IPTV is about the Plumbing.04 Nov 2008
So, I travelled to Amsterdam and visited IBC. It's been about five or so years since I was last there, and the trend du jour seemed to be virtual studios and robotic cameras. Ok, there was other stuff as well, but it seemed like an invasion of robotic camera jibs. I actually saw some robotic cameras off touring other stands and heckling the cheaper robots. OK, that's not true. They didn't heckle.
No surprise that IPTV was the watchword. It's up there with Multimedia on my list of stupid words (or acronyms). It seems the people who were talking about it the loudest, were the manufacturers of IPTV STBs (yes, there are a plethora of TLAs out there).
To digress, slightly, we're told that in no time at all, we'll be watching football clips on our mobile phones. Excuse me while I yawn. Again. We heard all about that about ten years ago, and until they create a mobile phone with a 26" screen and its own Guinness tap, I'm not for turning.
I mean, have you ever tried watching your average soccer game on a 13" portable from the other side of the room? You can only tell where the ball is by watching where the players seem to congregate. Last time I looked, my Sony Ericsson had a 1.75" screen. 'nuff said.
Now, what exactly is IPTV? Here's what Wikipedia said: "Internet Protocol Television is a system where a [tv] service is delivered using Internet Protocol over a network." Well done, Wikipedia! Straight to the point.
Some years back, I was part of an advisory group to the Irish government on digital television. Actually, it was over ten years ago, and we still don't have DTT in Ireland, so I guess we weren't much good at advising the government. Anyway, this group included people from the telco, broadcasters, cable TV heads, and me, the IP person (of sorts). It was like some sort of odd triangle.
The telcos maintained that 6Mbps DSL would change everything. The phone line would be used to deliver telephone service (naturally), IP traffic, and of course, by the Power of MPEG, digital television. The key here is the phone line.
The cable guys laughed. They said that cable could carry tons of phone lines and IP traffic while still delivering the base product; television.
As the IP hat-wearer, I was ranting about RTP, SIP, VoIP and other things, but no-one was listening. Naturally, I thought I was right.
As it happens, why do we care what the transport is?
The internet protocol suite is quite versatile. It can be layered on top of X.25, RS-232, ATM, Frame Relay, DSL, analog phone lines, TV signals, satellite and even Ethernet. It doesn't care how you carry the packet from hop to hop as long as the packet makes the journey intact. I think this is the key reason that the protocol has beat out all comers and will continue to kill off competing technologies. It's transport-agnostic.
It's a bit like me in that regard.
I don't want to answer the phone using my laptop, I don't want to watch TV on my phone, and I don't want to read emails using my TV. Call me a luddite if you will, but do it discreetly.
So, when it comes to watching TV, I'm happy to continue staring at that thing in the opposite corner of the room, with a 28" diagonal screen (yes, it's a CRT, but you've already called me a luddite).
However, I don't particularly care how the picture arrives into the thing. We watch DVDs, we sometimes watch old VHS tapes (rarely), we have a MediaMVP box which we use for watching stuff off a server, we pull stuff out of the ether using a VHF/UHF receiver, and in the past we've used Rupert Murdoch's DVB-S signal.
Does it make any difference to me, then, if the signal arrives via IP? What do you think?
So, excuse me while I just wrinkle my eyebrows, and on behalf of luddites everywhere, utter a heartfelt "huh?" when the subject of IPTV comes up.
Like I said, it's about the plumbing. And as long as TV comes out when I turn on the tap, why do I care how it got there?