If you buy a new TV this year, you're in for a treat: SBS is the first free-to-air broadcaster to support the new HbbTV Web-enabled TV standard, letting you view On Demand video seamlessly with digital TV.
HbbTV is different to the Smart TV features that most TVs in 2014 come with. It works by overlaying a Web browser window transparently on top of the digital TV broadcast stream you're watching, giving you access to streaming video and online content while you're still viewing regular TV programs. TVs that are HbbTV-enabled can still have Smart features; it's just an additional platform for accessing the Web, but one that is integrated perfectly with live digital TV.
With a new, HbbTV-enabled television — Panasonic has half a dozen TVs on sale already that support the standard, and other manufacturers like Sony, Samsung and LG are adding support via firmware update in the coming weeks and months — accessing SBS's HbbTV service is simple: when you're watching SBS One, SBS 2 or NITV, press the red button on your TV's remote control and the SBS On Demand live home screen comes up.
As it stands, you have to have three things to access SBS On Demand through HbbTV: you have to have a relatively new TV (search for 'HbbTV' in your TV's manual or online specifications, at least), you have to have that TV hooked up to an antenna and receiving digital TV, and you have to be connected to the Internet.
SBS's HbbTV platform lets viewers access any of the network's catch-up video, and since HbbTV is essentially a live Web page the broadcaster can change the contents of the home screen or sub-menus as it likes; at the moment FIFA World Cup matches and highlights are prominent, but that will change when the competition is over and SBS wants to promote other videos. Since the HbbTV version of On Demand is simply loading a Web page in the background of the live digital TV broadcast, it's fast. It's also quick — only requiring one button-press to access, instead of the half-dozen presses needed to launch an app on any Smart TV platform.
SBS On Demand, the broadcaster's online video repository from which the HbbTV showing draws, is one of the best in Australia — it's available on more devices than any other network's catch-up service, and has a huge amount of archival and catch-up video, with over six million videos watched per month. In a month or two, when the service officially launches, SBS's new On Demand platform on HbbTV will become part of the FreeviewPlus standard, — but until then, the Special Broadcasting Service is the first and only network to have a HbbTV video service on new TVs sold in Australia. [SBS]