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Eye on Demand | April 25, 2017

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ABC iView Review

ABC iView Review

Review Overview

Quality of Video Stream
4.5
User Interface
6.5
Content on Offer
6.5
Device Availability
6
Airplay and iOS
7.5
6.2

Very Good

Most people outside of Australia would probably think of the ABC as being associated with the American Broadcasting Company. However, despite the organization itself not being quite as large, the other ABC – Australian Broadcasting Corporation – does in fact offer a far larger, free catch-up service than its American namesake under the iView brand.

In spite of the American similarity in name, there is no doubt the ABC was modeled on the BBC and this has continued until present day with ABC’s iView looking towards the iPlayer for inspiration. Both are ad-free public broadcasters offering a range of locally produced content, although whilst over the years the BBC has remained strong and leading the highly competitive UK market, the ABC has relegated itself to fourth place, after the three Australian commercial networks.

Content is varied with a good selection of Australian productions covering everything from drama and comedy to news and documentaries. A fair amount of high quality imported content is also available, mostly from the UK, which is generally ignored by Australia’s other commercial networks. Shows are in most cases available for 14 days after appearing on iView, although in some instances the entire series will be retained for a longer period allowing viewers to catch up from the beginning if they arrived late.

If anything, the Achilles’ heel for the ABC would be its sub-standard definition video quality. A maximum of 850kbps is offered for all shows, which is nearly half half that of the BBC’s 1500kbps standard definition and almost four times lower than the BBC’s HD stream. Numbers are not everything however, and the BBC quality is an exception in the FTA catch-up world rather than the rule. Videos come across as acceptable on a reasonable sized television screen, if somewhat blurry and pixelated.

The only live stream is from the ABC News 24 channel, which appears to simulcast at a lower bitrate on the iPad but higher via the web.

 

  • http://www.abc.net.au/iview/

    ABC’s brand new iView website, updated since the beginning of March 2014, is an enormous improvement over the previous incarnation. What we had before was so dated, it looked as if it passed its use-by date before iView was even launched. But the design and development team have got it right this time, and the new web face of iView is a treat to the eyes.

    The previous confusing, slow and unpleasantly slimy-green website has been opened up to a fresh and well laid out design. And just what I love to see right on the home page – highlighted Australian drama! No need to search deep into Aunty’s bowls for quality local productions as you’ll find it all right at the very front.

    Overall, recommended programmes are now grouped by genre and themes, sort of in mini-Netflix style, although with a lot fewer selections of course. But what also works great are the direct links to ABC’s five main channels, including the news channel, which retains ABC News 24’s live stream. But sadly, none of the other channels yet have that luxury.

    Watchlists and programme Resume are finally supported, and theoretically, if you log into your ABC iView account, your Watchlist and Recently Watched programmes will carry over to other browsers. But there is no cross-platform support yet for non-browser platforms such as iOS, Android and Smart TV apps. My own tests managed to synchronize my Watchlist between my Mac and Windows computers, but it did not carry across my Resume data, so I had to start the partially watched shows from the beginning and scrub to the correct place.

    Video quality is quite average, and tests suggested a bitrate of around 695kbps*. The stream appears quite pixelated on a reasonably large computer monitor, but it fares better on smaller laptop screens.

    Platform Pros:

    • Access from any most computers with Internet access and compatible browsers.
    • Live News stream, at an average quality level compared to some other platforms.
    • Great new UI.
    • Watchlist, Recently Watched and Resume options.

    Platform Cons:

    • Unfriendly sofa user interface.
    • Poor video quality on harsh computer monitors, averaging at 695kbps* for catch-up material.
    • No cross-platform ability outside of browsers.
    • Although Watchlist was carries across to another browser, the programme location (Resume) was not.

    (Accessing ABC’s iView from outside of Australia may require using a Smart DNS service or VPN)

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    Ad Getflix

  • Best Choice StampAs of March 2014, ABC’s iOS app has received a major overhaul, and a very welcomed one at that. Previously, the app, which was one of the first Australian catch-up services on Apple, looked dated from the day it was launched – and that is me being friendly again – after-all, I do have a pair of beer glasses when it comes to Australia’s ABC.

