IPTV Technology Brings Free Satellite Broadcasts to Your Computer
Over the last few years, as fast internet connections have become the standard for more and more Americans, software has been developed by a number of companies and at least one defunct non-profit project to allow live video streaming (generally from broadcast satellite feeds) to people's computers for no additional money down.
Internet Protocol Television (IPTV), as it's called, is based on the same kind of peer-to-peer data distribution technology that made audio services like Napster famous to many young users (and infamous to corporate honchos). It is also the same kind of technology that makes the BitTorrent file sharing protocol so popular.
To quote the IPTV Guide produced by Lovelace Consulting in 2006, "In order to support peer-to-peer distribution, a proportion of the users need to contribute their storage, processing and network resources in exchange for their participation."
So the more users helping distribute a particular file in peer-to-peer file distribution service like BitTorrent, the faster all the users (who are temporarily donating their computer's processor, storage and upload bandwith) will be able to download the file. The same is true of streaming data like a live TV broadcast over a peer-to-peer network. For IPTV services, the more users that are watching a channel online, the better the connection will be for all of them.
Long story short, IPTV lets you watch TV from all over the world. Live and for free. Pretty cool. But how can that work economically, savvy readers may ask? Simple.
Unbeknownst to all but a few amateur radio geeks (like yours truly), amateur satellite freaks (ditto), and professional engineers, there's a whole bunch of free TV being sent via satellite all the time. It's actually called "free-to-air TV" and in the recent past the only way to see it was if you got a big giant dish for C-band, and/or a much smaller dish for KU-band, stuck said dishes in your yard or on your roof, carefully aimed them at the appropriate satellites, bought or built the appropriate converter box, and hooked it all up to your TV. Total costs could run into the thousands, plus regular maintenance.
But now all that has changed. So here's a quick peek at a couple of free services you can try on your PC (sorry Mac users) right now. The first and probably best is called the TVUPlayer from TVUnetworks. It's really easy to use - and no account is required. Just download the software, start it up, and it gives you a "channel view" window with a scrolling list of dozens of satellite channels, plus a growing number of streaming internet channels. What's really neat about the latter is that TVUnetworks will host your own streaming TV channel for free. Several major global channels are available including Comedy Central, SciFi Channel, CNBC, various movie channels, and France24/English. Much programming is also on offer in languages other than English.
TVUNetworks is owned by Shanghai and Mountain View, CA based millionaire, Paul Shen. The company has already weathered a certain amount of controversy after fights with some TV networks over his redistribution of their satellite feeds. Find the TVUPlayer at http://www.tvunetworks.com/.
The second service, still in beta, is called Livestation. According to Wikipedia, it is being developed by Skinkers Ltd based on peer-to-peer technology acquired from Microsoft Research. To use the service - which offers superior picture quality compared to older services like TVUNetworks - you'll need to sign up to be a beta tester at http://www.livestation.com. This is no more difficult than signing up for a user account on most web sites, except that you might have to wait a few hours to be granted access.
Once you are confirmed as a beta tester, you can sign in, download the Livestation software, run it, sign in to your account, and get access to 10 video channels and 2 radio channels. Most are major English-language news channels--most interesting of which is the much-defamed and lately foundering Al Jazeera, which is only otherwise available live as part of paid satellite packages in the United States.
Once logged in to either of these services, you will be rewarded with access to news, views and entertainment from around the world. It will be interesting to see if Livestation takes off, and begins to compete head-to-head with TVUNetworks. Right now TVU has the clear advantage in terms of the sheer number of channels it gives users access to, but Livestation could give it a run for its money in the quality department.
So save money on cable TV and pay satellite TV costs today and catch the IPTV wave.
For more information on the many available IPTV services, go tohttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P2PTV.