postheadericon Tech Talk: True Internet TV


One of the wonders of the Internet this year is the coming of age for true Internet TV, meaning that the device known as a "television set" and popular since the end of World War II, is finally nearing retirement.

But to better understand this development, one has to pick apart the clutter of confusing offerings now called "Internet TV."

Let's first look at the device-near-extinction known as the TV set: traditionally thought of as a device that combines a tuner, display, and speakers for the purpose of viewing live or pre-recorded content over the airwaves. Well, that sounds like any run-of-the mill computer when you think of it...and folks have been thinking hard about this for years now, and are finally starting to shape all our devices (laptop, tablet, PC, smartphone) into something that resembles the traditional TV set.

The TV tuner of the future is really your Internet connection and a specialized website (at both the front-end and back-end). Somewhat successful examples of this tech can be seen in its raw format at Youtube, Hula, and on other webspots. It's not a coincidence that your logon to Youtube is called a "channel," as that's supposed to represent your own mini-broadcasting station. But for anyone that's used Youtube (and by statistics that would be most everyone on the planet, with billions of videos uploaded and watched each day) we know that sitting in front of Youtube is not like sitting in front of the old portable black & white Sony found on many a cold store shelf.

That TV experience is much different than viewing stupid pet tricks on YouTube. That's because Youtube does not really fit the model of traditional TV: the content is not necessarily professional in production, and there is no discernable schedule of live shows or other pre-recorded content.  In short, when you compare Youtube to a traditional TV, Youtube comes up looking more like a circus than anything else. Hula (www.hulu.com) goes a bit further, using web technologies to fashion real channels and offer real TV programming for a fee. Unfortunately, Hula is available to USA viewers only.

Coming a bit closer to a real TV experience is Google TV, which is a bit of firmware built into many of the high-end LED TVs on the market today. What Google TV (www.google.com/tv) does is to wrangle many internet TV stations into one interface, and upgrades your traditional TV set into something more like what we want to see in a real & free internet TV device. Unfortunately, requirements for entry into this world of new-age TV include: a high-end LED TV, more Internet bandwidth than practical for the average Nepali, and once again, residency in the US.

So where does that leave us, folks outside the USA who wish to just watch plain old TV on any device lying around the home or office? And is StarWorld on Jawalakhel Cable really our only choice at the moment? (Please shoot me now if it is.)

Well, googling up "free internet TV" gives you millions of seemingly good options, but beware the scam! Most of these links will lead you to this site: www.satellitedirect.com, which is run by the unscrupulous company ClickBank. What you pay for there is a near worthless application that conglomerates thousands of video-streams across the Internet into one interface. In short, it's a confusing portal to dubious content that you could have found on your own using Google search.

The streaming sites thru ClickBank are mostly faulty in the sense they are not optimized for web streaming as is Youtube, Hula, and Netflix. Netflix.com is another pay service available to US customers that streams popular movies on demand, to any device that you own. But NetFlix will does not work in the ClickBank application.

So in short, free or paid Internet TV is not quite yet in prime time the world over. We have fragments of solutions just waiting to be put together intelligently. One such company has started to do that is called NeuLion (www.neulion.com) - the producer and the wholesaler of the technology responsible for the Internet TV network called NFL Gamepass (gamepass.nfl.com). Neulion has managed to leverage the backend technologies as employed by Youtube and other video streaming sites, with a frontend that more resembles Google TV, but is made available on any device with an Internet connection - complete with traditional TV content and commercials.

NFL Gamepass allows you to see past ball games, as well as current games coming soon, such as the 2012 Superbowl. Gamepass works here in Nepal just fine on low bandwidth connections (256kbps). Granted, this Internet TV network is not free (costs about Nrs.6000 per year) and would only be of interest to diehard American football fans, yet it's not hard to extrapolate the possibilities if other content providers start to use this same model. Imagine all of StarSports content being provided via a NeuLion mechanism with super fast-streaming content, program guide for past and future shows, multiple screens of content at once, all with chat facilities and other social network connections.
In my mind, this is where the industry needs to go, and content restrictions full of legalese seem to be the last impediment at getting there. The ability for broadcasters to create a proper tuner out of a website is here, but the question remains: when will they do it? But at least for now, with my NFL Gamepass, at least I can watch the 2012 Superbowl in real-time as broadcast from America - on any device I have laying around the house.

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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