As many of my family and friends well know, I rarely watch television programs except for the major tennis tournaments such as Wimbledon and the US Open. But in recent years, more of the big matches at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadow have been streamed for free over the Internet. Thus, changes in the habits of the users of the venerable Bairstow viewing room became inevitable.
So, under enormous pressure from well-meaning family members and friends, I recently junked our miserable, 18 in., CRT-based television set and replaced it with a huge, 42 in. LCD “monitor.” Well, it looked distinctly huge to me!
This beast has so many connectors that, from the rear, it looks more like the flight deck of a Boeing 747. Clearly, this megaviewer could do far more than merely display a decent HD picture. I quickly grasped how to connect it to the local cable TV supplier using the coaxial panel in the wall behind the TV, and using something labeled HDMI. There were three more HDMI connectors on this TV, plus two sets of RCA video connectors, two sets of composite connectors, two USB connectors, plus other undefined connectors that only the geeks at the computer store could identify!
The store receipt for this new monitor described it as being “Internet-ready.” Ah-ha! This is a meaningless phrase if I ever saw one. You might as well have said that it is “Starbucks-ready” or “Coke-ready.” Nowhere on this brand-new TV did it say, “Plug in here for Internet.”
My guess is that’s because the big TV suppliers don’t seem to speak Serbo-Croatian or Outer Mongolian—possibly the only two countries left where traditional TV receivers are still made and sold. So I did a Google on IPTV (Internet Protocol)—that means, in a broad sense, the coding and decoding of analog signals so that they may be viewed on a conventional TV set. Sounds easy enough, does it not? Well, perhaps the big manufacturers haven’t gotten around to putting the necessary hardware inside their giant TV monitors. At this point, TV makers score 0. And in second place with 5 points come the laptop and pad computers. But leading the pack are the tiny streaming-video box makers that can’t keep up with the demand for their product. Ten points for the little guys.
In no particular order, these streaming video boxes are Roku, Apple TV, Boxee Box, Google TV, and a whole host of gadgets that can be put to a secondary use, such as Xbox and Wii. The catch-22 appears to be that you will also need to sign up for at least one streaming media service such as Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, Hulu Plus, Vudu.com, etc. All these services are competing for the same movie and TV rights, which—it goes without saying—cost money.
Today, there are more than 100 million cable subscribers watching hundreds of channels running the gamut from nationwide network TV broadcasters to channels devoted to home-shopping services. This gives a new meaning to the words “lowest common denominator.”
That it may be, but what I want is reliable Internet financial services daily, a commercial-free movie that changes weekly, tennis tournament coverage, and Masterpiece Theatre. By my back-of-an-envelope calculations, that comes to about 15 hours of TV viewing per week. But, says my worthy Comcast representative, if I want financial news I will have to take their package of financial channels. If I take the tennis channel, I will have to take ESPN Xtra. If I take Masterpiece Theatre, I will need to take BBC America. Total estimated additional monthly charges: $100 per month.
No deal, Comcast! I can take my Roku and search for programs I wish to watch. And, lo and behold, most of the content that I am looking for is right there for the price of a monthly subscription to Hulu Plus.
In my view, Comcast is on its way out. The era of offering hundreds of channels, the majority not requested by the subscriber, is going to suffer a slow death. The replacement will be a seamless integration of channels operating under IPTV. The users will buy only the services they need and will pay only for actual usage. And your TV monitor will be the visual interface for the user.