Technobuddy: Forget cable; TV’s future is on the Net

1296540011 80 Technobuddy: Forget cable; TVs future is on the Net

In most homes today, the way we watch TV is no different from when Lassie had audiences pantingfor more.

The programming available is still determined by large media companies. when I was a kid, thethree big networks made that decision. Nowadays, satellite and cable providers are in the game. Butfor most of us, it’s the same deal as it was for my parents. You select what you watch from a menudetermined by others.

In the past few years, thanks to high-speed Internet service, a revolution has been brewing. Asthat revolution comes to a boil, it will make 3-D TV and the move to HDTV seem trivial.

If I’m right, in the next few years you’ll routinely sit in front of your big-screen TV andselect from programming from around the world, moving from a comedy on Ireland’s RTE network to adrama aired in the 1950s by the BBC.

But that’s only the start. if you wish, you can have a steady diet of Jackie Gleason. or watchdocumentaries from dawn to dark. whatever your tastes in TV, you’ll be able to easily indulge them.for the first time you’ll be in control of your television.

This change is well under way. a small group of people already are doing all this at home. Evenfor that group, the big changes are yet to come.

Here’s how things have progressed:

All this started when the giant bandwidth of high-speed Internet made it possible for televisionstations and media companies to gain worldwide viewership by piping video programming into homesusing the Web. and outfits such as Netflix begin offering movies for instant download.

Once such a startling innovation, the DVD started to look like an old-fashioned and clunky wayto watch movies.

But as I said, that’s only the beginning.

As often happens, it took a combination of changes, of shifts in the landscape, to create whatwill become a technological avalanche.

For one thing, the fact that the cost of distributing video over the Internet is almost trivialopened things up to new players who wouldn’t have been able to afford a seat at the table in theold days.

The ability to distribute programs easily and cheaply let companies such as Apple, Hulu, Google,Boxee and numerous others to begin offering, via the Internet, a wide range of programming: moviesfrom the big studios, TV shows both old and new, almost everything that has been recorded on eitherfilm or video.

But in these early days, the programming has been relegated to a small group of viewers comparedwith those who get their TV from cable or satellite.

And most of those who do watch sit at the screen of a computer to do it. That means viewing allthis content is a solitary affair. Few families gather around the computer monitor.

It has been handy to watch a movie on a laptop screen while traveling, or to check out a YouTubevideo on a flat-screen monitor sitting on a desk.

Manufacturers have started marketing HDTVs with Internet connectivity that brings the contentI’ve been talking about to the big screen in your den or living room. But many of us already havepurchased – for big bucks – an HDTV without that ability.

Luckily, the aisles of consumer electronics stores are crowded with add-on devices that open thecontent up to you. there are DVD players (priced under $200) that can pipe all this to yourexisting TV; or you can pick up a game console such as the Sony PlayStation that can do thejob.

No matter which device you choose, there’s usually no software to load. All that’s required is awired or wireless way to connect to the Internet.

I grew up in what folks call the Golden Age for broadcast TV. I think this is the Golden Age forInternet-based TV. and this is just the dawn of that age. new devices that go beyond today’sInternet-connected TVs, DVD players and the like will widen the amount of programming even more asthey become easier to use and less buggy.

For now, the best shot for an easy-to-use way to sample these new offerings is through anInternet-connected TV or an add-on device. The picture quality is excellent and the hassles few.But this is the beginning of a huge shift; truly, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

I plan to follow this shift and need your help. if you’re watching TV using the Internet -whether it’s on an Internet-connected TV, DVD player or a device from Boxee or Apple – write me andlet me know about the good and the bad. with your help, I’ll keep a close watch on what I think isan important change in technology.

Bill Husted, a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution technology writer, can be reached attecbud@

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