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2011: The Year I Plunged Into Streaming

January 14, 2012 4:35pm

2011 was the year I finally experienced the Internet as a head-on replacement for traditional broadcasting. Not just for words (the net already replaced print media in my life) but for music and “tv” broadcasts. My personal access to bandwidth had reached the tipping point where it had finally become possible to use the net as the full fledged replacement for radio and television.

This might be genuinely frightening for a few people out there in the business of broadcasting: in TV and radio. It might even be a concern for the advertising industry and the advertisers who rely on the medium to deliver the eyeballs to experience their message.

It will probably take quite a few more years in the Philippines, but the path is clear that given enough bandwidth, the Internet can fill in our addiction to audio and video content. and we may not even miss traditional TV – but we may end up wondering how did we do without the Internet to deliver content.

The tipping point in my case was bandwidth. My TV was already the “third screen” for internet consumption, after computers, and mobile devices (phones and tablets) after I had plugged it into a couple of set top boxes – a Boxee Box, and a Logitech Revue (running the Google TV platform). But the best these devices could do was act as media streamers for downloaded video files, streaming was not ideal given my sluggish bandwidth.

As for “radio“, podcasts, downloaded music, and playlists on iTunes had long replaced radio programming. But new apps like Stitcher and Tune In (available for both iOS and Android) now allow you to stream podcasts and overseas radio stations – eliminating the need to download audio files.

But back to the tipping point: This year my home DSL connection moved up from a miserly 1.8 Mbps to a fairly respectable 3 Mbps. And improvements in mobile broadband networks now meant my mobile devices could reliably expect at least a 1 Mbps signal (on a very good day and location the mobile bandwidth available even exceeds my home DSL speeds, hitting 4 Mbps and better).

An increase to 3 Mbps meant I could now watch YouTube clips without buffering regularly at 480p resolution (roughly DVD quality) – and since I could access YouTube on my TV, I now had access to the biggest repository of video content on the planet. On good days I could watch 720p (near high-def) videos with some buffering. (It turns out that PLDT caches accesses to YouTube – I verified this through the Mac app Little Snitch – so YouTube videos run smoothly on their network.)

As for mobile, improvements in 3G networks (particularly the rollout of HSPA+) meant getting reliably getting from 1-2 Mbps in Makati. At this point it allowed me to stop feeding my iPod with songs from iTunes and stream audio content directly from the cloud instead.

Here were the apps that got me hooked on streaming in 2011:

For video: The inescapable YouTube remained my go-to channel for video of all types, from viral memes to professionally produced content – and even full length features. Only now, YouTube was omnipresent – from my Mac laptop, iPad, iPod, Galaxy Tab, phones (Android and iOS), right up to my TV.

There was also Flixster and iMDB on the web and on apps for my movie trailer feed, and Boxee apps for the New York Times video feeds and Leo Laporte’s TWIT podcast network. For streaming US TV content via a Slingbox connection, I have Slingplayer on the iPad and on the web. Through the magic of proxies, I also access Hulu and Amazon Instant Video (movies and TV specials) on my laptop. I’m considering adding Netflix for 2012.

With all this going on, who has time for local cable?

For audio, I rely on two free go-to internet radio apps on my mobile devices – Sticher and Tune-In (available for both iOS and Android). These allow me to stream hundreds of podcasts and foreign radio stations. NPR also has a number of apps that provide access to the programs for free.

For music, there is Spotify, a commercial service that alows you to create playlists out of a selection of thousands of tracks already in the cloud. Spotify’s music service is so comprehensive, I have given up on stuffing my iPod with new content. Also through the magic of proxies, I have taken to using Pandora, another cloud-based music service with pre-defined playlists of different music genres. I sometimes use Google Music for accessing my own music collection through the cloud.

These are all early days. For 2012 I hope to see my home bandwidth options increase and prices kept reasonable – I’m looking at hitting 10-12 Mbps this year. At some point I might also just chuck away my internet tv set top boxes and plug in a real computer to the TV – maybe a Mac mini via an HDMI cable. And increasingly the concept of TV itself is becoming decentralized since you can use a laptop or tablet to view the same content anywhere at home.

I also see streaming replacing my car entertainment, through content streamed into my smartphone and hooked into the car stereo system via bluetooth. The Philippines never got satellite radio stations like XM, but that point might now be irrelevant when digital audio content already comes to you via mobile internet.

I don’t see any of these technologies become mainstream soon. For the forseeable future these will be the playground of crazed early adopters like myself and some like-minded geeks who might find each other on some Facebook group. This is all still too complicated for the masses. But you never know when the next tipping point will arrive to make this all explode into the mainstream. I give it three years.

Skycable has already seen the signs through its Iwanttv.com.ph site that allows you to view video content on demand on your laptop or tablet. In a few more years I see Skycable becoming less like Comcast and more like Netflix. This is the inevitable future.

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Here’s a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that backs me up here: Cutting the Cord on Cable

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Google TV’s CES 2012 presentation gives us a glimpse of what’s possible now on Internet TV:


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