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Internet Television: The Present and the Future
The emergence of the Internet has revolutionized the way people conduct their life and activities, without them being aware of it. Conventional activities like going to the library, reading books, and shopping have converged to a single activity of sitting at the personal computer. Not only these, technology-based activities like watching television, listening to music and communicating on the telephone etc., which had previously been considered developed beyond expectations, have radically changed even more. One no longer gets mesmerized by watching videos on the Internet or “streaming” news items from web sites such as www.mtv.com or www.bbc.co.uk, respectively. There is virtually no difference in carrying out activities, like the above, through a single PC or through the designated equipments like radio, television or video recorders. For technologists, convergence of the media has been a revolution that has changed the world and the way we live, partly because it opens new avenues for exploration and partly because technologists believe they can improve the quality of these technology-based activities. In particular, the convergence of the Internet with broadcasting technology has altered not only the consumer’s perception of “watching” television but also related technologies and industries. Today, media companies are investing heavily in broadcast research and development (R&D) and in Internet technology with the view to capture both types of consumer markets. What is more important in this race for changing the face of media is how technologists are developing even more complex media technologies to seamlessly converge broadcast and the Internet to offer a highly integrated environment for the future consumers. In the following discussion, the researcher shall explore how this historical revolution has come about, current development and future challenges.
History of Television Broadcast and Internet Television
Perhaps the most important development of television technology had been the vision of communications satellites in 1945 by Sir Arthur Clarke. The author used his knowledge of British Radar Establishment to outline the future of satellites. He wrote an article about using “extraterrestrial radio relays” for developing a global communications system to establish radio stations. What Clarke had not realized was that the relays he mentioned were illustrations of television signals, which has the same application today (Ippolito and Pelton 2004). Satellite communication system has become the foundation for television and radio broadcast, during the 1950s to date. Direct broadcast was introduced in 1960s and 1970s, also known as Direct to Home (DTH) or Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) or, in official terms, Broadcast Satellite Services (BSS). These initial BSS were dependent on the international route telecommunication backbone used for telephone and telex, and later for TV and radio program distribution. This period witnessed a slowdown in satellite revolution as the governments, organizations and public interest groups were concerned about developments of satellite transmission power to the homes and beyond geographical boundaries. They were of the view that such technology could cause cultural, political and social damage (Sachdev and Swearingen 2004). Despite their objections, TV channel frequency developed high satellite transmission frequency through Effective Radiated Power, which could transmit analogue signals to even small antennas. The first operational Direct Broadcast or DTH system was developed in Europe by the German and French, which was known as TV-Sat in Germany and TeleDiffusion Francais in France. During the 1980s, the International Telecommunications Union was adopted by the US and European countries to broadcast programs across the Atlantic (Sachdev and Swearingen 2004). Clay Whitehead, an American, was a pioneer in developing Ku-band frequencies, which altered the medium for “fixed service” satellite to broadcast TV directly to low receive-only dishes. The concept was furthered by Coronet, and then later acquired in 1984 by SES Astra. Astra became the true DBS satellites that were successful in transmitting high-frequency power to and from satellites, thus, providing a large number of TV channels to the users (Sachdev and Swearingen 2004).
However, academics believe that true broadcast challenges came about with the introduction of terrestrial and digital broadcasting during the 1990s when television content was funded by advertising, and media mogul Rupert Murdoch monopolised television rights. During this period, Sky offered customers channel broadcast at premium subscription, which other television channels, like ITV, took the first offensive to launch ON Digital in 1998, which was followed by the BBC’s Freeview, and other channels. (The Future of Internet Television 2006).
Parallel to these attacks on broadcast satellite had been the revolution in personal video recorders (PVRs), during the 1970s. The PVRs allowed users to tape TV content indefinitely without copyright issues. When the PVRs gave way to DVDs, the demand for “at home entertainment” did not diminish but, in fact, increased manifolds as users could now use electronic programming guides (EPG) to record television programs in high-quality broadcast that was made possible by digital television (The Future of Internet Television 2006).
