Pervasive digital video coming sooner than you might have thought

04 Jan 2005|Added Value

We’ve been talking about the convergence of data for years now (see our POV piece Designing Digital Experiences for Youth). As in, convergence is all about getting your data (music, video, games, etc.) from multiple devices in multiple locations and long ago stopped being about the silver-bullet, all-in-one device.

Some recent events are very interesting in the realm of video as it relates to convergence.

TiVo announced the rollout of TiVoToGo, a service that allows their subscribers to transfer TV content from their TiVo box to a PC or laptop. I haven’t tried it yet, but if the download times aren’t excessive and content availability isn’t severely compromised by copyright protections, this could be a big deal.

There’s also a similar offering from Sling Media. Their Sling Box is a personal broadcaster that can redirect any video–such as a cable or broadcast feed–from your home to any screen you carry, as long as it has a wireless Internet connection. It plugs into a TiVo, cable box, satellite receiver or stereo and converts the analog stream into digital bits. The software detects the size of the handheld screen and the speed of the Internet link, then compresses the broadcast into suitably sized digital chunks for delivery onto your PDA or laptop (mobile phones too potentially, once there’s higher-speed access available).

I also recently read about BitTorrent, which is a hugely successful peer-to-peer program. BitTorrent lets users quickly upload and download enormous amounts of data, files that are hundreds or thousands of times bigger than a single MP3. It was designed as a cheap way to swap Linux software online, but the real audience turns out to be TV and movie fanatics. More than 20 million people have downloaded the BitTorrent application (and, according to CacheLogic, BitTorrent traffic accounts for more than one-third of all data sent across the Internet). Why?–it takes hours to download a ripped episode of Alias or Monk off Kazaa, but BitTorrent can do it in minutes.

What this all points to is the fact that digital video content anywhere you want it may become as pervasive as music content much sooner than any of us may have thought. Which, on the surface of things, brings to mind unprecedented convenience (I can have a lot more relevant video choices when I travel) and horrors (imagine someone watching TV on their PDA in their car in traffic).

But the deeper issue is, what is the meaningful experience that these offerings provide for us as consumers? Why should we care? How will our lives be improved? How will having access to digital video wherever you are (adding “place-shifting” on top of TiVo’s/PVR’s “time-shifting”) be different from having access to digital music wherever?

On a personal note, I get why iTunes and the iPod are, despite their many flaws, meaningful to me (it’s “my” stuff, it’s easily portable, it’s easier to shop/obtain files, it can be very spontaneous, etc.). I’m not yet sure what the equivalent is for me when it comes to video. Maybe it’s just me–I’m only a sample of one 😉

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