Channel 4 has today launched its online video on demand service, offering a wide range of programming for download up to 30 days after broadcast.

The line up of programmes on 4oD is impressive, with 128 TV shows available to download, from recent series like Shameless to classic episodes of Father Ted. 

Films, including the magnificent Withnail And I, are also available, with more planned…

The prices are reasonable too, at 99p for a TV programme, and films at £1.99. This compares favourably to BT Vision’s online download service, which charges £9.99 for films, even older ones. The programmes are available to watch for 30 days after transmission.

In addition, Channel 4 plans to introduce a subscription model early next year, at £3.99 a month for unlimited access to all TV shows, and £4.99 for access to all movies.

To use the service, you need to download C4’s software, which requires a PC and Internet Explorer 5.5 or above to run, which rules out Mac and Firefox users.

The software download doesn’t take too long, but the compulsory installation of .NET framework 2.0 really dragged. I then had to download Windows Media Player 11, followed by a “mandatory DRM update”. None of which was especially joyous.

Once in, the interface is clean and simple, and easy to browse, allowing the user to browse by genre, A to Z, and by scrolling through the C4 TV schedules. The quality was good too, with three choices of images size, though the picture quality does start to suffer when you select ‘full screen’.

My major beef with the service is the sheer length of download times. To test the service, I downloaded the free episode of Trigger Happy TV, a 24 minute programme. This took 50 minutes to download. If you have cable TV, you can get these programmes instantly, so why would you choose to download them instead?

Likewise, users who regularly download video online may well be put off by the fact that copyright issues mean they cannot put these downloads onto discs or transfer them to an iPod or other portable device.

However, if you’re prepared to live with the download times, the service isn’t so bad.

4oD will face competition from the BBC, which is set to make its programming available online, once the Governors approve of the plan, while ITV may launch a download service early next year. In addition, BT launched its IPTV service this week.