First Impressions of Akimbo

I had been keeping my eye on the Akimbo folks for the past year so when they dropped the price of their Internet DVR to below $100, I figured it was time to give it a shot. What follows is my initial take on this intriguing new product/service combo. I will surely follow up with additional impressions and feedback after I put some hours in.

A quick intro for those not yet familiar with this product. Akimbo makes a digital video recorder (like TiVo) that only downloads and stores new content from the Internet. This is a hot new trend and is now being referred to as IPTV. Actually, IPTV is probably much broader in concept and doesn't have to include the hard drive storage component like Akimbo provides. But give Akimbo points for capitalizing on the DVR craze. This box is shaped to fit in your home entertainment rack and plugs into your TV/receiver using familiar cables, so it shouldn't be any more difficult than setting up a DVD player. With one exception...

Cable Not Included? What Gives?

As you might expect from the description above, this box needs an Internet connection to get your content and so there is also an ethernet jack on the back which is where you plug it into your home network. Given that this connection is so critical, you would expect them to provide you with the cable - BUT NO! I could not believe that they would cut corners there. Not that I don't have spare ethernet cables lying around but what a poor first impression.

Empty Hard Drive

Having made all the necessary connections, my very next impression was finding a complete lack of "starter content" on the internal hard drive. I don't think it is too much to ask to have the player loaded with some sample content so you can play around with the device before you dive into the whole downloading thing. Another disappointment, although I had the exact complaint about my new 5G iPod so its not like its become an industry practice yet. With so much freely available content circulating out there, I think device manufacturers could find the spare cycles to pre-load some compelling material for the consumer. Heck, I'd even sit through Akimbo adverts or tutorials to help get a feel for the player! Is anyone taking notes out there?

Its Really All About the Content, Right

So I'll skip over my complaints about the cheap-feeling remote or how long it took to activate the service and skip right to the good stuff. I was eager to pull down as many programs as I could since I was paying $10/month for the basic service.

To my surprise, I found that the most compelling content (which was a little difficult to find by navigating the on-screen menus) was not included with my service package! I must have clicked on 20 or more programs only to find that I would be charged an additional fee to download them. Some would have cost as little as $0.50 and others up to $3.99 - and many of them had a time limit within which to watch the content before it expired. This was not at all what I expected and perhaps I am to blame for not having read the fine print but I came really close to packing up the entire thing and returning it. It was turning into quite the rocky start.

Well I finally did find some content, some Harvey Birdman episodes on Adult Swim (a great content partner btw) and some footage of a superhuman YoYo master, not to mention a 30-second clip of some kid finishing the Rubix Cube with one hand! Like I said, compelling content. I eventually learned my way around the "user-friendly" screens and discovered more interesting material including movies, TV episodes, and original Internet content. I was impressed that with only a few selections, the software began to accurately track my tastes and make suggestions. I'm not saying this was TiVo Suggestions quality but it certainly helped quell some of my initial internal rage (you wouldn't like me when I'm angry).

MyAkimbo Saves the Day

The real power for this device, though, becomes apparent when you sign into the MyAkimbo web page on your computer. It is MUCH easier to search and browse for content on their web page. That's also where I finally learned how to set up memberships and subscriptions for channels/shows that interested me. This was the experience I was looking for. In no time, I can track down "Animusic" content, click and have it downloaded straight to the Akimbo player. The web site is completely integrated with the box in your home so you can check on your "Library" from the computer and add new content quickly.

They have also added slick features like Channel Spotlight and Recent Additions on the web site that highlight some of the more popular content. What's more, they are publishing this information as an RSS feed so I can keep track of new stuff from my standard news reader. Now we're talking!

A Snicket-Like Unfortunate Event

Just as I had begun to get the whole family up to speed with the new Akimbo service, something tragic happened. My trusty home installer unplugged it when moving some equipment around (had to make room for the XBOX 360 but that's another article;-) and it crashed the hard drive. Now, I will say that I actually read the entire User Guide and even perused the Setup Guide poster but nowhere did I read that this thing had to be shutdown gracefully. It took me awhile to even understand why it wasn't turning back on and I had to head to Akimbo's forums to get my answer.

I re-checked the entire manual before calling Customer Support so that I wouldn't sound like an idiot but they were very nice. This is probably a very familiar problem for them because she did not hesitate to say that a replacement unit would be on its way in less than 24 hours.

So score points for a responsive Customer Support system but for now I am Akimbo-less. I did get far enough to say that I am on the side of the believers. After the new box shows up and I get all my content back, I'll pass on more experiences.


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