As I type this entry, I’m playing poker and watching 60 Minutes, all on my laptop. I’m in the family room, but I could be anywhere in the house or nearby.
Until a few minutes ago, we had been using an 802.11b Wifi wireless network. The pipe wasn’t wide enough to pass high quality video. Now it’s 802.11g.
Simply, I increased the network capacity a factor of five just by substituting one piece of hardware for another. The additional investment was under $50. The practical implication is, my DVR¹ can now push high quality, full motion video over our in-house wireless network.
When I put the original wired/wireless network in, there was no hint it might not produce enough bandwidth. In fact, when that original network went in, my connection to the outside world was through a dial-up modem.
Now, I realize, this new network is just an interim step in a never ending search for unlimited bandwidth. I will constantly need more bandwidth in-house and more bandwidth from the outside world. There will be more reasons to push bits around the house.
Some of those reasons, like video, I understand. Other reasons probably don’t yet exist.
Here’s how more bandwidth changes my DVR. Until recently, if I wanted to look at a recorded show without sitting in front of the actual DVR computer, I copied the whole file, machine-to-machine, across the network.
Even on the fastest in-house connections, computers that are wired not wireless, it took a few minutes to move a file to the playback machine (my typical video file runs approximately 2 Gb per hour). Now I can stream to the playback machine, moving only the bits needed when they’re needed. Playback starts instantly.
This little hardware switch also allows me to use a new piece of software, the MythTV Player. I’m watching 60 Minutes using it right now.
There’s nothing about this player that looks any different as it sits on my computer desktop. What it does do is read markers produced as my DVR records shows. They point to the beginning and end of commercial breaks. This player automatically removes the commercial breaks as you watch a show… and it’s been very effective so far.
As you might imagine, this is pretty scary to over-the-air and cable television stations, which make their money selling commercials. That’s how my employer pays my salary.
Luckily for me, the immediate nature of TV news makes it relatively DVR proof. That’s not true for most entertainment programming. Viewers should understand – no one will pay for big budget programming unless there are big budget returns.
This technology is changing the landscape of television. Some of the changes will be very good. Other aspects are sad. Without revenue, highly produced programming will disappear.
What good is having unfettered access, if there’s nothing to access?
¹ – My DVR is a homebuilt computer running MythTV software on top of Ubuntu Linux. The guts of the computer were being thrown away. I added a $75 card and extra hard drive. My only other cost was time and a modicum of grief.