Sunday, December 17

The Problem With Over The Air Television

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Over the air television does not provide competition to cable and satellite television service.  It never has and it never will.  While it is true that the average individual does not realize that he now has anywhere from four to twelve times as many choices over the air than he did before the digital transition, cable and satellite television providers themselves have benefited from the use of digital technology since the early nineties.

What is available over the air will never come close to matching what is available through closed networks.  Do not get me wrong, over the air is cool and I like the fact that you can get a high definition picture the way that it was intended to be viewed for free.  Cable and satellite providers still compress their signal, so while it is high definition, it is not the way that it was intended to be viewed, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.  The average consumer does not know this and quite honestly does not care.

The thing is, over the air television is for hobbyists that like the novelty of seeing just what they can do with their equipment.  These same hobbyists will hook antennas up to their computer and record programs and upload them to YouTube.  They will also purchase DVD recorders and high definition VCRs.  They want to tinker.  When these same hobbyists subscribe to cable and satellite television they purchase tuning adapters, ask about how they can hook their DVR up to a computer and have their own TiVo.  But your average cable and satellite consumer is not a hobbyist.

That is not a bad thing.  The way that I see it, most over the air enthusiasts are analogous to those that own PCs and cable and satellite consumers are more like those that own a Mac.  The former wants to push the envelope of the technical limitations of the device and the later want something that works.  A lot of articles have been written extolling the virtues of over the air programming and how it has changed.  But at the end of the day it hasn’t changed, it has simply matured with new advances in technology and is where one would expect for it to be given the changes that digital transmission methods have brought to the marketplace.

The most obvious improvement is that people now have a program guide that tells them what is coming on in the future.  Whether or not that guide is interactive depends on how expensive of a digital to analog converter you have purchased, or if you already have a digital television, what your television manufacturer is willing to throw in.  The real enemy of traditional cable and satellite systems is Internet video.  You can purchase an expensive Internet enabled television, a cheap $20 router, a cheap $50 computer, and an Internet connection for $50 a month and have a viable alternative to cable television.  Only a die hard hobbyist would appreciate it, but the possibilities are there.

The only reason why Internet television is not taken seriously is the same reason why Linux is not taken seriously.  Both offer entirely too many methods to count to accomplish the same goals.  Whereas Linux has an infinite amount of distributions, Internet television has an infinite amount of methods to watch video.  Do you use stand alone software or do you watch it online through your browser?  Do you use YouTube, Hulu, Fancast, or the website of the broadcaster?  How do you filter through millions of independently edited, amateur produced videos?  Do you watch it for free or do you pay money?  Do you download video or do you stream it?  Do you watch it on one device or any number of devices?

My approach to Internet television is the same that I use for cable television.  I stopped surfing channels, found the programs that I want to watch and record them on my DVR.  I only use YouTube for my Internet video needs, as quite honestly, there is entirely too much content out there to take the time out to look for it anywhere else.  I find content producers I like, subscribe to their channels, and then go into my subscriptions throw a hundred videos in queue and watch them one at a time.  YouTube removes videos from my queue as I watch them, and if I leave for a few months only the latest 100 videos are available for consumption.  It is the exact same principle as my DVR.

I love Internet video but there is entirely too much to keep track of.  With a cheap Internet connection why would I even want to waste time hooking up an antenna?  If you are a fan of network television and cannot get enough of it over the air television might offer a viable solution.  But if you are already on the Internet every waking hour of the day as I am the only reason to sit in front of the television is to be sociable.  An Internet ready television offers the opportunity to watch what you would watch online to be watched on an actual television, without the hassles of digital tiling (pixelization), interruptions in audio, a black screen or loss of audio.  It is a true alternative that makes you forget about over the air television.


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