What's the deal with IPTV

IPTV is the new buzzword for video over IP, in particular as it relates to DSL/phone companies wanting to compete with cable companies and give you TV using your DSL. (The cable companies are hard at work at giving you phone service over your cable modem.)

I saw a demo of Microsoft’s IPTV product recently. They talked about how they had this slick interface that could show you live thumbnails of what was on several other channels while a bigger box showed your current channel. They said how doing it all at the central server (which could get access to all the live streams independently, unlike a typical tuner card or cable box) allowed this fancy multiplexing.

But then I asked them, “So, do you still watch live TV?” They admitted that, like everbody else who gets a Tivo, MythTV, Ultimate TV or other PVR that they almost never watch live TV. So why demo something that’s the wave of the past? Mostly because it looks cool.

The dream of video on demand has been with us for decades and it’s a cool dream but a silly one. Sure, it would be nice to be able to pull up anything from a giant catalog and watch it, but it turns out that watching delayed, even much delayed is fine. “Netflix is video on demand with a very high latency,” I explained.

So why don’t the cable companies get it? They are going all out to bring us 30 megabit aDSL to deliver this, and that’s great for a lot of other apps, but it turns out that with a PVR, a more modest 3 megabit (or even 1 megabit) can give you TV just fine, with some latency. They should focus there instead of trying to put it all in the central server, where it will surely die.

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