Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Reinventing Radio

I have been working on a simple streaming radio station project. In the process, I thought about the whole satellite radio thing.

Some speculation: what happens when wireless data access is good enough that it can be integrated into consumer products such as portable radios? There are some UI considerations, but what if Live365 was available on your car's stereo?

A while back, Nextel was testing the "wireless broadband" service in our area, and I was fortunate enough to try it. I really liked it. When reading the documentation, I noticed the curious admonition that I shouldn't use it while operating a moving vehicle. Of course, I then had to do just that to see why.

It still is not clear to my why they told me to not use it while driving my car, but I can say that it worked. It was cool to be able to drive around with a laptop streaming internet radio.

My guess is that we will be able to do that at some point with edge phones that connect to our bluetooth car stereo system. It should be interesting, since it is actually quite easy to set up a streaming service. I can see very focused regional broadcasters that otherwise couldn't be supported in traditional broadcasting.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Video Furnace Mon Amor

I went to a demo of Video Furnace yesterday. It is a solution that allows you to offer cable services over IP. It has several pieces:

  • An encoder that takes a video source (s-video,composite or cable) and turns that into a mpeg-4 stream.
  • A program channel manager and on-demand video server.
  • A desktop client that has an integrated channel guide, authentication. It is essentially TV for your computer. It requires no install, but does require java.

It's biggest appeal is that it allows telecom to stop using coax. They can use this to send TV channels over ethernet. However, it requires a separate encoder for each channel. If you carry 32 channels of TV, you need 32 encoders.

The system can support HD resolution video, but they can't encode it yet. The demo I saw yesterday showed content at 320x240, but I know it will do double that comfortably.

It's strength and weakness is that it is an end-to-end solution. As a replacement for cable television, I think it is quite viable. The player has nice features, you can open more than one channel at once, and the program guide is nicely designed. I'd use it instead of regular TV if they would let me time-shift programming (they don't). I did ask them about accessibility and the CEO said they supported captioning, but didn't know if the player would work with a screen reader. I didn't think to ask at the time, but I wonder if it would be possible to allow users to roam (log in and watch TV anywhere).

I am more skeptical about it being a solution to replace other kinds of video delivery. The channel metaphor it uses is limiting in some ways. It isn't a replacement for a commodity streaming media service, where content can be found using Google. It would be interesting if they were to integrate a search engine and RSS reader into their software, so that coursework content could live alongside Cartoon Network.

In the end, I think the whole channel idea is on it's last legs. I think what we see with YouTube, GoogleVideo and iTunes is the future.