TV on the 'Net: Ready for prime time?

Every once in a while, a technological development switches into fast-forward mode without warning. If you downloaded a TV show across the Internet on October 11 of last year, chances are you were cheerfully trampling on some media giant's copyright. One day later Apple introduced a video-capable iPod and US$1.99 downloads of a few programs, such as Desperate Housewives and Lost. All of a sudden, the phrase "legal TV downloads" was no longer an oxymoron.

Just a few months later, they're not only a reality--they're a booming trend. Apple now offers more than 40 TV series, and it has acquired an archrival in Google (who else!), which is now hawking a hodgepodge of everything from current hit shows to random smatterings of TV Land--like reruns. CBS is selling downloads directly, as well as through Google; NBC, meanwhile, has begun gratis streams of the nightly news.

Love movies? Vongo, a new service from the Starz cable-TV people, delivers unlimited flicks for a monthly fee. And more services are in the works, such as AOL's In2TV, a free service that promises DVD-quality, ad-supported streams of thousands of episodes of countless old shows (welcome back, Kotter).

In short, TV companies that once ignored or feared the Internet are beginning to embrace it. That's a necessity if the Net is going to do to video what it's already doing to music: radically affect how we buy it and what we can do with it.

But if a revolution is upon us, it's just dawning. And it won't be complete until TV download and streaming services...

...talk to the TV. Most of us still do most of our TV watching on, well, a TV. These new services focus on PCs and handheld devices, and few folks have easy means to get video off the Internet and onto a standard television. That'll change, especially as wireless networking gets quicker and more bulletproof. Even then, though, newfangled, Net-based services will compete with video-on-demand offerings from living-room veterans like Comcast.

...bulk way, way up. Someday, Net-based video may put every episode of virtually all the shows that anybody remembers at our fingertips. Despite their recent growth spurt, current services still offer only enough stuff to whet your appetite. As with music, assembling sizable digital libraries will take time. (And even now, music services' catalogs have gaping holes--bought a Beatles download lately?)

...get watchable. The picture quality of shows I've downloaded from the iTunes Music Store is a bit better than I'd have guessed it would be on the video iPod's 2.5-inch screen--and much worse than I'd like on my 27-inch standard-def TV. Once video downloads are no longer a novelty, we'll want them to look decent on a wide range of devices; once HDTV is completely mainstream, we'll expect them to look spectacular.

...get easy. Historically, TV has been the least demanding of media--hey, there's a reason why its addicts are called "couch potatoes." But puzzling out the current world of video downloading is, unquestionably, work.

For one thing, no two services are the same when it comes to which devices they work with. Shows from Apple play on Windows computers and Macs, but not on any portable player that isn't a video iPod. The Windows-only Vongo service touts its ability to copy movies to handhelds that run Microsoft's Portable Media Center version 2 (total count of such products at press time: zero). Google's Video Store is downright enigmatic: It couldn't decide whether a show I bought worked only with Windows or could also run on a Mac, an iPod, or a PSP--and its advice for copying to an iPod left out a crucial step.

Am I beginning to sound like a Net-TV naysayer? Nah--in the long term, I'm a believer. Someday, most of the video we watch will be delivered over the Internet...and while I'm not ready to predict just how soon that'll be, I know that PC World is going to have a blast covering the services, software, and devices that make it all possible. Stay tuned.

Join the newsletter!

Or
Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Harry McCracken

PC World
Show Comments

Essentials

James Cook University - Master of Data Science Online Course

Learn more >

Mobile

Victorinox Werks Professional Executive 17 Laptop Case

Learn more >

Exec

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?