Underbelly 2 episodes hit the net

Each episode is an AVI file encoded with a flavour of XVID which Channel 9 says you are free to share with friends or transfer via P2P networks.

The catch is that the AVI file is DRM protected and you have to install Channel 9’s HIRO video CODEC (available for Windows and Mac). You are at least not forced to watch the video through a proprietary player or as a streaming video on a web page — HIRO plugs into Windows Media Player 9 and above and Apple Quicktime on Mac.  

The use of HIRO does mean you can’t play the file on a portable video player like an iPod though and the HIRO system also prevents people outside Australia watching the file.

The episodes become available for download after Underbelly 2 finishes airing in West Australia which means they go online at 11.30pm Eastern time or 9.30PM WA time on Monday nights.

You can view and copy the files an unlimited number of times but the built-in DRM means they will no longer be viewable once the season finishes airing. After that Channel 9 or its production company presumably hopes to sell DVD boxed sets and paid downloads via online stores like iTunes which seems fair enough given the episodes are being offered for download free of charge and ad-free.

On that note HIRO is designed to show advertisements in your video (which cannot be fast forwarded) “just like commercial TV” but NineMSN says this functionality is not being used and that all Underbelly 2 downloads from NineMSN are ad-free. (Some other shows use the ad functionality to show ads before and after but not during the episode.) When you first install HIRO it gathers some demographic information about you.

Each episode is about 800MB according to NineMSN though the first episode of Underbelly 2 is actually 1.3GB. It downloads reasonably slowly from NineMSN’s servers — even on APC’s 22Mbit/s ADSL2+ connection it only downloaded at 180KB/s which is roughly equivalent to 1.5Mbit/s. That download speed means an episode takes about two hours to download.

We found that the background daemon for the HIRO software crashed repeatedly on Mac OS X 10.5.6. NineMSN is checking into the problem.

The Underbelly 2 main site is here and episode downloads are available here.

Full disclosure: APCmag.com is part of the NineMSN network of sites.