Fetch TV is an independent, subscription free set-top box that combines a high-definition ready digital video recorder and home media centre with video on demand services. It is has been developed by IP Vision, backed by Netgem, which is offering the service direct to the consumer or as a white label platform for third parties.

Established last year, IP Vision is backed by the French set-top box company Netgem, which has benefited from the rapid growth of IPTV in France, selling over half a million devices to operators like Neuf Cegetel and Tele2. It is hoping to repeat the success in the United Kingdom.

Netgem used to make a set-top box called iPlayer which was sold through BT. No, not the BBC iPlayer, but a Freeview receiver. This was replaced by the BT Vision offering, based on the Microsoft Mediaroom platform with its V-box, originally manufactured by Philips, now Pace.

Netgem now calls its box the netbox. It is high-definition compatible and has a twin-tuner digital video recorder. It has a slick, brandable user interface and offers access to video-on-demand services delivered over broadband.

In Britain it seems it will be marketed as Fetch TV and may also be available through other third-parties. It offers an opportunity for other brands to enter the television space and provide a video-on-demand offering at relatively low cost.

Fetch TV will be sold retail, with no ongoing subscription, and will work with any high-speed broadband connection. The recommended price is £150. It is currently available for sale online, but may be in high street shops early in 2009.

“Unlike BT Vision, you can stick with your existing broadband supplier or move between broadband providers without giving up the FetchTV service,” explained Eddie Abraham, who heads IP Vision and was previously responsible for strategic development at YooMedia, now part of Mirada.

Users will simply pay for any video-on-demand they watch. At launch, the Fetch TV line up includes around 1,200 hours of programming from a relatively limited number of distributors, although this is expected to expand.

Videos are delivered using progressive download, rather than streaming, enabling it be used over best efforts broadband connections.

The box is high-definition capable and will allow users to view their own digital photos and videos on television. It has a USB port, allowing any programmes recorded from Freeview channels to be exported on to an external hard drive.

While the BBC is talking about its Project Canvas proposals with partners like ITV and BT, companies like IP Vision say they can already offer such services.

One way or another, it seems that the gap between broadcast and broadband will be bridged, and this is likely to be at the expense of service providers with a heavy investment in video-on-demand servers and managed network infrastructure.