Where is TV going? That is a billion(s) dollar question.
Sure TV’s are going to 4K (and even 8K … see http://money.cnn.com/2015/09/17/technology/8k-tv/). But that is not the big game changer.
The big game changer is the inevitable convergence of the technology that brings you NetFlix and the technology that brings you “normal” TV.
If you have cable TV and Internet, you have both TV and IP networking coming over the same wire. Both carry data packets. Cable TV is organized as MPEG2 transport streams. The network is tightly controlled to ensure that each packet is delivered in time for a correctly rendered picture (every now and then you might notice blocks appearing on the screen when the packets are slightly disrupted). The data only travels in one direction: from cable “head end” to your cable set top box where it is decoded and converted to a format for your TV. You tune into a channel and receive around 10 Mbps for that channel (it’s more complex than that but for our purposes it is good enough) and you are sort of guaranteed to get this bandwidth.
The IP network is much different. It carries packets in both directions. There is no guarantee that you will get packets at any given rate. However, you can get packets from anywhere in the internet (unlike the TV side of the network which allows you to get content from a limited number of channels). The way video is delivered is more complex because of this. Bits need to be buffered to ride through the vagaries of IP delays and incompatibility. Sometimes you can get 10 Mbps, sometimes you can’t.
To handle this, a lot of work has been put into what is called Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR) delivery. Without going into a lot of tedious technical detail, ABR is what allows NetFlix and YouTube and Hulu to deliver high def video to millions of viewers.
It is rapidly getting to the point that, given equivalent bandwidth to what is available for cable TV that a standard IP connection would be capable of delivering all the content that you see with cable TV. Why is this important? It enables many things:
- Infinite channels
- One infrastructure for the cable system (to be technical: DOCSIS without QAM).
- TV Guide is a web site
- TV Everywhere by default
- More personalized behavior
While some of these benefits may seem esoteric, it is likely that within 10 years this conversion will be well underway. This goes beyond “IPTV” which is basically no different in behavior to “normal” cable TV. It will make YouTube and NetFlix truly peers of CBS and HBO. That is a huge difference in the market place. It changes the way we think about content, how advertisers place ads (you may see a very different ad than your neighbor), and who controls access to the content.
Are there technical hurdles? Yes! If Netflix is consuming 30% of all North American bandwidth on the Internet, how will we handle 100’s of Netflix and an order of magnitude more viewers over the Internet? It will fundamentally change how we manage networks, distribute content, and manage access rights.
But the course is inevitable.