Review: Channel 4 on Demand

Review: Channel 4 on Demand
22-01-2008
ENN.ie
By Cian Ginty

ENN assesses Channel 4′s online download and streaming service ’4 on Demand’ (4oD), which is currently available via Windows to broadband users in Ireland and the UK.

The service from Channel 4 was launched over a year ago, but still remains in ‘beta’. It offers a substantial amount of free programmes, as well as some rental content. Free content ranges from a ‘catch up’ of programmes currently being shown for 30 days after they’ve been on TV, to the 4oD ‘free archive’, which includes classic Channel 4 series such as Father Ted, Black Books, Peep Show, Teachers, and the IT Crowd. The station is also adding to archive.

Catch up, meanwhile, allows free access to recently-shown episodes of hit TV shows Shameless and Brotherhood; food programmes from Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver, and C4 regulars Dispatches, Grand Designs, Relocation Relocation, Time Team, Hollyoaks, and even Richard and Judy’s new chat show.

Of the paid-for content, episodes of Smallville, shows from US channel FX and National Geographic are all available for ‘rent’ for STG0.99. Films on the other hand vary in pricing. The independent UK film This is England, for example, is priced at STG3.99, but most films we checked — including Shallow Hal, Aliens, and I Robot — were STG2.99, with others at the lower price of STG1.99. Unfortunately, for Irish users sterling is the only pricing available, so bear that in mind.

Rentals expire around a month after you download them, or 48 hours after you press play — they can be watched as many times as you want in the 48 hour period. One of the good things about 4oD is that it features some films you won’t find in your local or online DVD rental stores such as the original 1966 Batman film.

4oD is currently available for download at Channel4.com for users of Windows XP and Vista, and needs a broadband connection, Internet Explorer 5.5 or over and Windows Media Player 10. It is not currently available for Mac users.

Content can be streamed or downloaded — the downloaded versions are still free, not ad supported, and from what we tried are of a better quality than the streamed content, which in itself worked steadily. Downloads can also be pre-booked.

The content menus are similar to web browsing and are easy to navigate. The system is split into sections such as free content, film, and a recommended section, or you can browse using the Channel 4 TV listings (although, not everything on the channel is available).

Films and programmes vary in download times but from our attempts shows downloaded between one or two hours on a 1MB broadband connection. The program runs in the background and a pop-up notifies you when downloads are finished.

But how does the content play? Once content is downloaded the player allows for three sizes — regular, large and full screen. Both regular and large (about 1/4 of our screen) worked at TV quality up close to our 17-inch widescreen laptop. At full screen the quality is noticeably distorted but watchable.

Overall, the 4oD service is excellent, easy to use and, with so much content available for free, a great way to spend an idle few hours.

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