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Eye on Demand | May 27, 2017

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TVNZ Ondemand Review

TVNZ Ondemand Review

Review Overview

Quality of Video Stream
5
User Interface
8
Content on Offer
6
Device Availability
4
Airplay and iOS
2
5

Loads of Potential

Who would have thought the best commercial catch-up service from Australasia would in fact not come from Australia itself, but their smaller and somewhat greener neighbour New Zealand. Don’t be discouraged by the vast distances and tiny population, TVNZ has pulled off a fine on-demand service here which may raise an intrigued eyebrow or two from more than just the expat community.

TVNZ is New Zealand’s oldest and largest television network, originating as a public broadcaster modelled partially on the BBC but with additional finances derived from limited advertising. Today it is still owned by the New Zealand government but entirely commercially funded, making it a rather unusual beast being both commercial & public at the same time.

TVNZ Ondemand on the other hand, operates a bit more like the 4oD service from the UK, offering a range of catch-up programmes for a limited time, appearing between 12-24 hours after first broadcast and an on-demand service for its back catalogue of locally produced material.

Its rotating range of foreign programming includes selected highlights from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia and the largest range of New Zealand created content, but due to licensing arrangements it is usually only the New Zealand content that remains available within the back-catalogue after the catch-up period expires.

Quality SDVideo quality is one of the strengths with this service and shares the Australasian FTA top-spot with SBS, offering near standard quality streams of 1500kbps. Don’t get too excited here, unlike a great deal of catch-up and on-demand services from other countries outside of Australia and New Zealand, you won’t find anything remotely HD with this service. But despite that omission, the 1500kbps streams are good enough to enjoy on most displays, at least through the web browser where this quality setting is most likely possible.

Hardware support is also above the Australasian commercial TV standard, with support for selected Samsung Smart TVs and Blu-Ray players, iOS devices from Apple and the Playstation 3 – not a brilliant line-up in anyone’s books but actually good for this part of the world. Limited Android support is planned for the future and will begin with selected Samsung models.

Being commercially funded, expect the odd advertisement to precede television programmes and at regular intervals throughout. At the time of writing, the number of ads were far from obtrusive during playback and below what is found on services such as ITV Player or 4oD.

Of particular interest to New Zealand locals and expats alike, TVNZ ondemand also provide a very solid news and current affairs platform, offering their latest and full 1pm and 6pm bulletins, their breakfast show (oddly with the news segments edited out) and other programmes such as Fair Go, Marae Investigates, Q&A, Seven Sharp and Sunday. If you are an expat wanting to catchup on what is going on back home, TVNZ’s Current Affairs lineup will certainly fill the void.

With a good selection of content available including a back-catalogue – something which sadly is not as common in the catch-up world as it should be – a clear and comprehensive user interface and very good video quality, what could possibly go wrong?

March 2015: TVNZ Have completely revamped most of their on-demand apps. For this reason, many of the reviews below are in dire need of updating themselves. What can be said so far is that the only added advantage outside of visual improvements is cross-platform support. A lot of viewers were hoping for video quality improvements and AirPlay or Chromecast support to be added – but none of these have occurred.

Finally, the updated apps may no longer work with your Smart DNS provider if you live outside of New Zealand. If this is the case, we recommend you contact your Smart DNS support team and notify them of the issue.

 

 

  • www.tvnz.co.nz/video
    Anyone coming over from the Australian FTA commercial channels will breath a breath of fresh air here. In comparison, TVNZ is well laid out and an example of good clear design. The pleasant pallet unfortunately is beginning to compete with ever increasing and intrusive website advertising but despite that, it is still easy to navigate through the genres and categories to find the content you are after.

    Left of the Highlights window is a well thought out selection of tabs offering the opportunity to browse by Title (A-Z), Genre or Channel as well as of course a direct search field. I found the Genre browse option to be especially useful and well laid out, though with one rather annoying omission in the inability to change the sorting criteria of listings by name or date. The New Zealand section for instance is frightfully long and finding new material without switching to a sort field by recently added is somewhat annoying. But the list view otherwise works well and is one of the better assets to this website.

    The web portal is the only platform where you can manually adjust video quality through various steps from 300kbps to 1500kbps, bandwidth permitting. There is no auto setting however, so you will have to manually decide on the best bitrate for your situation, which if your Internet connection fluctuates, can be a little irritating. Still, I am always fond of having the choice to manually set my own video quality level.

    The length a catch-up program remains available varies based on a somewhat confusing internal system, but a general guide will suggest news programmes and “Shortland Street” expires after 7 days, foreign programmes vary between 1 month, four months and even the entire series while a good portion of New Zealand productions will remain for much longer under the back-catalogue, turning TVNZ’s catch-up service into an on-demand one.