Digital television was an equipment revolution rather than broadcast, as it allowed higher quality content to be transmitted from the standard definition television (SDTV or Digital Video Broadcast) to high definition television (HDTV or ATSC or ISDB), as it gradually has eaten up mainstream analogue signal broadcast and replaced it with high-definition channel broadcast. Although currently ATSC and ISDB standards are being used at high cost of implementation, nevertheless, it has become the trend as HD-DVD and Blue Ray have become part of this mainstream broadcast technology. These new technologies of the 1990s and 2000s have made digital transformation from broadcast satellite to digital networks, and the Internet, possible (The Future of Internet Television 2006).
Current Internet Television
Today, there is no limitation to watching television anywhere one can imagine – on the plane, in the kitchen, on the mobile phone, on walkways and even in the car, all made possible by the convergence of the Internet media and television broadcast technologies. Media convergence and interactivity have not only changed the cultural trend of television experience but also its functionality. The main emphasis is on viewer accessibility and near-video-on-demand (NVOD), which offers users the choice to watch broadcast content without the physical limitation of broadcast transmission to designated equipments or timing. Hence, the experience of watching television is no longer regarded as broadcast as it has changed its features from static to interactive, with different converged media functions. The computer furthered this technology of interactivity, while the Internet revolutionized the challenge of meeting user demand for a different type of experience (Crisell 2002).
High-speed peer-to-peer sharing systems have enabled users to share files of TV shows, PVRs, VOD, and made watching TV on mobile devices possible. For these reasons, ISPs (Internet Service Providers) have also geared their networks to facilitate high-speed downloads through BitTorrent or such systems as they realized they need to capitalize on the shifting trend of watching television during primetime to “all the time”. Users prefer to watch TV at their ease and access it whenever their lifestyle allows them. With PVRs they are able to queue programs to be recorded, skip advertisements and watch ongoing broadcasts. The need to have an interactive medium has become more pronounced as technologists vie the Internet as the ideal medium for users to download compressed VODs and broadcast television programs. In the UK, this trend has gained popularity as users indicated their desire to watch popular programs and, at the same time, browse the Internet resources for new TV content and films (Brown and Barkhuus 2006).
Delivering quality Internet TV service has become possible with a combination of two key developments: high-speed internet and compression technology. TV programs, when converted from analogue through Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) to digitized information files, they become extremely large, especially if they are high in resolution of pictures. Distribution of these audiovisual files over the Internet has become difficult, as the file would be too “heavy” for it to be transferred through the network. Even though digitization of TV, PVRs and DVDs reduced the size of such video streams, nevertheless, they still pose a challenge for ISPs. JPEG, MPEG (Motion Pictures Expert Group) and AVC (advanced video coding) video compression technologies, which were introduced by Microsoft to be integrated with Windows Media Video (WMV) to facilitate computer users to share high definition programming, emerged as the new format for audiovisual file interchange (Keen 2006). These files use Discrete Cosine Transform (DCT), Discrete Wavelet Transform (DWT) in Dirac codec and Fractual Compression compression processes for “streaming”. Unlike conventional broadcasting transmission, streaming involves progressive downloading of audiovisual files without having to wait for its complete download for playback. Audiovisual files can be streamed on the Internet “on-demand” (stored on server, available on request) or “live” (available at particular time such as life events). Streaming requires a high-speed Internet connection without traffic jams because the content cannot be streamed if the end user is carrying other traffic with the stream. Currently, only shorter TV content is offered for streaming (YouTube, Google Video), while longer and high quality contents such as shows and films are offered for download on request (MovieLink, CinemaNow, Sky By Broadband) (Keen 2006).
