By Adil James, MMNS
Farmingtonâ€”November 21â€”It is always a pleasure to review technology that is uniquely interesting to Muslims, and the TV2Moro box was no exception. I received this box last week but was unfortunately unable to test it immediately. However this weekend I was able to run the box through some tests and here are my results.
Bottom line: The TV2Moro box is an improvement over its competitor, the Talfazat box which we reviewed last year, reflecting the improvement in the field of IPTV. Again, TV2Moro is a good way to get quality Arabic programming if for example you live in the middle of a large apartment complex and cannot hang out a dish or if for example you are unwilling to pay Dish Networkâ€™s very high fees. However, TV2Moro is mainly for people who speak Arabic as a first language, because it only has one channel in English (Al Jazeera English). TV2Moro appears to have done a better job of negotiating agreements with Middle Eastern channels, so has longer term potential (Talfazat has labored under rumors that it takes channels without permission or license, and also has received complaints of bad customer service). But TV2Moro does have a few hiccups, and I would argue that it is an improvement in IPTV niche TV, but not yet the last word in the field.
The IPTV brand has matured somewhat since last year. U-Verse is in more homes and the idea of IPTV is one that will likely grow exponentially with Google TV. However IPTV looks now as though it will never attain the universal appeal for television that VOIP has for telephones, where in fact people who do not have VOIP are paying too much and behind the times, where major businesses perhaps universally have switched to VOIP as a means for routing calls internally. IPTV lacks the price appeal of VOIP. U-verse for example is just as expensive as cable or satellite. However, in niche markets, such as relatively small population foreign languages, IPTV is perfect, especially when the price is right.
The box itself. The box is black, about nine inches square, and about two inches tall. It has a blue power button (blue is on, red is off). It has two USB portsâ€”do not plug hard drives into these ports, they are only for firmware upgrades. You may fry the box if you plug the wrong thing into the USB ports. The box has HDMI out, component out, and composite out. Surprisingly, this box lacks an S-Video out (unlike Talfazat). The high-grade video outputs may be unnecessary since on most channels the video quality is not HD. There is an SPDIF audio out. Of course there is also a LAN/Ethernet jack.
The box is light and in fact feels a little bit chintzy, as a light plastic box. However the functionality does seem to work fine.
Setup is slightly harder than Talfazatâ€”it may require your calling TV2Moro during their California office hours (8AM to 8PM California time) to set up the box. The setup guide indicates that you must activate your MAC address with TV2Moro. The technicians you will talk to are bilingual English and Arabic. In my case the box was pre-activated but I had some internal home network issues I had to resolve before I could watch TV. The technical support was patient and tried to helpâ€”although in fact the issues with the box were my own fault and I was able to remedy them myself.
The technical features on the TV2Moro box appear much more second generation than the Talfazat box, although still not fully competitive with satellite or cableâ€”for example the EPG program guide is not yet capable of giving previews of all channels as you surf, and is incapable of giving information about the programming on each channel, although TV2Moro personnel told me improvements are in the works right now. Still, the EPG is functional and somewhat useful as-is.
Note that the black lines across the screen in the pictures below are from my photography and are not visible when you are watching TV.
The â€œArabic Choiceâ€ package is MUCH more limited than the Arabic Premium package. See screenshots below of available channel offerings:
Muslim Family Package:
TV2Moro does not emphasize bandwidth as a selling point but it does emphasize channel qualityâ€”I surfed several channels including the â€œDreamâ€ Channel billed as one of the highest quality channels and I found that the video quality was acceptable and decent but not HD, and not as good as video from satellite or cable. I felt the quality was better than Talfazat however.
TV2Moro has two Arabic packages, the standard (Arabic Choice) costs $25.99, and the Arabic Premium costs $44.99. Stark difference in channel lineupsâ€”the standard comprises 13 channels, while the Premium comprises 53 channels. There is also a â€œCoptic Bouquetâ€ package, and a â€œMuslim Familyâ€ package. The Muslim family package ($22.99 by itself and $12.99 as an addition to another package) includes six channels, 3 Majd channels (Majd, Majd Qur`an, and Majd Hadeeth). The Muslim Family Package also includes the official channel of Al-Azhar (Azhari), and two other channels, Al Nas and Al Hafez. Unfortunately all of these six channels are available in Arabic only.
