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Bringing Internet content to TV remains a challenge

Posted: 26 Sep 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Internet TV? HD video? media digital?

While professional quality streaming video over the Internet is on the rise, speakers at the Streaming Media West conference question how exactly the content will come to mainstream TVs.

"Getting the signal over to the TV has been really hard," said Albert Cheng, executive VP for digital media of the Disney ABC TV group in a keynote here.

The company has had 440 million views of its TV shows streamed off its Website since May 2006. However, the vast majority of those viewers have been on PCs, he said.

"I run our player on a TV in my office and it looks pretty good, but we'll need a lot of education and marketing to bring this to a broader audience," he added.

Beginning and end
A growing group of companies including Apple Inc. and NetGear are delivering STBs to massage Web video for flat-panel TVs. Such STBs represent the future of a merged Internet TV, according to another keynoter here.

"It's the beginning of the end for digital video recorders. Streaming is a much better solution," said Anthony Wood, CEO and founder of Roku, who also helped design one of the first digital video recorders, the ReplayTV system.

Roku launched in May a $99 STB that runs on a TV the NetFlix online service which host more than 15,000 movies and other videos. Roku plans to release a software developer's kit to let other services run on the system, but has not said when the SDK will be available.

"We think in 2009 we will see a shift to Net content on the TV," he said.

Wood hopes to gather more services on his system while service providers such as NetFlix are enabling other hardware vendors including LG to design their own systems.

"There are a lot more kinds of STBs out there than there has ever been and the numbers are just going to keep going up," Wood said.

Established TV vendors are avoiding the costs and the hassles of regular software updates needed to support Wi-Fi and Net video in their TVs.

HD preference
A separate panel said consumers are interested in getting high-definition (HD) video from the Net but are constrained by the bandwidth of last mile connections.

As many as 30 percent of users of Microsoft's Xbox video store choose HD over standard definition movies despite the fact they cost more and take longer to download, said John Conrad, engineering manager of Microsoft's VidLabs. The group was formed in December to encode video from as many as 40 studios for online distribution to Xbox and Zune players.

However, more than ten percent of the source tapes VidLabs received last month had to be returned to studios because they had flaws that prevented Microsoft from creating online files. "The distribution process in the industry is still pretty poor," he said.

"Encoding is still a black art," said Matt Smith, a video architect at Yahoo.

A video programmer attending the event from Intel Corp. said today's video adapter cards lack 64bit drivers that would enable real-time encoding of HD video.

The last mile hurdle is equally challenging. "We are trying to send video at 750Kbit/s, but we are finding many users still on 300Kbit/s linksit's a head scratcher," said Kevin Annison, VP of digital media for SpeedTV.com.

"Very often we lose impressions" when someone tries to upload an HD file, said Nick Rockwell, chief technology officer of MTV Networks. "We just don't get much feedback when people aren't able to render a file," he said.

In his keynote, Cheng said Disney ABC is providing HD versions of its shows but only at 720-progressive resolution, not full 1080p.

Available video content on the Net "is mainly standard definition now, a lot of our partners don't have HD yet," said Wood of Roku.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times





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