Why TV As We Know It Is Doomed

old televisionGrowing up in Queens we had seven TV channels to watch. In the general scheme of things the Fox family had it good. Most folks could only get three or four. Some got fewer.

In the early 50s the world came to a halt when Milton Berle was on. If you didn’t watch Uncle Miltie Tuesday at 8:00 PM, you were out of luck!

Dependence on schedule began to change with the VCR in the late 70s. Enter time shifting, plus you could buy or rent a cassette and watch on-demand.

There was an impact on TV, but not much. VCR technology was good, not great. Programming a VCR complex, as Billy Crystal demonstrated in City Slickers.

DVRs changed that. Schedules began to lose importance. Even live TV could be paused.

Viewers liked and embraced DVRs. Schedules were inconvenient. Video on demand was what they wanted, even if they couldn’t always verbalize that desire.

According to Nielsen, 50.3 million of the nation’s 114.2 million homes with a television have a DVR — nearly half of all homes with a TV set. Although DVR penetration is starting to slow, people are using the devices more. CBS research indicates DVR usage has grown 6% this television season compared with the same period last season. – rbr.com November 2012

In my mind there was always a roadblock preventing us from moving beyond the DVR–bandwidth.

One broadcast station can serve thousands or even millions of consumers. Random access, video-on-demand requires a full individual stream for each screen.

Never in my wildest dreams did I believe there would be enough bandwidth to support this profligate streaming. I don’t feel that way anymore!

It’s true all the major Internet providers have imposed or are considering imposing caps, limiting how much bandwidth you can consume. But a funny thing has happened in the last year. Their grousing has quieted.

Yes, Internet providers want to charge for bandwidth, the way the electric company charges for kilowatt hours. But I no longer hear anyone talking about bandwidth shortages, even as bandwidth skyrockets.

When you can watch any show. any time on any device, will you still need traditional television? Going forward, why will we need any network, cable or broadcast? TV stations are expensive relics with huge institutionalized overhead. That’s not a formula for continued success

They’ve already reacted to reduced audiences by upping their spot load–carrying more commercials per hour. Against on-demand content that seems like a fool’s errand. Unless their business model changes radically, TV is doomed. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon.

Back in 1999 this Qwest commercial probably made no sense. It’s actually a prediction of the reality I’ve just written about.

I love TV. I will be sad to see it go.

Damn You Penguin!

I’ve been fooling around with a homebuilt DVR – a MythTV box. It’s very cool and I’ve discussed it ad nauseum over the past few days.

It is based on Linux (aka – the Penguin), a free operating system. Most likely, the computer you’re using now is running some flavor of Windows. That too is an operating system.

Anyway, I love this little DVR. There are amazing tricks it can do that my current cable company DVR can’t. But, there’s one thing it doesn’t do – and that’s about to drive me nuts.

I want this thing to stream video to me anywhere I am, over the Internet. Every bit of that functionality is set, but one. I can’t convert the video files it produces to something usable in the outside world.

I consider myself pretty savvy, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a “nuv” video file. I should be able to convert it to and flv file (Flash video)… well, should and can are two entirely different things.

I spent much of last night… and the night before, sitting in front of the computer, trying to coax this conversion.

I have posted on bulletin boards and mailing lists – even sent email to strangers I thought might help. Nothing!

So, the Penguin and I are currently on the outs. If he doesn’t make me happy soon, I’ll pour water on him. That’ll show him who’s boss… because currently, it’s not me.

MythTV – My DVR

A few days ago, I wrote about the DVR I’d assembled from an old PC and a spare tuner card. The more I look into it, the more impressed I am. This is very cool technology.

First, a little about the computer. This was originally my ‘main’ desktop machine, but probably 6-7 years ago. It wasn’t homebuilt, but built to my spec by Axis Computing in New Jersey (I believe they’re long gone).

The CPU is an AMD 500 MHz model, with 387 mb of memory. originally, it was built to process TV, and had an ATI All-in-Wonder video card. It is my understanding ATI is less than helpful in the Linux community, so that part is useless to me.

Now, for video, there’s some old, nondescript Nvidia card (I can’t even find a model number) and a Hauppauge&#185 Win-TV GO card, which acts as a TV tuner.

In 2006, this is a lumbering slow machine with not much going for it. If you had one at home, you’d probably be thinking about how to get rid of it and replace it with something more modern.

The specifications for this DVR call for a much more powerful chip. It doesn’t seem to make much difference, because this works!

In order to accommodate the older hardware I’ve cranked down the quality of the video I capture. It can’t record and play at the same time either, something it should do.

A few things about this system have astounded me. First is the KnoppMyth distribution. This allowed me to stick a CD into the computer and let it do most of the rest. I had to dedicate this machine to DVR, but it wasn’t doing much before!

Second is MythTV itself. It is a visually pleasing system. In fact, as a DVR, it is much more sophisticated looking and easier to deal with than my cable company DVR.

What I can’t do is play my video on a TV – at least not now. The system is designed for that, but my set-up just doesn’t lend itself to that outcome.

The system is divided into two basic parts, frontend and backend. The backend is the guts. it’s where the recording takes place and where data is manipulated.

The frontend is how the user interacts with the system and controls it. The frontend doesn’t have to be on the same computer as the backend. In fact, I can control much of the frontend on any web browser.

With that ability, I can program this DVR from work or while on-the-road.

The frontend handles viewing the video. Right now, that means dealing with files too large to easily watch out of the house. I’ve read about some modifications that will enable me to stream the video in a more highly compressed form, and I’ll be working on that tonight.

I am not sure this method of DVR building is right for everyone. There were loads of configuration choices I had to make. I think I did OK, but I can’t be sure. Certainly, I was on my own as I decided whether this or that box would be checked or unchecked.

This is more a project for someone who enjoys tinkering – and I do. And it’s probably the kind of thing I’ll keep tweaking and refining until I break it!

&#185 – Hauppauge is a company that makes video products for computers. They have some of the best video capture boards and are well respected by hobbyists. Hauppauge is the name of the town they’re in.

Alas, I think they’d probably do better in business if you could easily spell their name! I wonder how many people look for Hauppauge and give up.

In the 21st Century, spelling counts.