What good are 500 channels if only a handful of shows are worth watching?
There is an antidote to this surfeit of “worthless” channels. It lies in providing ‘content coach potatoes’ – not just more channels to surf – but control over what to watch and when, according to Aaron Keogh, director of business development for MatrixStream Technologies.
The San Mateo, Calif-based firm is selling a wide range of products for Internet Protocol (IP) Television that it says enables broadband service providers offer control to their viewers at a cheaper price.
Up until two years ago, the Internet was not considered a reliable medium due to such issues as lack of high speed transport, IP traffic congestion and packet drops, Keogh said.
Traditional IPTV streaming, he said, only supported legacy video codecs and didn’t work over “best effort” IP networks. The providers required Quality of Service (QoS) guarantees that meant spending millions of dollars to upgrade their broadband networks.
MatrixStream, Keogh said, is offering an alternative that will allow broadcasters to send out high definition TV (HDTV)-quality images even over networks with limited bandwidth.
“We’re the Vonage of IPTV. Service providers can plug our system to any broadband network and play the highest definition images at the lowest price,” said Keogh.
He said for less than US$250,000 a MatrixStream system capable of supporting 10,000 viewers with concurrent service could be set up without upgrading network infrastructure.
The system can scale up or down so Keogh says “potentially anyone with a broadband connection can be a broadcaster, it all depends on your level of commitment to your viewers.”
The system enables viewers to watch programs whenever they want and provides controls such as stop, rewind, fast forward, slow motion and gives access to additional sports event statistics.
On-demand, self-programming and search features that allow consumers to bypass ads entirely are expected to change the television industry in the next five years.
The company’s flagship product is its IMX 2400 server with extended memory specification (XMS) streaming protocol. The server is designed to stream to TV instantly as opposed to the progressive downloads over the Internet that take 30 seconds or longer. It also enables standard and HD streaming over so-called low-cost “best effort” networks which do provide any special features that recover lost or corrupted data.
The server is capable of 64x fast forward and reverse speeds and is designed to stream to a full TV screen. It also supports encryption to ensure only registered viewers can access shows and allows providers to offer flexibility of billing.
Other products in the system include encoders that transform signals to IP format for streaming over public or private networks, a personal computer (PC) player for viewing programs, and a small HD-enabled set top box for viewing programs on a TV.
Keogh said that apart from VOD, the system will support full-bore IPTV with the addition of infrastructure and video decoders for each channel. Depending on the services they offer, broadcasters may also need a storage area network for content, load balancers and digital rights management software.
MatrixStream is a business-to-business firm and does not deal with the end users. “We’re an equipment maker but we don’t sell broadcast equipment or content,” Keogh said.
He said potential users of the system could include private enterprise networks, schools and long distance education networks.
“There’s a great demand for public access online libraries, e-learning and companies can hold training sessions and or lectures via IPTV,” said Keogh.
The development of IPTV is evidence that the Internet is diverging in important ways.
Keogh said video will drive growth in networking as cable operators and telecommunications companies move toward new technologies including IPTV.
MatrixStream, he said, can deliver broadcast quality video for private networks over 300 to 400 Kbps (kilobits per second), DVD-quality over 750 Kbps to 1 Mbps (megabits per second) and 720p HD over 2 Mbps and 1080p HD over 6 Mbps.
Keogh said there are over 1,300 free IPTV channels available.
At least one Canadian Internet industry observer, the IPTV market is still at its infancy in Canada.
“The technology is still in its early stages in Canada,” said Tony Olvet vice-president of communications practices for the Toronto-based research firm IDC Canada Inc.
Regulations also present another worry in the IPTV market.
He said as of March 2006 a survey of 1,000 Canadian households revealed that less than one per cent had IPTV service. There were no growth projections for Canada, but the U.S. IPTV market is expected to grow from 180,000 subscribers (last year) to 5.1 million by 2009.
“Telcos are rolling out IPTV services largely as a defensive measure against cable operators,” Olvet said.
The expectation, he said, is to generate increased revenue through video-related services over the IP network.
According to IDC Canada, Manitoba Telecom Service (MTS) in Winnipeg, Manitoba had 50,000 IPTV subscribers as of last year. Saskatchewan Telecommunication (Sasktel) Max in Regina, Saskatchewan had 34,000 subscribers, Telus TV in British Columbia had 2,000 subscribers and Bell Canada Inc. in Ontario is currently carrying out technical trials.