    All that is a thing of the past, with both the iPhone and iPad apps now not only looking the part, but probably taking the top spot for iOS catch-up services within Australia. Sure, it still has a long way to go before reaching the BBC iPlayer’s dizzying heights, but it does nevertheless offer a few great features under its belt.

    Gone with the sickly green and late 90’s borders, and a big hello to a far more elegant layout and scheme. If the development and design teams who pulled this app together want praise, they will certainly find it from me! OK, it’s not exactly groundbreaking, but it is really nice.

    Slideshow iPhone 5Aesthetics aside, my favourite addition may surprise everyone, but it’s the highlighted Australian dramas right on the Home screen. Look, I don’t head to the ABC to watch American or British content, what I want is local Australian productions, so having this right at the front screen pleases me to no end. I just hope this becomes extended to include Australian home-grown comedy in the near future as well.

    But the new look iView on iOS doesn’t stop there, iView’s improved Watchlist works quite well, if only on the local device. Your Watchlist should be synchronized across different platforms of similar type, so theoretically it works between iOS devices (via iCloud accounts), Android devices (via Gmail accounts) or browsers (via a log-in), but not across the board, that feature is planned for the future. That said, I have not had any success syncing between my iPad and iPhone yet.

    Another improvement has been made to the Search feature, which not only works better now, but allows you to jump straight into the shows. Once a programme is finished, you will also be confronted with various suggestions on other titles you may enjoy.

    Parental control is now possible, to lock the kiddies into age appropriate content, as well as dedicated pages to the various ABC channels and the pleasantly retained live news stream – but still no sign of ABC’s other live channels.

    Unfortunately, video quality is still a bit too low to take seriously, although over the last few months I have seen a slight increase in bitrate where the service now averages around 850kbps*, still significantly below SD to cause a lowering of the head, but despite this, iView does employ good algorithms and encapsulation that results in quite reasonably fair streams.

    On the other hand, iView provides excellent AirPlay support. If only all other broadcasters took such an encompassing approach as offered here. AirPlay can be directly accessed from the video window and it is fully multitasking – allowing the screen to be switched off or the device to be used for other purposes.

    Platform Pros:

    • Fantastic new user interface.
    • Full AirPlay support allowing streaming to television.
    • Watchlist for setting favourites.
    • Recently Viewed list to easily access previously started content.
    • Resume feature, with time-frame details.
    • Live News stream.
    • Parental lock for kids section.

    Platform Cons:

    • No download support for offline access.
    • Live news stream has very poor video quality.
    • Limited cross-platform syncing doesn’t seem to work.
    • Can not sync with other platforms of different types (yet).

    (Accessing ABC’s iView from outside of Australia may require using a Smart DNS service or VPN)

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    Ad Getflix

     

  • ABC iView is also available on a number of different Smart TV brands, but the review here is based on the Samsung Smart Hub, one of the most flexible of smart television platforms.

    Let’s not beat around the bush here, there is no doubt that the iView widget appears cluttered. That said, at the time of publication, ABC have not rolled across their user interface upgrades to the Samsung platform, so there is a very large possibility things will improve here in the near future.

    All that aside, the iView widget itself is a great way to access content from Australia’s public television provider. Generally speaking, all their main programming should be available here, with the exception of the live 24hour news feed.

    Browsing options are slightly different to the other platforms, but the big main sections are still there; Home which offers suggested highlights, A-Z, Categories, Recently Added and Last Chance. If you can’t find the programme you want using those methods, there is one of the most interesting search fields I have yet seen on a catch-up or on-demand widget – interesting but confusing at first, as each button on the remote will signify a letter, which you change with the arrow keys and then select keywords. Phew… but I actually found it worked ok once I got the hang of it.

    Sadly, ABC iView seem to have taken tips from SBS on how to offer FFW and REW. It’s not quite as hair-pulling as the SBS widget, but not far off either. I look forward to the day when I can review a good scrubbing feature in an Australian catch-up widget.