A major selling point with Talfazat was the limited necessary bandwidth. TV2Moro does not use limited bandwidth as a selling pointâ€”but truthfully the box does not appear to manage bandwidth much worse than Talfazatâ€”and the improvement in video quality more than justifies the slight uptick in bandwidth usage. According to my testing TV2Moro consistently used about 1.2 Mbits of bandwidth. However there was some stutter and occasional video pauses, some occasional â€œartifactingâ€ where the screen showed pixelated images. I noticed that the colors sometimes seemed a little bit off. However I found the video completely acceptable and last night I watched Al Jazeera English for about an hour, completely absorbed in the content and not distracted by video quality.
Navigation on TV2Moro is pretty straightforward, when you first turn on the box (if it connects properly to the internet) you are brought to a splashscreen.
There are settings pages in the slideshow above, but you are unlikely to use those on a daily basis so I will not focus on them.
Surprisingly, the remote is attractive and has enough heft to feel like a quality instrument, however ergonomically it seems slightly like a crude weapon, about 1 foot long and about one pound, with metal extruding somewhat. It appears to be a metal slab about 1/8 of an inch thick, mated to a nice feeling soft plastic base. Not all of the remoteâ€™s buttons work correctly (perhaps they are designed to pre-date improvements to the TV2Moro functionality). There are fairly typical buttons and some advanced features which donâ€™t work, like VOD, Web, Email, and Subtitles. My remote started to come apart at the seams after a few days of useâ€”a little disappointing. There is an annoying separation which clicks, at the point on the right side where the metal joins the plastic. Not really a big deal, although with so many remote control manufacturers making plastic remotes that work fine this flaw is a little bit annoying. There are buttons which work fine, among them Menu, EPG, Info, and Back buttons. The Menu button just brings you to the opening splashscreen, a choice between Watch TV and TV Guide. Probably this button should go to a settings page instead. The Info button shows no information about current programming unfortunatelyâ€”it only shows the overlay at the bottom of the screen with the channel name and number. The back button is important when navigating through the settings and also brings you back and forth between the most recently used two channels, when you are watching television. The mute button works, as do the volume and channel up-down buttons.
One nice feature which I liked was the â€œAspectâ€ feature which enables you to toggle between the available aspect ratios with one button, going from 16:9 to Zoom to Zoom1 to 4:3.
My customer service was pretty good. I was surprised that nobody picked up the phone when I called during the California business hours. But after I left a message I got a call back within a few minutes, and the person helped me set up the box. I also got a call from technical support, and they stayed on the line with me patiently. I cannot really judge how well they troubleshoot because what was preventing me from watching TV was really my own fault and I was able to remedy the solution myself.
My internet connection has improved since last year when I did the Talfazat review. I now have a cable internet connection that I tested before doing a bench test of TV2Moro at an average speed of 8.9 Mbits per second downstream. One fact I noticed about my cable internet connection (sold as 12 Mbit) is that each test was slower than the previous test, starting at my first test of 14.85 Mbits per second and reducing to 3.3 Mbits per second in the last test. Therefore Comcast appears to intentionally limit bandwidth, giving burst bandwidth when you first begin downloading, and then constraining downloads over time. This potentially means limited ability to receive video over internet, which requires steady and heavy internet use. As with my Talfazat test last year, I came to these speed measures by using Firefoxâ€™s Broadband Speed Test and Diagnostics add-on, running the download speed check five times and averaging the results.
As before I monitored my WRT-54G router running Tomato and watched the bandwidth usage as I tested (this time) the TV2Moro box and other computers on the network accessing Youtube, Boxee, and Veoh.
To establish a baseline, I began (with the TV2Moro box unplugged) as before with the Talfazat box, by watching the District 9 original movie on Youtube (at about 7:08PM), when my bandwidth jumped to nearly 800 kbits per second then declined to about 380 kbits per second.
