Google TV and Apple TV have been making the news rounds for months. Are you interested in Web TV? This article will help you pick from the many options.
Video killed the radio star, the Internet killed record stores, and choice is killing television. A nice, bloody chain of events, and we are right in the middle of it.
Long gone are the days when mothers would drive their kids to the record store to spend their allowance on a few albums; Napster came in 1999, and teenagers the world over fed their music addiction by downloading the singles they wanted to own. A couple of years later, MP3 players turned ever-growing collections of digital singles into personalized, mobile record stores. They called this the digital music revolution, and it turned the music industry around.
The secret ingredient in that revolution, as well as the TV revolution that is taking place: choice. Teenagers in the late 90’s were not satisfied with spending money on an entire album when they only wanted the single. Today’s generation will not take “Oh, you can only watch that at 9:00 P.M. on Fridays” for an answer, and they do not want to subscribe to OSN’s full package just to watch a few NBA games.
Ladies and gentlemen, brace yourself for Internet TV, led by industry giants Apple, Google, and Amazon as well Internet companies like Netflix, Boxee and Roku. The exciting part is that there are radical differences in how these companies are approaching TV, giving us a wide spectrum of possibilities to experiment with as consumers.
Apple TV — a little box priced at $99 that hooks up to your existing TV equipment — aims to make watching digital content as simple as possible: users can rent movies and shows from Apple or from Netflix Watch Instantly. Downloads cannot be stored on the device itself, but have to be streamed from a PC or Mac running iTunes 10. As is the case usually with Apple devices, Apple TV does not support many file formats, such as DIVX, which is prevalent among Internet downloads.
Google TV, on the other hand, is more open; it does not attempt to simplify the digital TV experience, but to expand it. Regardless of what the name suggests, Google TV is a software bundled with third-party devices. Sony is going to build Google TV-compatible HDTVs and Blu-ray players, Logitech will produce standalone boxes, and Intel will power the devices with their Atom processor. The software aims to allow users to access the web from their TV sets, to watch shows from video sites like YouTube, or simply to surf the Internet using a built in general-purpose browser.
The race is not only on for hardware and interface. Netflix, an online DVD rental service, has 15 million subscribers and is the leader in digital content provision. Plan prices range from around $5 to less than $20, and the “Watch Instantly” feature streams unlimited near-DVD quality movies and shows to a television set, a computer, or a mobile device. Amazon’s “Video On Demand” service is very similar. Hulu, on the other hand, enables users to watch popular TV shows and movies online for free, and we’re not talking small independent movies. They have thousands of videos from Fox, E! Entertainment, MGM, Sony, NBC and others. Their Hulu Plus package enables users to access the same content on a computer, iPad, iPhone, television, and other devices for only $10.
So, a TV fan can choose between buying the “Lost: Complete Collection” DVD package for $148.99 on Amazon, or pay around $10 to be able to watch the series whenever he or she wants on a TV, computer, or mobile device. Amazing, isn’t it? Our television sets are turning into the record store’s video alternative (Hammoudeh, in Jordan’s case).
Yet, all these great services aside, the question at this point for those of us who do not live in the United States is not whether to invest in Google TV, Apple TV, Netflix, or any of the other remaining options. What we need to be asking is do we even need Internet TV just yet?
I know that I don’t. With modest Internet speeds, unreliable connectivity, and capped bandwidth, watching a 10-minute YouTube video on a laptop’s browser is an unpleasant enough experience. Depending on my Internet connection to catch up weekly with an episode of Mad Men is more horrifying than it is exciting.
Internet TV may be the future, and these technologies will all have a hand in changing the TV industry. For now though, I will personally continue to look forward to technological advancements that will not depend on Jordan’s awful service providers, and get my DVDs from Hammoudeh.
Stay tuned, though. The TV revolution will catch on.
Originally published in Venture magazine
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