    Video quality actually came through as the highest in my tests averaging 725kbps*, but to be honest I couldn’t see any difference to the iPad when using AirPlay. It was however significantly more enjoyable than watching on a computer monitor, which doesn’t offer the smoothing algorithms often found on television sets.

    If only the widget offered a resume function & watchlist, otherwise it would be lapping at the heels of our current favourite platform for iView, iOS. If there is anything I love, it is a good dedicated catch-up service built right into a television.

    Platform Pros:

    • Built in catch-up for ABC iView without the need of any additional device.
    • Good video quality for platforms supported by ABC
    • All the main browsing features supported.
    • Sofa-friendly environment – so long as your TV screen is large enough and you are not too far away.

    Platform Cons:

    • No watchlist or resume features.
    • No cross-platform support.
    • No live streaming.
    • FFW & REW needs work.
    • Outdated UI.

     

    (Accessing ABC’s iView from outside of Australia may require using a Smart DNS service or VPN)

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    Ad Getflix

  • There is no doubt that the ABC draws inspiration from the BBC, its British counterpart is after all the benchmark for public television. That said though, these days underneath they are quite a different beast. The Australian government gave up on separate television licensing in the early 1970’s, adopting direct financing through taxation. Consequently, far less is spent on the ABC than the BBC and this shows clearly in content and quality.

    What that means in real terms is that the ABC relies far more on foreign imports than on local productions. Where as in the UK the BBC still reigns king despite the large presence of commercial television, the ABC in Australia is generally relegated to fourth place after the three commercial networks. Though in all fairness, it probably produces the finest content, has the better catch-up service and broadcasts or streams commercial-free.

    Although ABC’s iView does have a few issues and lacks features found on other catch-up services around the world, it does provide a strong and reliable service and is an excellent resource for many popular Australian television shows, as well as a way to catch up on foreign content not currently airing in their original countries.

    Pros:

    • Commercial free television.
    • Good range of content including exclusives.
    • Excellent AirPlay support.
    • Watchlists on many platforms.
    • Resume feature on many platforms.
    • Some series are available for the duration of broadcast.

    Cons:

    • Sub-standard definition video quality.
    • Outside of poor quality news stream, no live simulcasts available.
    • No offline downloads.
    • Lack of comprehensive cross-platform support.
    • Limited hardware support.

     

    What may come as a surprise to many European or other readers is that many ISPs in Australia enforce bandwidth caps whilst metering content, which can limit the usefulness of IPTV. The ABC however has limited agreements with some Australian ISPs to offer selected services and platforms unmetered access. This can include catch-up content via the web browser but does not include live simulcasts or content accessed through set-top boxes, Smart TVs or mobile devices.

     

    Technical Details:

    • Video quality: 650kbps.
    • Content generally available for 14 days outside of entire series.
    • Adobe Flash Player 10 or higher.
    • iOS 4.3 or higher (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch)
    • Available on hardware listed here:

    * bitrates were averaged from multiple tests and may be affected by geographic location, time of day and other bandwidth issues.

    Log:

    22.02.2013: First published. Score: 5.4 Above Average.

    27.05.2013: Visual Overhaul, platform Pros & cons + best platform choice as iOS.

    17.10.2013: Updated with speed tests, iOS update, improved live news streaming on browser and new Samsung Smart TV widget. Score increased to 5.8

    10.03.2014: Major overhaul and score increase to 6.2 due to improved UI.

     

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Comments

  1. Steven

    Is ABC Iview available to view through smart dns now?

    • Yes, and at least on all the platforms reviewed here via Overplay. As long as your broadband is ok, you should have good service wherever you are. I’m located on the otherside of the world, and it streams pretty good on most occasions.

  2. N V Ramanan

    Maybe I misunderstood, but is ABC iView available on the Roku 4? I just did a system update…..I cannot find it anywhere!

    • Nope, as the Roku isn’t available in Australia there is no app there. Oddly enough though, there used to be an ABC iView “private channel” for the Roku, but this has long since been deactivated. It was probably created back in the old days when ABC were actively looking to expand to new platforms before they instigated their new policy of doing the complete opposite. This Roku channel hasn’t been working for quite a while though.

      Where did you hear about iView being on the Roku just out of interest?