When Spark announced that it had won the rights to the Rugby World Cup and the games would be broadcast live over the internet, it seemed an extraordinarily brave thing to do.
That's because the internet was not designed as a broadcast medium. Despite tweaks and re-engineering in recent years to make it more suitable for streaming content, getting everything working copacetically across multiple networks is difficult.
This is nothing new, and it can still be a struggle. Aussie telco Optus was forced to broadcast games for free after its FIFA 2018 streaming died. Other internet streaming services for sports go haywire at random intervals too, causing instant paid subscriber rage.
We're talking about the RWC, though. There was exactly zero chance that subscribers suffering video handling errors would forgive Spark for the problems they had.
• Anatomy of a streaming meltdown
• Mike Hosking on Rugby World Cup 2019: Spark Sport is crap, they've failed abysmally
• Spark boss fronts after streaming fail, service returns to streaming-only
But glitches notwithstanding, streaming content over Internet Protocol television is the way we'll watch everything soon: for me, the free RWC games on TVNZ's Duke channel arrived via the second generation Vodafone TV device ($179), albeit only in 1080i resolution.
Which is great, as I don't have a UHF signal in my Hokianga village and would need to fiddle around with a satellite dish stuck to the house and get a Freeview or Sky decoder.
It's much easier to hook up the Vodafone box to a TV with an HDMI cable, power it up and, ugh, create even more accounts to remember, and passwords which might get hacked, and you're away.
The Vodafone TV box has an unassuming design, thankfully with no loud logos or flashing LEDs, and a remote that's reasonably easy to use.
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Since this is 2019 and everyone's super geeky, Vodafone has posted the hardware details on the box, which is made by France's Sagemcom.
Open up the box and you'll find a Broadcom 7271 system on a chip with a quad-core processor that runs Linux.
There's fast 5GHz Wi-Fi that's much quicker than the wired 100 Mbps Ethernet data port. As for the output via the HDMI port, my TV said it's 12-bit colour. Sadly, I only have a 1080 HD capable set at the moment and could not try out the 4K resolution with Dolby Atmos sound. But the lower resolution looks fine to me, with no glitching, buffering or artefacts.
Vodafone says an unlimited fibre connection is required for the TV box. Fibre is great as it provides fast speeds and consistent service, but the Vodafone TV box worked with my Uber Group wireless connection quite well. No need to be a Vodafone customer either, or even to buy the box from the red telco.
Vodafone said the service uses a comparatively modest 6 Mbps bandwidth, which means it should work fine with most newer broadband options. Even then, 6 Mbps is enough to chew through small data caps fast if you watch a lot of TV, so don't ignore the unlimited bit.
Oh, and Vodafone TV will work over the upcoming 5G service as well but see the warning above about data caps.
Vodafone's European counterparts have done most of the development work on the user interface, with New Zealand chipping in with tweaks to localise the electronic programme guide that's reasonably easy to use with the supplied infrared and Bluetooth remote.
As for the content, out of the box you get the usual Freeview channels, which have a three-day rewind to catch up, recording of up to 500 hours (1.5 terabyte cloud storage, and not a hard drive on the Vodafone TV).
Any content available via the Vodafone TV box is heavily protected with digital rights management. The HDMI output is encrypted, there's no analogue signal and apparently the content has invisible watermarks that tie it to the device it's been downloaded to. You can't add your own content either, which is a pity as 1.5 TB in the cloud for a one-off charge is yummy.
You might be able to get into the device via the USB port for a technician's use - not that I would ever condone such dastardly hacking.
Apps bundled with the Vodafone TV are coded in HTML 5 web markup and run on the Opera 4 browser include Netflix, YouTube, ThreeNow and TVNZ OnDemand, Lightbox and Neon, with Amazon Prime coming up.
Spark Sport? Nope, sorry. Vodafone and Spark couldn't get it together for the RWC. Do keep an eye on TVNZ Duke in case Spark Sport goes south again.
You get three months Neon and four months worth of Lightbox for "free" with the Vodafone TV.
After that, it's pay per month, with subscriptions which get pricey quickly, especially if you add Sky packages that start at $24.99.
The things I'd like to have would push up the Sky component alone to over $130 a month, which is too much. It's nice not to have any contracts or costly hardware installations for any of the providers, so when I feel broke I'll just cancel the lot and watch YouTubes instead.
It's a peculiar mix of flexibility and being locked down hard, and can get expensive. But if you don't mind that, then the Vodafone TV seems a strong option, with the recording and rewinding features that cheaper devices like Google's ChromeCast Ultra don't offer.
There's your IPTV future then: easy access to an enormous amount of content that I probably will never have time to watch, starting at $14.99 a month and, let's hope, without regular network issues thrown in.