A&E), Gossip Girl (FOX8), Vampire Diaries (FOX8), Wicked Tuna (National Geographic Channel), Deadliest Catch (Discovery Channel), Copper (FX), Married to Jonas (E!), The Amazing World of Gumball (Cartoon Network), Gravity Falls (Disney), Harry Connick Jnr. Live on Broadway (Studio) and Spooks (UKTV).

It sounds impressive but unfortunately a lot of basic channels are missing such as Fox8, TV1, the Comedy Channel, UKTV, Arena and the Sci-Fi channel. Obviously your mileage may vary, but I'd say I'd be very unlikely to sit down with the available channels and find what I wanted to watch. The sports channels are the only real temptation. Foxtel has promised to expand the range of the channels over time but, as I alluded to earlier, the more live channels on offer the more likely people are to stop paying for their second pay TV box in the bedroom, so Foxtel will probably draw the line somewhere. 

The Foxtel Go app is very slick, similar to the London Olympics app. The picture quality of the live channels is very watchable, taking about 10 seconds to stabilise depending on the speed of your connection. The picture is roughly 35 seconds behind the live broadcast, which is about what you'd expect from a streaming simulcast service. You can pause and rewind live broadcasts but what's really impressive is that when you switch to a new channel there's always 30 minutes in the buffer. This is brilliant for when you stumble on a show that's already started, as you can drag the progress slider back 30 minutes to hopefully catch the start. It's a tantalising taste of what fixed-line IPTV services could eventually offer compared to traditional cable TV. Unfortunately you can't use Airplay to send the Foxtel video from the iPad app to an Apple TV.

Admittedly you'll notice the odd spot of pixelation in Foxtel's streaming picture, particular during fast-moving scenes, but nothing to complain about. Certainly good enough to watch in bed or sitting on the train. The app is designed to work over Wi-Fi or mobile broadband but you'll get a better picture over Wi-Fi, chewing through up to 877 MB per hour compared to only 290 MB per hour on 3G/4G. Unfortunately you can't cache video to watch offline, so you could chew through plenty of mobile data on your daily commute. 

The live channels are a nice touch but chances are you're more likely to find something you want to watch amid the Catch Up TV offerings. Here you'll find programs from Fox8 and other popular channels which aren't streamed live.

Considering it's a free service it's hard to complain about the Foxtel Go app. Between the live channels and the Catch Up options, it could make a handy addition to your entertainment options and make a monthly Foxtel subscription that little bit more attractive.