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Monday, October 12, 2009


Have you heard of ZillionTV? It is NOT affiliated with Verismo networks in any way, shape, or form. However, ZillionTV promises to delivery one very desirable goal: access to premium content outside the grasp of the existing Cable and Fiber networks.

From the big-picture view it looks just like a more limited version of the VuNow POD. Instead of (trying) to connect users to all the videos found on the web, the ZillionTV connects users only to the ZilionTV servers.

Those servers, however, house some seriously premium content. Or so it would seem. I guess. Well, they don't tell you what, exactly, you could watch if you used a ZillionTV device, but they sure sound certain you'd like it.

Why am I posting this ambiguous crap about some other IPTV provider? Well, I signed up for the beta a while back, and just got my invite. Now I'm considering buying in ($99 one time fee + tax). Will I buy in? Ho-boy, this is where it gets ugly.

See, I'm a fan of openness. Don't start blabbering about how you're the one who stole my wallet, that's not the kind of openness I'm talking about (but by all means, return my wallet). I'm talking about the sort of openness that is missing from the iPhone, the sort of openness that is implicit in most computers these days: I want to own and control the devices that I use.

I own my car, if I want to I can open it up and alter it. If it passes some basic and public tests (pollution, safety) then fine, I can drive it that way.

I own my mobile phone, I can install any software on it I want and no one can tell me what networks I can or can not use it on. I own a Nokia N97 (unlocked) and iPhone users: you're stuck on the network you signed onto, else you're breaking some grey laws by jailbreaking your phones.

The VuNOW POD is just like my car or my mobile phone: I own the darn thing. I bought it, and I get to use it however I want. I can open it up (might invalidate a warranty, but who cares?) and add or remove components. I can break it, sell it, fix it, alter it, whatever. It's mine. In the USofA we call it "fair use" when we point out that I can do whatever I want with something that I own.

ZillionTV? The device required to use ZillionTV will never belong to me. The $99 one-time-fee? That pays to setup my account, nothing more. From then on, they loan me a set-top box that belongs to them. Fair use? No, I can't break, sell, alter, or fix this thing wihtout paying extra for it. How much extra? They don't say.

Here's the ugliest part of the user agreement (at least from my perspective, others notably raise privacy concerns):
ZillionTV Equipment. As used herein "ZillionTV Equipment" means the hardware devices which have been issued to you (including set top box, remote
control(s) and connecting cables) designed for and/or owned by ZillionTV to connect your television set to the Internet and the ZillionTV™ Service. The ZillionTV Equipment is provided to you, either directly or indirectly, for your personal use; therefore you agree to return the ZillionTV Equipment within 30 days of discontinuing the ZillionTV™ Service or upon our request for any reason. Specific instructions for returning the ZillionTV Equipment are available from You understand and agree that you are responsible for promptly returning the ZillionTV Equipment, preferably in the original box, and that except for normal wear and tear, we will reserve the right to charge you for an amount not to exceed the prevailing price for the replacement of any of the ZillionTV Equipment that is either damaged or not returned within the earlier of the prescribed timeframe or 45 days from discontinuing use of the ZillionTV™ Service.

[emphasis added]

So, the device belongs to them. If I break it, I owe them $$. They can recall it at any time for any reason and I have 30 days to return it or I owe them $$. How much $$? Well, no more than the prevailing rate of course. What's the prevailing rate for a device DESIGNED SPECIFICALLY FOR ZILLIONTV? Well, I suppose that's whatever price ZillionTV and the manufacturer agree upon, in private, of course.

It's even possible, according to the user agreement, for ZillionTV to take my $99, send me a box and immediately request that I return it. That would mean I spent $99 for 30 days of use. I suppose that's not too much more than cable companies would charge anyway. Would they do that? I doubt it, but nothing is stopping them from doing so.

Will I buy-in? Maybe. I'm thinking about it. After all, there is a reason I own a VuNow POD: I want the latest and greatest gadget to get video content from the internet to my tv. I suppose it boils down to raw content, which is purportedly excellent on ZillionTV. They claim to have all sorts of stuff from major studios in there. Some articles talk about having 15,000 movies and shows available. How many are free? No one is saying. Which shows? Again, no one is saying.

If you know more about ZillionTV than I do, tell me. Post links as well please, so we can all get this info directly from the source, as it were.

For now, I'm very glad to have my trusty VuNow POD. I own it, it's mine. Verismo likes it that way and so do I. It would work if Verismo went out of business and shut down their servers (home media, usb drives, hulu via PlayOn, etc). It's purpose can be altered, fixed, broken, or explored by curious geeks like me (and you?).

In short (finally, I know I'm long-winded) the VuNow is an open platform empowering users with rights (fair-use in the USA) and privledges (keep on using it without Verismo, if you want). ZillionTV looks very pretty, and claims thousands of videos are available - but like the iphone, I have to watch only the videos they offer and don't really own anything. This is called a walled-garden and is, in my view, a Very Bad Thing. At least with the iPhone I'd sort of own it after my contract expired, but that's just splitting hairs at this point.

If ZillionTV let me BUY the device outright (for a publicly disclosed price) I would be more willing to try it, but for now I've got shivers up and down my spine.

What do YOU think?


Anonymous said...

I would be leery too. I wonder if companies will ever realize that closing a system to everyone may work in the short term--if you have an incredible product-- but will fail in the long term. Apple is so focused on keeping things locked down their market share is limited.

Anonymous said...

I bought the service from zillion and it sucked!!! They represent that the content is available "free" if you watch commercials. LIES, LIES and more LIES!!! There is a very limited number of things that are "free" and none of them are anything I would ever watch. The movie and tv show rentals are more expensive then iTunes and the quality sucks. It freezes and skips a lot. I would run from ZillionTV as fast as I can, terrible product and a waste of time and money!!!