Cloud STB with Bob Pank


Bob Pank# TV-Bay Magazine
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It’s like trying to get to Heathrow in time for your flight. Many of us have to go there by road and the journey will involve travelling on the UK’s busiest motorways. Even outside rush hour the journey may be quick, or not so quick or a real nightmare. This is a bit like live streaming video on the Internet. Yes, we’ve probably all used at least one of the main channel catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer and itvPLAYER, and at certain times of the day, mainly in the evenings when everyone wants to watch or use the Internet, it gets slow and stops, just like the motorways.
These players rely on continuous live streaming video via the Internet. My personal experience is that, although the connection can fly at 5Mbps at the right time of day, it usually does not manage to cope with streaming a TV programme without a few freezes, or a message saying ‘insufficient bandwidth’, or some such. Being two miles from the exchange means that I cannot expect more speed until we get a fibre connection, for which BT has no plans. And, like most consumers, the connection slows down when the number of users on line goes up. That’s reality.
By the way, BT says that 15 million homes and business in the UK, more than half of all premises, can now have access to ‘superfast’ fibre broadband. That will rise to 19 million (two thirds of the UK’s total) early in 2014. Lucky them! Why not just byte the bullet and provide universal superfast access? It would be a boon for everyone, including business, and be a lot faster, probably cheaper and may well generate more benefits, than HS2!
So I was somewhat surprised to read about a Swedish broadcaster, Magine, building a ‘cloud TV’ service. Magine is a cable broadcaster and has just started its cloud TV service in Sweden. It is seeking deals to extend its service into more European countries. I recall that, some time ago, Sweden decided to offer fibre to the home for everyone. So, maybe it will always be fast enough for everyone in the country to join in. This type of service effectively virtualises the set-top box by moving it into the cloud – so that’s one thing customers don’t have to buy. However they do need a suitable connected computer at the consumer’s site. This may be in a smart TV, tablet or smartphone. Then you might think, ‘I don’t have a smart TV and the other screens are going to be too small for my home viewing so why don’t I just get a set-top box with a built-in recorder?’
Mattias Hjelmstedt, Founder of Magine poses an interesting question. “If television was invented this year, how would it look?” Good question! There is the existing legacy of recently installed, and very effective technologies that deliver digital TV to homes, and the STBs and TVs to view it. Are we are about to see the beginnings of a huge change where superfast broadband renders that obsolete? It will be interesting to see how successful this service is. Maybe it will be more attractive to mobile phone and tablet users. Perhaps the internet providers will baulk at the volume of data and start charging extra. Also the cloud STB TV service does rock the asymmetry between the broadcaster’s and the viewer’s equipment, as the latter would need a computer to work with the cloud service. That does not affect tablet and smartphone users but the necessary smart TV sets are sold at significant premium to normal TVs.
We have not heard the last of this idea and some more schemes will be rolled out. Already smart TV set-makers are getting involved with Samsung working with some cloud services and LG setting up its own LG Cloud service, first in the USA, South Korea and Russia and now in South Africa and soon 40 more countries. This allows users of LG CINEMA 3D smart TV sets to directly receive streaming content.
As it happens this ‘cloudy set-top box’ topic came up at the recent Connected TV Summit in London where the opinions divided between the TV operators and the telecoms companies. What a surprise! The former were generally supporting the status quo, while the telecoms people were keen on virtualising the STB. But it is still very convenient and reassuring to have the media stored in-house or fed live over-the-air by DVB, and not having to rely on the highly variable state of my live internet connection to enjoy a whole programme without fear of, or actual, interruption. There are other concerns such as possible latency when controlling a virtual STB. Overall the telecoms companies have a big job to do to persuade me to think otherwise. If they want to run, first they must learn to walk. And in my book that means superfast broadband for all!

Tags: iss078 | cloud stb | bt connection | storage | iplayer | on demand | itv player | connected tv summit | stb | dvb | Bob Pank#
Contributing Author Bob Pank#

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