After Hours

Peter Cochrane's Blog: My changing TV habits

IPTV - it's the future...

Written on BA6947 flying from Malaga to Gatwick Airport and dispatched to silicon.com via a free wi-fi service in London a day later

IPTV is gradually taking over my viewing time as conventional TV content seems to be declining in quality and relevance.

During my early career I moved homes many times as job changes cropped up frequently. But gradually things stabilised, and my wife and I were blessed with children. So we decided to provide the family with 100 per cent domestic stability. I would have to travel. And it has been like that for more than 34 years.

During the early days our first real family home had black and white TV (VHF) at 405 lines. But it wasn't long before colour (UHF) and 625 lines arrived. Life was simple! One antenna and one coaxial down lead did the trick.

In our second home life became far more complex. There, we saw the arrival of CATV, VHS, satcom, DVD and Freeview (Digital TV to Air). The multiple set-top box, coax and controller world had arrived. What a mess - now you need a PhD in engineering to get a picture.

Of course, during this time we moved from three to hundreds of channels with a related deterioration in programme quality and a complete change in viewing habits. I now rely upon serendipity to chance upon something interesting or entertaining. I no longer look at programme listings as there is little chance that my free time will line up with what is available.

Today our circumstances have changed again as the children have left home to carve out their own careers and lives. And so we are about to move home again and have to contemplate all our broadcast and communications requirements. Fortunately, or unfortunately, this move entails a near complete rebuild of a property and the installation of around 2km of new phone, intercom, security, smoke alarm, broadcast and Ethernet wiring.

For me this was a novel situation and I have had to think it through. Although a full wi-fi network is a given, I still installed a lot of CAT5 (Ethernet) cable. In fact, every broadcast node throughout the house has CAT5 as well as coax. Why? Because I realised that we watch an awful lot of TV via the internet and I can see it gradually taking over.

What is happening? As far as I can tell my total screen time average per day has remained near constant for many years. However, my work output has accelerated with the speed of processing and communication, plus the power of software applications.

In contrast, my conventional TV viewing time has gone down and I almost always use the big screen to watch movies or news. And even here the movies tend to be on DVD and not off air.

Bit by bit my viewing and screen time habits have changed markedly over a period of 10 years or so. I now envisage a computer at every TV point along with all the other set-top boxes. And looking at the storage space dedicated to DVDs I can see that I am going to have to get around to transferring the entire collection onto a server ASAP.

So, what happens next? The arrival of High Definition screens, movies and programmes, plus more boxes and controllers? I reckon! But I also see some scope for simplification. At the present rate of migration our new home will be dominated by IPTV within five years and I'll be wondering what to do with all that old coax and a lot of boxes.

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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