Previously, Internet audiovisual media content used dedicated software applications such as Microsoft Windows Media, RealVideo and QuickTime for playback that was separate from web browsers. Later applications, like Flash Players, allowed integrated streaming within the web browser, which makes it cost effective, as well as relatively easier for users to access broadcast content through Internet distribution (Keen 2006). Television content streaming uses the same applications with added features. Applications like Apple’s iTunes, Chinese program PPLive and BBC’s MyBBCPlayer allows television broadcasters to select programs for online streaming. As more and more television companies are transitioning online with new contents for streaming, users prefer to watch Internet TV than conventional television. To facilitate even more efficient peer-to-peer connections, the Internet architecture has been revolutionized for data transfer (The Future of Internet Television 2006). This has been achieved by specialist bandwidth providers called Content Distribution Networks (CDNs), which ensure streamlined and optimal content distribution through remote servers to client PCs without the hindrance of traffic jams. Companies like CacheLogic, Kontiki, and Grid Networks have been responsible for revolutionizing the commercial deployment of high-quality streaming services for Internet Television (Keen 2006).
Future of Internet TV Broadcasting
Broadcasting companies and TV operators in the last decade, according to Arino and Marsden (Brown and Picard 2005), have capitalized tremendously on the growth of the Internet to draw audiences away from traditional television broadcast. For some, the Internet may have been the reason for the demise of the conventional broadcast TV, while for others this new media is the new platform for digital TV. Internet TV is no longer about watching streamed programs from broadcast TV web sites. In fact, according to Noll (qt in Gerbarg, Groebel and Noam 2004), Internet TV has come to be defined as a television interface based on an interactive Internet platform for storage and transmission of audiovisual content streaming, as well as web activities. Thus, the future of the Internet TV involves Internet-enhanced TV that delivers both TV content, as well as web-based content. Convergence will no longer be limited to listening radio and watching downloaded content, but will also encompass chatting, messaging, conversing with hosts and participants of TV programs, and programming of content through complex transmissional services, consultational services and interactive television links (Arino and Marsden qt. Brown and Picard 2005). With the increase in broadband usage in the UK, it is expected that Internet TV services shall increase manifolds, which will make high quality digital movie file streaming available from various websites with lesser costs.
New technologies like webified video are expected to revolutionize next generation storage TV, to convert web content as well as TV programs to integrated information retrieval media for interface and interactivity (Miyamori and Tanaka 2005). Similarly SURFs (Simple UI to Retrieve Favourites) systems are being explored for transforming TV content into information portals which will allow users to interact with electronic devices within the household. The idea is to integrate TV with Internet content by allowing users to use unconventional remote controls to interact with the Internet TV platform (Halverson and Voutsas 2000). Contents may range from watching VODs, or news content or browsing the Internet. Not only this, but it is expected that the future holds new dimensions for the meaning of interactivity. Speech recognition and interactivity, according to Wittenburg et al (2006), is the next revolutionary interface for current prototype PVRs. These shall be used in conjunction with Internet TV to change the whole experience of interacting with TV and the Internet.
From the above discussion, one can conclude that the process of Internet and television convergence has revolutionized the experience of watching television. Convergence of these individual technologies has been possible with the developments of technologies in compression, streaming, digitization, and playback applications. However, to think that the revolution has stopped there is a mistake. As one reads in the above section, the development of Internet TV is not complete. The mix of Internet television services through chats, browsing, downloads and networking have yet to become even more revolutionized in the future as new technologies related to interface devices, broadband networks, and television content conversions become more common for all to be used. There is no doubt that Internet TV has affected the lives of its users as well as those who developed it. What makes this revolutionary unique is the fact that it has also influenced other dimensions of entertainment and information interactivity. For example, companies are exploring broadcasting dimensions using mobile phones, voice-activated interface, and information interchange technologies for viewing and interacting, not on conventional tube TV or PCs but on small mobile devices. Indeed, the future of Internet TV is not limited to its conventional infrastructure but rather shall reside in new ones.
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