back to article IPTV/VoD: The tortoise and the hare

The power of television is undeniable. When gorillas were first introduced to Longleat Zoo's Gorilla Island and had to be quarantined and initially segregated from each other, the wardens came up with the rather smart idea of building TVs in their enclosures to keep them occupied. The gorillas loved it so much that when they …


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  1. Stephen B Streater

    Demand will lead to supply

    It's simple economics. Now video has reached the internet, demand will ensure that capacity will incease to handle it. The days of broadcast are numbered.

    But video on the web is as different from traditional broadcast TV as a web page is from a book.

  2. Rupert Stubbs

    Not clear to me...

    This article feels like a bit of a mess.

    Yes, people would like video on demand, and no doubt in the future all content will be stored digitally and streamed out to us wherever we are, and whatever medium we want to watch it on or listen to it on.

    However, at the moment most people are content to settle for what works. Like SKY+, Amazon DVD rentals, etc.

    Yes, there are the odd souls who have hard drives full of (illegally?) downloaded movies, but frankly, most of can't be arsed, and don't care that much. For those that do, they can use Slingbox to watch it over the net, or just WiFi it to a Mac Mini or AppleTV (having a HD makes up for the slightly slower WiFi speed).

    What we do care about is picture quality. Having ponied up for DVD players and large plasmas, we're not going to settle for anything less than good SD quality (SKY+): YouTube is unlikely to be a great option.

    So I'm hard pressed to see what this article is arguing.

  3. frank denton

    Real World Exeperience?

    A densely packed article with many points indeed.

    I agree that it seems to be the consumer who is leading the thinking here. After a bit of reading and a bit of experimentation, I now have a NAS box sitting next to my router (in the living room) and have 'backed up' all my DVDs to it (and all my other media files). Now, I can watch a DVD on my laptop anywhere in the house over WiFi. All is ok unless I'm in the corner of the back bedroom when I get a regular and annoying dropped frame every 2 seconds, that's obviously a data rate problem.

    I've thought about powerline networking and have seen those 200Mbs units (need at least two at £65 each on e-bay) and am considering getting a pair so I can use my upstairs study desktop to access my media-library on the NAS box at a reasonable data rate. (I connect to the router with a temporary cable link for large media file transfer).

    I doubt that the advertised speed of 200Mbs will deliver real data rates of 200 Mega bits of 'my data' per second. My wireless-g centrino laptop says it's pumping at 54Mbs but the best I've seen is 9Mbs of my data at two feet away from the router when transfering a large file from the NAS box. After you've wrapped data up in transport frames, done the protocol dance and retried after errors, the headline number gets eaten up by a large amount.

    Does anyone out there have real world experience of setting up and running a couple of PLN bricks and have they tried measuring the actual data rate? I'd expect that the transfer between upstairs and downstairs would be hampered by having to pass through two MCBs in the switchbox, since they consist of coils of wire around a magnetic core.

    I'd really like to try PLN but want to get real user feedback and opinion before I shell out £130 or more.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alex needs to reconsider his career path

    as his best option may be to work in the marketing depts. of "mobile content" providers. You know, those guys who invent a market, develop products for it, and are then surprised that the real-world market went a different direction.

  5. Steve McPolin

    yeah, but...

    I took a spin on the integrate sat + airport + dvd + vhs + radio a few years ago at home. Lasted about 2 months; everything worked, nobody could work it. Never figured out how N devices seems to require somewhere between 2*N and 2^N remotes; none of which are able to effectively use the features of any other device.

    The death blow was delivered by a >$200 internet-aware super smart remote. At one point I thought they were inciting revenge on people who bought cheap clones of their mice! We plugged a nice, cheap, Toshiba TV into the sat, and told the kids to watch dvds on the computers....

    The key to all this is sadly reminiscent of the PC filled-with-crap disasters - you need a 'head end' computer which singly can control all incoming data (video, sound, net, ...) and directly control the display, speakers, etc... granting the poor l?user what they wanted - to watch the f-ing show; not to remember that Gilligans Island is on "input 77/channel 334". Its not that hard; and its sad that somebody like Apple hasn't stepped up to the plate in any useful way.

  6. J. Cook Silver badge

    re: Frank Denton, "real world" reviews for powerline adapters...

    Reg Hardware did some reviews back of a couple different powerline adapters and included some realworld stats:

  7. frank denton


    Thanks for those pointers. I'll read them and make a decision :)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Home networks...

    What worked best for me is to attach a pc to every tv and monitor and use a full desktop on them. For control, some of them have keyboards and mice and some only a remote. (on the remote you can choose between tv mode and keyboard/mouse control for browsing) I use open source software, not because I really want to but because they tend to work without any drm getting in the way. I don't own a dvd player or any other dedicated device, because getting a cheap pc that could play back movies is much easier, not to mention I can use the same software and codec pack on every hardware. The oldest component is a PII, newest is a P4, all running the same os and the latest opera browser. One of them is a silent system without fans and with a solid state disk for booting. (it's quieter than a dvr box) For cabling, I just put utp cables into everywhere during the last remodeling 3 years ago, but anything works as long as you can connect two pc-s with it.

