Since televisions were first introduced to the general public at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City, the technology used to record, produce, deliver and watch television shows has undergone an astonishing number of transformations and improvements.
While the number of technological innovations over the last seventy years have been numerous, the most notable advancements were the ones that either improved the quality of the picture on the screen, increased the quantity of television programming or made watching your favourite television show more convenient.
For example, the introduction of the colour television and high-definition television dramatically improved picture quality. Cable, and more recently digital cable, increased the number of channels and quantity of programming available to us. Video Cassette recorders (VCRs) and Digital Video Recorders (DVR) made TV watching more convenient thanks to the ability to record and time shift. Innovations such as the DVD players, Blu-ray players and Video on Demand (VOD) improved the quality of the signal, the quantity of programming and made watching our favourite movie more convenient.
Many television industry analysts believe the next big technological advancement that will dramatically change the way we consume television programming is Internet Television.
- WHERE CAN YOU ACCESS STREAMING CONTENT Game consoles: All three big game consoles can pull in streaming (or downloaded) content, though offerings vary. You can subscribe to Netflix on all three consoles, download movies and TV shows on PS3 and Xbox. MLB on PS3 offers live streaming baseball. Set top boxes: Boxee, Roku, Western Digital's WD TV Live Hub, several Blu-ray players from LG, Samsung, Sony, Philips and Panasonic offer connectivity to streaming content. Internet TVs: Several TV's from LG, Samsung, Sony and Vizio offer content in the U.S. but fare is limited in Canada
In simple terms, Internet television is a subscription service that streams video content from a content creator or distributor to a consumer over the Internet. The best known Internet television provider in Canada today is Netflix, which began service in this country in late September.
Netflix is an $8-a-month service that gives the subscriber the ability to stream a selection of movies and television shows over the Internet to a Netflix-enabled device. What makes Netflix so appealing is you can access it on multiple devices, including a TV, a smart phone, an Apple iPad, a Blu-ray player, a video game console such as a Wii, Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 or it could be a specialized device, commonly called a media extender such as Roku, or WDTV Live.
After Netflix's launch in Canada, some media analysts here suggested that Internet television would lead to the demise cable and satellite companies as consumers cancel their cable and satellite subscriptions and sign up with companies like Netflix. While the thought of the Internet being the great leveller that brings the cable and satellite giants to their knees, the truth is that Internet television is not going to make you cancel your cable subscription any time soon because it does address several of the key benefits that will make it a transformative technology: improved picture quality, increased quantity of programming and convenience.
While it succeeds in making it more convenient to watch television, Internet television is not the great technological advancement that analysts predict because it fails to deliver anywhere near the picture quality and depth of programming we get from cable and satellite providers today.
While Internet television provider Netflix delivers a decent video signal comparable to standard definition television, it pales in comparison to the high definition picture quality delivered via cable or Blu-ray. The other area where Internet television suffers is the lack of programming. While Netflix has an extensive catalogue of older movies and TV shows, it does not have the latest network shows and new release movies that consumers crave.
Proponents will argue that the age of television via the Internet is just getting started and that in the future, subscribers will be able to look forward to improved picture quality and newer shows. The problem with this thinking is that it ignores the fact that content providers are spending billions to produce movies and television shows and they want to be paid for it.
The reason Netflix can offer consumers unlimited streaming of their catalogue of programming for just $8 a month is because they are paying movie and television studios a fraction of what it cost to create the programming. The studios have already earned their profits from this content so the extra money they earn from Netflix is gravy. In the future, if Internet television providers want to be able to offer their customers new release movies and the latest television shows, they will need to enter into multi-billion dollar agreements with studios, which will force them to charge consumers considerably more than $8 a month they are charging today.
For the next decade, the convenience and low cost of Internet Television should ensure that it finds an audience, albeit a limited on. However, Internet televisions reduced picture quality and limited content selection will mean that it will be a long time, if ever, before it begins to threaten the dominance of cable and satellite television.
Hugh Thompson is the owner and publisher of Digital Home , a consumer electronics news and information website. As a voice for the Canadian consumer, Hugh is a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country discussing the latest in consumer electronics and the business of convergence in the Digital Home.
Hugh's column will appear on the first Wednesday of the month.