Things started out on the right foot; their website was nice looking and easy to navigate. I was a little hazy
on the details at first but with a little digging I figured out how it works. You can either use a Windows Media Center
Edition plugin or a stand alone STB. I didn't try the the Stand alone STB because it doesn't support HD, plus I already
own a MCE. You can download the plugin from their website or via the "Online Spotlight" section of MCE. I used
the online spotlight and signed up for a 31 day free trial, after which the subscription fee goes to $9.99 per month. A
31 day trial is great, I always feel so pressured when the trial is only for 30 days. Aside from filling out your name
and address it is easy to setup using the MCE remote. You do have to give a credit card, but more about that later.
After everything is installed and configured you can access the plugin from the "More Programs" section, it's
too bad Microsoft doesn't let 3rd parties add content to the main menu.
The menu for the software is pretty easy to navigate, but like most MCE plugins they don't run as smoothly as MCE itself. The other problem is that the back button doesn't work the way you expect it to in MCE, but luckily they warn you before leaving the plugin. It would be nice if it worked more like MCE does, but it gets the job done. Once again this may be a limitation of the MCE API.
Although I have never heard of most of the programming, the overall selection is overwhelming. There are some shows from the History channel, my personal favorite "Modern Marvels" among others, (I have emailed the History channel begging them to produce the show in HD, but as you might imagine I haven't received a response.) there were even some Video Podcasts and other original Internet content. I didn't see a way to only search for HD content, but I was able to easily find the HDNet channel, which has been recently added. I was a bit disappointed in the HD selection, but I expect it's because they just started to carry HDNet content. From HDNet they had one episode of True Music(e22), and a bunch of episodes of Bikini Destination and Young Beautiful and trying to make it in Hollywood. Some of the content was free (with subscription), but most of the shows from cable, including the HDNet shows are between $0.49 and $9.99. Each month they will charge the $9.99 monthly fee to your credit card as well as the Pay Per View content with a detailed bill.
Once you find a show you want you set it to download and it the show is added to a queue, you can even download shows remotely so they will be ready when you get home. It appears to only download one show at a time, but automatically goes through the queue one by one, like you would expect. The first thing I downloaded was True Music (The married guys understand why I didn't download the other shows.) which costs $4.99 and took just under 2 hours to download. Considering the file was 1.4GB I felt like this was a long time. When I perform a bandwidth test from my ISPs test site I usually see about 6Mbs so a 1.4GB file should take about 32 minutes. I am not sure where the problem is but waiting 3 times the length of the show seems like a big too long, but it is hard to blame Akimbo. The video quality was very good with no noticeable compression. I will admit that I didn't watch it very long, so I is possible that if I watched it longer I might of noticed some problems. The clip was 1280x720 and encoded with WMV 6.7Mbs video and 192Kbps WMA9.1 audio and regretfully no 5.1, at least that my AV decoder could decode via SPDIF. The quality was without a doubt high enough to enjoy and with the right selection of content I could see myself canceling Satellite. Using the service with the Xbox360 worked perfectly, just like most MCE features they run perfectly on the Xbox360 and this is no exception.
Overall I was impressed, but I wouldn't stay satisfied very long with the limited selection. Judging by the amount of content they have now, I would be surprised if they didn't add many more HD shows in the coming months. The costs seems a little high if you want to cancel your cable, between the monthly fee and the per episode fee for many of the shows. They do have subscriptions that could help, but in some regards it isn't like DVD, because some of the content expires.