Then at about 7:20PM I turned on Pandora and let music play for a while. The bandwidth settled to about 270 kbits per second before I turned it off.
Then again I turned on CSI Miami on Boxee, at about 7:54PMâ€”there was less choppiness than a year ago with my slower connection of the time. Bandwidth predictably jumped up to 2.7 Mbits per second.
At about 8PM I turned on Al Jazeera English on TV2Moro. Traffic went up to 3.5 Mbits per second with both Boxee and TV2Moro on at the same time. However there was no choppiness on Al Jazeera English. Traffic settled at around 3.3 Mbits per second. At about 8:05PM I turned on 60 Minutes on Veoh, on a third computer. Therefore Boxee CSI Miami, Al Jazeera English, and 60 Minutes on Veoh, were all running at the same time. There was no choppiness on Al Jazeera. Traffic settled at about 4.2 Mbits per second, then declined to about 4.0 Mbits per second.
I let all three video sources play until 8:22PM and then turned off Boxee and Veoh, leaving only TV2Moro. Until that time there were no noticeable slow-downs on Al-Jazeera. There was some minor artifacting which affected the screen, but it was minimal and short-lived. Bandwidth diminished after I turned off the two video sources–to just over 1.2 Mbits per secondâ€”surprisingly small. I let Al Jazeera run for about 60 minutes. Bandwidth was very steady at just under 1.2 Mbits per second. Video quality was very acceptable, with occasional jolts of time so that words would be lostâ€”â€good afternoon and welcome â€¦ Al Jazeeraâ€¦ begin our broadcast this evening with â€¦â€ but such jolts were limited in extent and the video was absolutely watchable.
When my network turned off at 10PM, the TV2Moro box unfortunately did not handle it well. There should be some algorithm that checks two or three normally available channels and then indicates â€œplease check networkâ€”no access to internet.â€ Like the Talfazat box, the TV2Moro box just faded to black without explanation when it lost its network connection.
TV2Moro hiccupped several times during my use. First, occasionally audio and video get enough out of sync so that the viewer can see there is a delayâ€”it is only a slight delay however. Second, when left on for a long time, it can freeze. I left Al Jazeera on for hours while I watched cable, and when I turned back to the TV2Moro box the channel had frozen. In my case this was easily remedied by switching the offending channel off and then back on again. Third, there is a visible stutter to the videoâ€”it appears that the frame rate is much less than the standard with satellite or cableâ€”so the video quality is noticeably less than what you are used to. Nevertheless the video is absolutely watchable. In fact the video quality is superior to Talfazat, although appears slightly inferior to standard cable or satellite video quality.
For native speakers of Arabic, living in the US and homesick for the television stations from their home countries, TV2Moro is the clear industry leader, making enough Arabic channels available for $45 per month to feed the addiction of a homesick television-holic, and providing them with some competence as well. For most people I would think that TV2Moro is an alternative to traditional satellite and cable, rather than a supplement to satellite or cable.
TV2Moroâ€™s broadcast highlights the need and opportunity for broadcast of English-language Islamic stations. Since Franceâ€™s TV24 is so interested in broadcasting, perhaps TV2Moro should attempt to broadcast its French language broadcast. There are other Muslim communities in the United States and Canada. Niche providers would do well to get licenses to broadcast Bosnian TV, Somali TV, French-language TV, and more. Many Muslims from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia would likely welcome French language broadcast, even of French programming but also the programming from their home countries.
I will be returning my box to TV2Moro impressed by their product but with some regret that unfortunately the IPTV industry has not yet fully recognized the potential of the niche market of Muslims who do not speak Arabicâ€”two thirds of American Muslims have limited knowledge of Arabic. English language channels relating to Qur`an, Fiqh and Hadith are sorely needed. However TV2Moroâ€™s box is useful in that it provides Al Jazeera English, which provides news unsullied by the anti-Muslim bias that pervades most American news.
For more information about TV2Moro please visit tv2moro.com.