  9. Calum Morrison

    Real World.

    I've got a few Devolo 85Mb/s PLNs (around £80/pair) and they work perfectly; my wife uses her laptop with one (wifi dies in our house) and I have another plugged into my Helios X3000 media player. It plays music, videos etc streamed from the PC perfectly with none of the hassles of wireless. I haven't bothered to test the data rate officially (or even apply the encryption); they just work. Apart from the slightly limited server software with the Helios (there's loads of OS alternatives) it's been a fantastic experience; I'm happy as I have all my music and films etc available on the big hifi and TV, she's happy cos all my CDs are away in a cupboard and ripped to MP3!


  10. Anonymous

    Too complicated

    My father, who is nearly 60 and not particularly geeky, recently sidestepped all this IP streaming nonsense and replaced his (broken) TV with a PC and a USB tuner.

    He self-built the PC so it was pretty inexpensive, and he could make sure it was quiet, and PC monitors are a lot cheaper than a decent flatscreen of the same size so he actually saved a little money. It also gives him a brilliant upscaling DVD player. Hook it into the wifi (which is perfectly reliable, I don't know why the article dismisses such a great solution) and he has a program guide and can surf to youtube if required, though he isn't much of a pirate.

    It is a little more complicated than a TV, but considering that my parents have been using computers for 20+ years and Windows for most of that time the interface is hardly going to confuse them...

  11. calagan


    "The first incarnation of the home video network was arguably the first generation Xbox that could be "mod-chipped" to allow a third party program called the "Xbox Media Centre" to run on it instead of the normal Xbox operating systems."

    Home video network appeared much earlier: it was boosted at the end of the nienties by two factors:

    - TV-output becoming a standard on graphic cards. ATI put a lot of effort to improve the output quality, and later the competition followed

    - The emergence of divx/XVid, that allowed to fit a 93 min. DVD on one 700MB CD-r

    I personally built mine in 2000, when I brought back a fat-ass NTSC TV from the US and used a PC with a PAL tuner to convert the signal. I later could enjoy watching Divx transmitted from another PC over 802.11b wireless, which is good enough.

    I also disagree with the statement that PLC is more reliable than wi-fi. I've been really disapointed with the performance of the 85mbs Devolo "high speed" I bought, as the bandwith was dropping way below the specs. I then replaced it with a Netgear Rangemax wi-fi router which does a flawless job even if my media files are stored on a PC located two stories below my apartment in a cellar built in concrete.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's all about the cash, baby

    The reason the media industry is being so slow to capitalise on the demand is that it hasn't a clue how to monetise it. What this means is that the media-types think we'll pay to watch YouTube on our plasmas. This is wrong. Early adopters have high-end equipment and will pay for high-quality content. But this requires high bandwidth, and for the providers to actually invest in the infrastructure up-front. Whereas the media-types want to do a low-fi 'toe-in-the-water' deployment. Early adopters won't pay for this, because it's a pilot product at a premium price.

    If you can send me a movie "rental" on demand, with no compression artefacts and full 5.1 sound, I'll pay for it. But I'm not interested in paying half the price of a DVD to watch an off-air quality (or worse) product.

    I honestly think that the media types are thinking too small. It either needs to be free (which to them is unconscionable) or great (which is too hard). It'll take a while to resolve, and I don't think it can be resolved with a simple tech breakthrough.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good article...

    I too, am frustrated by a billion devices out there... each one doing 40% of the feature need.

    A couple things I would add to the list for a 'solution'...

    Single, centralized storage w/ backend/frontend relationship (like Mythtv or SageTV). This may have been implied by the article.

    Consistent interface on all frontends and remotes.

    I mean.. check out the video here for the nutz.

    Too bad it's a pipe dream for commodity hardware.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I think this article was written before the PS3 HD-PVR functionality was announced ?

    It'll be eliminating a silver box and two remote controls for me when it's released. One remote for my existing SD PVR (the silver box) and one for the TV now I won't have to change the input channel any more.

    I still need to download (or copy off friends) divx tv and convert it to h264 myself if I want to watch that. But I do get HD movies with the BluRay drive and when free-to-air HD switches on you'll have to prise me out of the the sofa with a crowbar and drag me in to work in order to pay for it all.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If LLU ISPs are (part of) the answer...

    If I read him right, Alex seems to think that LLU ISPs are part of the answer. Certainly BTwholesale IPstream pricing, and Ofcom's regulation of it, is part of the problem, but the LLU ISPs have now had a year or three to radically reshape the UK broadband market, and what have they achieved so far? The only one that was visibly different than the rest and succeeding (which rules out Bulldog) was Be Unlimited, who are now not only less visible than they used to be, they're also more limited.