    On that note, it should be pointed out that like many similar services around the world, by far the largest range of content is available on the web portal, possibly the last place anyone really wants to watch television. Thankfully, as more and more new content finds its way onto other platforms, this back catalogue should hopefully increase over time.

    Although it is possible to log into the TVNZ Ondemand website, we at Eye on-Demand are still trying to figure out exactly what purpose this could be used for, outside of subscribing to news emails that is. TVNZ don’t offer any Favourite options here, nor any cross-platform services either which is all a bit of a shame.

    Browser pros:

    • The largest TVNZ catalogue available.
    • Highest quality streams at 1500kbps, along with the smoothest playback.
    • Easy to navigate UI.

    Browser cons:

    • Never the most sofa friendly environment.

    (Accessing TVNZ outside of New Zealand may require a Smart DNS or VPN service)

     

    iMac

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

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”18174″]


  • It’s a big year for TVNZ Ondemand with the launch of both an iOS app and Samsung Smart TV widget. The iOS app can be installed on either the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch and is a welcome release finally allowing TVNZ content to be viewed on mobile devices.

    TVNZ have put some fine effort into designing the layout and to be honest the app is quite pleasant to navigate through. It seems to be clear there is some sort communication between the Samsung Smart Hub and iOS teams as they share many similar characteristics.

    iPhoneContent is also available through 3G when mobile, though as always video quality can be heavily affected by 3G’s bandwidth and signal limitations, not to mention issues with data caps from your mobile provider.

    There are a couple of caveats however. For a start there sadly is no offline mode, which means you could soon be reaching your valuable 3G data cap when on the move. Granted, this is not a terribly common feature found in other catch-up services, but where it is (such as the BBC) it is extremely useful. Secondly, was the surprise lack of any form of AirPlay support.

    A lack of AirPlay on its own is almost unforgivable, but when combined with no offline download ability it does limit the usefulness of the TVNZ iOS app significantly. Without AirPlay the iOS app has only one purpose – mobile viewing – yet without offline downloads and 3G restrictions, TVNZ programming may not be quite as mobile as the network may have intended.

    The total lack of AirPlay is quite a remarkable failing on its own in any event. Very few FTA catch-up services totally block AirPlay, after-all, it is a killer feature from Apple. With the limited hardware support offered by TVNZ, it is a great shame that even this basic expectation is not possible, especially since their largest local rival, NZ’s TV3 offers full iOS AirPlay support. If licensing is an issue with some titles, TVNZ should look no further than ViaPlay, who under similar licensing restraints have managed to still provide an AirPlay solution for content they have permission for.

    Video quality is set automatically with the maximum bitrate possible of 700kbps, around half that possible via the web browser (though don’t get any ideas to just use mobile-Safari, TVNZ Ondemand requires the app for playback). This may not sound like a lot, but as there are no possibilities to send to a larger screen, that should be acceptable for the smaller iPad and certainly the iPhone. However, the automatic bandwidth detection can be somewhat over cautious at times with lower bitrate streams often selected when the highest 1500kbps stream on your computer within the same network works fine.

    As expected, TVNZ also geo-block the content from their iOS app. Though surprisingly also for their news bulletins, despite no such block for the clips on their companion news app. A good smart DNS can overcome these blocks, but interestingly enough, TVNZ also require a New Zealand time zone on the iOS device to just to rub it in. Thankfully that is little more than a mild inconvenience as if there is anything iOS is good for, it is ease-of-use and the timezone can be swapped back and forth with only mild irritation.

    Sometimes the app picks a terribly low bitrate when beginning a programme after playing the first commercial. If this happens and doesn’t improve after 10 or so seconds, just drag the scrubbing slider back to the beginning of the programme and it usually begins again at the highest possible bitrate, dramatically improving video quality. This seems to be a small bug with the app which we hope is fixed eventually. Once working correctly, my own tests suggested an average stream of around 900kbps*, slightly above the reported maximum.

    iOS Pros:

    • Great user interface.
    • Video quality can be sufficient for iPad and excellent for the smaller iPhone screen.

    iOS cons:

    • No manual video quality selection.
    • No AirPlay support.
    • No digital downloads for offline mode.
    • Limited catalogue compared to web browser.
    • No resume feature to continue a previously started programme.

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

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”16997″]

     


  • Best Choice StampIt was a good move when TVNZ finally released their Samsung Smart TV widget. At last it was possible to watch TVNZ Ondemand content actually on a television, although it hasn’t been quite the roaring success from the start it should have been. The TVNZ widget unfortunately began with a few bugs, some of which have yet to be fixed especially on the video quality front.

    On the positive side, overall design is not too dissimilar from the iOS app and it is very easy to drill down to selected programmes using the various catalogue or genre options, as well as searching for specific shows.

