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Must See IPTV

Apropos of this week's Vote question, I recently came across an item from TVB.org (formerly the Television Bureau of Advertising), which analyzed the November Nielsen data and found that wired-cable service to American TV households has hit a 21-year low, though it's still the dominant TV delivery system at 60.7 percent. Meanwhile, what that group calls "alternate delivery systems" (ADS)—which in this case means only satellite and microwave broadcasting, not over-the-air or online—has hit an all-time high of 30.5 percent.

This leaves just 8.8 percent of American households receiving their TV mostly via terrestrial broadcasting or online streaming (aka IPTV). I would have guessed that the majority of those households use terrestrial, but now I'm not so sure. At this week's Tron: Legacy screening, I was chatting with a middle-aged couple who told me they had dumped all other forms of TV reception in favor of IPTV to save money. When I asked about the picture quality, I was surprised to hear that they still use an old standard-def CRT TV, so SD content and compression artifacts don't make as much of an impact as they would with an HDTV.

Of course, many households have more than one form of TV reception, and I suspect that those with IPTV also have at least one of the more traditional delivery systems as well. But despite its generally lower quality, the appeal of online streaming in terms of convenience and cost is undeniable. And given the fact that many TVs and Blu-ray players come with online connectivity and Internet widgets these days, increasing market penetration is inevitable.

Other than improving the picture quality—which will take a major increase in generally available online bandwidth—the biggest problem is that most Internet-enabled TVs, Blu-ray players, and set-top boxes offer access only to content from providers that have established partnerships with the hardware manufacturers. The only way to get everything that's available online is with a full-blown computer, a device that is too intimidating for many folks to use comfortably in their media system. I keep hoping for an appliance-type device that provides access to all online content, but it seems I must continue to wait for that. (After seeing a demo, I thought Google TV might be the ticket, and I just got a Logitech Revue to try out, but some content sources—Hulu, for example—are still unavailable that way.)

As our Vote question about quality vs. convenience clearly illustrates, most UAV readers prefer quality, and I am squarely in that camp. But I have no doubt that IPTV will continue to gain ground, and I look forward to watching it improve in both quality and universal access.

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