    So what's gone wrong there, Alex? Do other countries do things any differently (Hint: some do). Do they do things differently *enough*, different enough for IPtv to be more successful than it will be in the UK?

    Maybe the infrastructure for distribution of bits really is a natural monopoly? How sensible can it be to have 4 sets of LLU kit and 4 sets of backhaul to every LLU-profitable exchange in the country? Those extra replicated costs still need to be recovered, from the punter, and in a market which is on a suicidal cost-reduction (and quality-reduction) path afaict there's no way IPtv can succeed.

    Downloading in the background for later consumption sounds horribly like the current incarnation of TopUpTV (not identical, but not far off). That augurs well, doesn't it...

    As for the folks commenting on UIs: too right it's too complicated, but what's the answer? It's *not* a Windows-based media PC, for various reasons, including the obvious DRM issues already mentioned.

  16. Morely Dotes

    @ frank denton

    "Does anyone out there have real world experience of setting up and running a couple of PLN bricks and have they tried measuring the actual data rate?"

    Regardless of the medium (Wi-fi, LAN, PLN, or a wet string and two tins), take the rated speed and divide by 3 to get a realistic estimate of the saturated speed; that is, transferring files larger than the data buffer in your network interface card, you can expect around 33Mbps actual throughput on a 100Mbps CAT-5 network.

    If your W-fi is giving you significantly less than 54/3, then (a) the software is reporting the wrong speed, (b) your neighbor is enjoying the "free public wi-fi" he's found at your expense, (c) your Wi-fi manufacturer is very optimistic about his labeling, (d) some of the drivers are seriously buggered, or (d) your own bandwidth is being shared with other devices than the one which is the "measuring station" (see point b above, for example); perhaps other computers in your home.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Streaming divx

    Divx Stage6 offer youtube like streaming but with divx instead of flash. I would say its of the same quality of regular tv rips (which are usually pure digital rips) and therefore of sdtv resolutions. I have no problems watching them with my ~2mbit connection and they usually buffer less than flash videos. I would say there is enough bandwidth to allow vod. Although this could be due to not many other heavy users at my exchange, and low demand at the providers end.

    As for media devices xbox media centre and a twin tuner pvr have that covered. Although I think the best option would be to build a pc with a couple of digital tuners in it and install mythtv. I was thinking the other day how a wiimote would make an ideal input device.

  18. Al Jones

    Just put an ethernet port in the next $40 DVD player I buy

    Phillips are selling DVD players with USB ports for $60 - they can play DiVX, MP3s, and display my digital photos, and have all the electronics that they need to display that content via HDMI or component video. Add in an ethernet port with just enough firmware to read a stream of bits from the network, rather than from the USB port, and you've just provided me with the simplest possible way to add my TV to my home network.

    How much will it cost to add an ethernet port to a DVD player? Surely less than the $120 it costs to buy something like a Mediagate MG-35?

  19. Mark

    What content?

    The UKs inadequate broadband aside, I really wonder if people are actually slavering for all this content. It's hard to see much that is currently unobtainable given technology restrictions or that is up and coming and really likely to blow anyones socks off. Given a decent selection of cable/satellite channels, a PC, DVD and a PVR, I can't see much added value from shoving what is already largely crap content over an internet connection and paying through the nose for the thrill of convenience.

    If Apple's proposed charges for an episode of some mediocre US sitcom are anything to go by, the incentive for saying "I want it now" is fairly minimal - especially when existing free avenues such as divx already serve us well. The phantom market for overpriced 'instant' mp3s direct to mobiles is miniscule compared to the avalanch of free mp3s consumed via p2p, and biggest barrier to normal music downloads remains the near CD prices for a complete album. There is little sign of any change in consumer attitudes, suggesting even the generally gullible British public have their limits.

  20. Cambrasa

    How very true

    I have been downloading movies illegally for years, because I neither have the time nor patience to a) waste 30 minutes driving all the way to a video rental shop on a Friday evening b) only to find out the movie I wanted to watch has already been taken c) end up renting a crap movie which I stop watching half way through d) wake up on Saturday with that terrible feeling of "oh no, I haven't returned that DVD yet" e) waste yet another 30 minutes (and petrol) to finally return the movie.

    If the content owners don't realise how archaic the above model is compared to the convenience of watching a movie after 3 clicks on the PC, then they must be bloody stupid.

    I can't believe that this is 2007 and there STILL isn't a website where you can rent and download movies from major studios online (at least not in the UK). This kind of service should have been launched 2002 at the latest. If it had, I for one, would already have spent hundreds of pounds on it. I even would have put up with DRM and slightly lower picture qualities. I rarely watch a movie more than once, and after all, waiting 3 days for a bittorrent download can be inconvenient too.

    These are hundreds of pounds that I ended up not spending. Multiply this by people like me and think of the lost revenue.

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