    Video quality however is average. I have experienced some situations where the video stream was not playing back terribly smoothly and at a low bitrate, though technically this should not be the case since 15000kbps streams were possible on the web platform within the same network. If anything, it could be a bug which will hopefully be fixed soon. Otherwise the video quality falls just under 1500kbps at it’s highest, but like the iOS app, TVNZ operate an adaptive bitrate which basically means it will rise and fall depending on the quality of your internet connection.

    The biggest loss would be the fact so much content is missing when compared to their web platform. This problem is not exclusive to TVNZ but due to their web platform having such a reasonable back-catalogue, the loss is certainly noticed. Thankfully, as time goes by, new licensing agreements between TVNZ and their suppliers are improving this.

    As you can expect, TVNZ restrict access to televisions located within New Zealand itself. Thankfully, a good smart DNS service will overcome this without any great issue, the only inconvenience being that TVNZ, in a move that hints slightly on an overinflated level self importance, force a local New Zealand timezone (Seriously TVNZ?). Thankfully this can be overcome through the Samsung Smart TV settings, and without too much inconvenience, though if you forget to return this back to local time it will affect normal EPG schedules. (Guide to changing the app store to NZ)

    If this becomes too much of a hassle for you, and you are an expat who seriously wants to make use of this widget, you may consider looking at one of the supported Blu-Ray players of which the D, E or F series can at the time of this review, easily be switched to the NZ app store: (Official list of supported devices)

    Samsung Smart TV Pros:

    • All in one platform.
    • True sofa friendly user interface.

    Samsung TV cons:

    • Far too cautious bandwidth detection causing unnecessary poor video quality.
    • Limited catalogue compared to web browser.

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

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”16997″]


  • TVNZ Ondemand packs quite a punch for a network from such a small country, and at least in the Australasian world it is up there with the best. Many expat New Zealanders will be wonderfully pleased to be able to watch content from their home country at last on their television, iOS device or through the web. But that said, its offerings shouldn’t necessarily be ignored by others either.

    Granted, its current hardware support needs a bit of work and the lack of AirPlay support cannot be easily forgiven. Future updates in this area will significantly improve their overall ratings. Nonetheless, TVNZ do have plans for rolling out across to more platforms in the future, and they have at least mentioned potential AirPlay support where licensing permits.

    Obviously this review will be more of interest to those residing in NZ or New Zealand expats around the world, but if you already have a good smart DNS service that supports TVNZ, it may very well be worth a look. There is a chance you could find some American, British or Australian TV shows, not to mention locally made ones, that you have otherwise missed.

    Don’t let the lackluster score put you off too much though. Sure, there is a lot of room for improvement for TVNZ, especially with video delivery outside of their web browser and that gaping hole where AirPlay should be sitting. But in all fairness, it competes really quite well to other Australian services and if they fix up a couple of failings like AirPlay, they would comfortable sit at Australasia’s No. 2 position after SBS. Just look at Australia’s 7, 9 and 10 or pretty much most free American services to see how wrong catch-up television can be.

    Pros:

    • High quality SD streams of 1500kbps where available.
    • Samsung Smart Hub and iOS apps available.
    • Good range of locally produced and foreign programmes available for catch-up.
    • Many locally produced programs available in back-catalogue for free on-demand access.
    • Some content remains during the entire series for a limited period.

    Cons:

    • No AirPlay or HDMI-out support on iOS.
    • No offline downloads possible.
    • No live television streams.
    • Limited hardware support.
    • No Favourites selections possible.
    • No cross-platform services.
    • No Android support.

    Technical Details:

    • iOS support for iPhone 3G and iPad 1 or later, as well as iPod Touch. (Must not be jailbroken)
    • For a list of supported Samsung Smart TV and Blu-Ray models, check this list. Available also on the PS3.
    • Video quality varies in steps of 300kbps, 400kbps, 700kbps and 1500kbps.
    • Often requires time zone to be set to Wellington, New Zealand.

    Log:

    14.05.2013: Review published. Score: 5 “Loads of Potential”

    18.07.2013: Updated reflecting improvements to Samsung TV streams and iOS tips.

    10.09.2013: Update iOS section with test results and additional information.

    * Bitrate results are average from multiple tests.

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Comments

  1. Steven

    My TVNZ app on E series Samsung smart tv is geo blocked unless I have TV set to New Zealand app store, even with overplay smart DNS. Is this the only way to view the app?

    • TVNZ is working on my ES-series after being moved to the UK app store, but I have to keep the TV in the NZ timezone. Does changing the timezone work for you?

      • Steven

        That works perfectly. Cheers Jo.

  2. Jo K.

    Hey Jo, please have a look at the link in this review under ‘TVNZ via Browser’ – it’s not working correctly (ok, you can guess it 🙂 but when you just click on it, it’s not working)
    Wish you a good week. Cheers, Jo
    P.s. I really love your site – thanks for the good work!!

    • Hi Jo, thanks for pointing this out. I’ve updated the link and it should work now.