I Want My VOD!

I’m a person who can’t wait to get his hands on the latest media and entertainment technologies. I’m addicted. I’m among the first to sign up, purchase, and often in frustration endure the technology that’s supposed make the experience everything the advertising says it will be.

Fortunately, it’s part of my job to be aware of emerging technologies. Blurring between the Internet, computers, and TV puts video, one of my favorite technologies, front and center. Video’s proliferation in entertainment channels and operating systems offers a glimpse into the future. But it’s far from what we really want or what’s been promised: high-quality VOD (define).

Video Delivery Promises

Tiger, Apple’s new operating system, features some exceptional video improvement. First, the more sophisticated iChat AV service not only makes videoconferencing an intuitive experience, it also improves video quality far beyond anything else on the market.

Second is improved video delivery. Behind this is the new H.264 video codec, also known as MPEG-4 Part 10. H.264 isn’t only beautiful, it’s intelligent. It can scale its own performance, such as when bandwidth is being inhaled by a network video game or the upload of prodigious PowerPoint files.

Video Delivery Reality

Improvements like these are hard to measure when they’ve been expected all along. We still struggle with a gap between promise and delivery in video usage.

VOD is delivered from a cable provider via a broadband connection. It’s a serious bandwidth hog. If you want instant video gratification in real time, the price of bandwidth enhancement to make it a smooth experience is pretty high. For fast delivery of quality video, you need a super fast connection, fiber optic (define), or a VDSL (define) line. These are pricey solutions, to say the least, never mind the video rental costs. You’d be better served hoofing it down to the local video store to pick up the DVD.

That gap is also apparent in iChat AV when you try to connect with more than one other person in a videoconference. To actually be productive, you’d need a dual processor Apple G4 with a 384Kbps connection (each). Not quite cost-effective. But, boy, is it pretty!

Closing the Gap

Don’t get me wrong. I really am excited about new video delivery systems, and with good reason. The H.264 video codec will make picture clarity amazing. For us diehards, there are compromises.

Video almost on demand (VAOD) is being developed by the Netflix/TiVo partnership. VAOD will create a sort of queue system for delivering video to the lounging masses. You request a video and, based on network connectivity, it will be download and delivered to your TiVo’s “Now Playing” list. Will it work? This TiVo subscriber hopes so.

For iChat AV users, there’s a less visible “almost there” solution in iChat AV’s VOIP (define) feature. You can have a conference call with up to 10 participants using the same technology that delivers your video experience. I can’t comment on the VOIP’s quality. If it’s anything like Vonage, don’t upload anything while you’re talking!

It’s hard to be patient, and even harder to accept the solutions still fall far short of the promise. The addict in me will always try a partial solution (sign me up, Netflix) rather than wait for a full one. Maybe that’s part of what makes this great experiment so fun: I can taste my cake and eat it too. So long as I’m patient.

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