Not so fast

by Paul William Tenny

lost.jpgI know there's a rush to declare TV dead and streaming video to be The Next Big Thing, but we're not there yet. Because ABC decided to change the time slot for Lost (in the middle of a season) I missed last nights new episode. I'm no big fan of the show truth be told, but it's still an hour well spent considering. Therefore I am angry tonight because my old "season pass" for Lost was no longer valid and I see nothing on my schedule that looks like a new-episode rerun this weekend. Short of pirating the video which is a royal pain in the ass -- also an extremely lame thing to do to the people who create the stuff you like so much -- the only option is to stream it. Little thought has been put into whether or not mixing all these technologies together even makes sense and will it be worth it in the long run.
When comparing the two experiences I find a lot to be desired with streaming. I can't skip commercials, can't watch it on my TV without a lot of fuss, can't watch it several more times without wasting bandwidth, maybe can't even watch it if the bitrate is too high or the server is overloaded at the moment I try to watch it. I can't burn it to DVD (which is perfectly legal if you recorded it yourself and only watch the recording yourself) or get it on a mobile device (if I actually had one.)

It may fit the personality of some people, but it's far from my idea of an ideal experience. I have a hard to believing I'm the only person who feels this way and a lot of people seem to be ignoring the convergence problem. I don't want to watch Lost on my PC anymore than I want to blog on my TV. Some things simply don't work well together, and this is one of them. It's nice to have the ability to see TV episodes online when there are no other ways to catch up legally, but this just cannot be the apex of this new distribution medium.

I would have liked for the Writers Guild of America to study this issue longer because I don't think things are headed in the direction they think it is. The mythical entertainment device convergence where you can play games, email, and watch TV all on the same device and display without needing a $300 gaming console, a $100 DVD player, a $600 computer, etc, just isn't going to happen. Each of those devices serve a purpose that isn't compatible with the others unless your only measure of capability is that they all use CRT (now increasingly LCD) displays to show us the goodies. What we ought to have been paying attention to all this time was the ascendence of a high-speed, low latency communications systems that have been competing with each other on a technological level.

If you want convergence, that's where it's going to be: DSL, cable, satellite, fiber, wireless (802.11x, cellular, data) are going to converge to deliver everything we consume as data. Verizon is doing this right now with their fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) service, FioS. What was once the slowest link in the chain often made up of copper has now been upgraded to essentially make every home with the service a peer on the network -- digital telephone, high-definition television, and Internet service provided over the same slim fiber strand. Verizon got to first base, but there's still a way to go before we have any kind of harmony here. You're still talking about separate and distinct services taking different paths over an outdated backbone system that wasn't really designed for any of this.

You can make a Voice-over-IP (VoIP) call over the Internet and you can stream video over it from, but it's not really any sort of integration. It's duct tape, more or less. So that's where the convergence is going to come from, not in your receiving device, but behind the scenes in where we get that stuff from.

And for all we know, this all may be a really bad idea. You may not agree at first glance but once you've thought about it for a while, I'm sure you'll agree: this stuff works pretty well already. How often do you see "Buffering..." on your TV while watching House? How often does illegal file sharing make your cell phone stop working?

Not only have we not put enough time and effort into studying these systems, we're not even asking if they are really the direction we should be going. That does not bode well for the future.
in Feature, Internet, Streaming Video, Television


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