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We've talked about wanting to give our television providers the boot for the past two years now. In the end, at least for us, there is no way to eliminate them completely. This week while reading an article in Broadcasting and Cable entitled Web Sports Enters HD Arena we thought it would be a good idea to revisit the subject. For this study we looked at our viewing habits and tried to come up with online equivalents.

IPTV - Can it replace Cable and Satellite?

News Weather and Sports
One of the issues with IPTV is live content like news and sports. For this experiment we were able to solve this with our local ABC affiliate. In Los Angeles ABC 7 puts up a live stream of their news coverage. They also include live national news from ABC along with local news from Chicago, New York, San Francisco and other cities. All the ABC affiliates have local weather that is updated frequently so even if the news is not streaming you can get weather updates anytime. If you want more weather you can check The Weather Channel for national and regional updates. Finally both Fox and CNN have news online. CNN has a live feed that is not always on.

News and weather are covered and you can throw in traffic too. How about live sports? Baseball has MLB.com, the NBA has NBA League Pass Broadband and we saw what NBC did with the Olympics last summer. ESPN has begun to move to the web as well. The only thing missing is NFL. You can stream NFL if you have Sunday Ticket from DirecTV but that kind of defeats the purpose of this whole thing. No football is a deal killer for us but for others its not an issue. Major sporting events are available live on the net so again, you don't have to worry about missing most of your favorite sports.

Network Programming
This has been available online for quite some time. Every national network (we're counting Hulu as both Fox and NBC) has an online presence. Many have "HD" versions available with limited commercials. If you have a Netflix account with Watch it Now, you can watch the same programming in many cases without commercials. The online HD versions are not really HD but they are decent and look OK on a 65 inch TV. A quick check shows that 80% of the shows we watch on TV are available online.

You can also go the way of iTunes. They now have better HD than streaming and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. However it is not free, a season pass in HD to 30 Rock goes for $53. If you watch a lot of TV you may end up spending more than just buying HD service from the cable company. But if all you watch are a few TV series iTunes or Amazon may be something you want to consider.

What about picture quality
We come a long way here, a lot has been done in this area. A company called Move Networks is working to bring you live HD streamed via the Internet. They currently handle ABCs online HD content. Right now Move Networks SD stream starts at 768 Kbps and goes up to 2.5Mbps for HD. They are testing 4Mbps HD for live 720p HD streams. According to Move they have not gone above 4Mbps because the majority of the computers out there do not have the horsepower required to process the video. The other limitation is fast internet connections and bandwidth caps. Just for the record, at the time of this writing bandwidth at the HT Guys "Labs" range from 8 Mbps to 18 Mbps down and 1.7 Mbps up.

Conclusion
If you had to, you could cut the cord between you and your cable company and not miss a beat. But in reality if you won't have the same video quality. The other thing to consider is that the Cable or Satellite box has an simple well understood interface. Connecting a computer to the TV requires using a keyboard and a mouse and there are no channel numbers. You'll have to bookmark your sites. Companies like Apple, Netflix and Boxee are all trying to provide a ten foot interface that is Grandma proof but we still have a ways to go. Finally, cable companies are not going to be happy with subscribers that watch a lot of Internet streamed content. So even if the quality improved you may not be able to stream a months worth of TV into your home. If you are a light TV watcher that is computer savy then you may be able to cut the cable cord completely. But in actually, for most of us, IPTV is a good way to augment what we already have. If you are on the road you can watch something on your terms. If you forget to record something then its a great backup. Its also a great way to watch old TV shows that are no longer aired.


Posted by The HT Guys, December 18, 2008 11:05 PM

About The HT Guys

The HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.

Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.

ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.

Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.