Google TV, Apple TV, & Roku's Biggest Enemy: A lack of Internet Bandwidth

Google TV, Apple TV, & Roku's Biggest Enemy: A lack of Internet Bandwidth

Summary: Google TV, Apple TV and Roku's real enemy are not each other, but the fact that there's not enough Internet broadband to go around.

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I'm sure the future of TV is on the Internet. It used to be that you needed to be an audio/visual pro to set up an Internet/TV connection . Now, Google TV, mark two of the Apple TV, and the Roku XDS make it easy for anyone to do it. Better still, on many new HDTVs and high-end DVD players, like my own Sony BDP-S570 Blu-Ray Disc Player, come with Internet video built-in.

So, which is the best? That's a question for another day. My concern today is that for any of these to work they need a serious Internet broadband connection. You may have one today--I currently have a 20Mbps cable connection--but what happens when everyone needs one and when ISPs start placing bandwidth caps on home accounts?

Many ISPs, such as Comcast, Charter, and Cox, already have bandwidth caps ranging from 20GBps to 250GBs (GigaBytes). I suspect all the rest will add them soon. Now, 250GBs may sound like a lot and it is-it's 50 million emails (at 0.05 KB/email); 62,500 songs downloads (at 4 MB/song) or 125 standard-definition (SD) movies (at 2 GB/movie)--but since Internet TV devices use streaming video and HD video takes up a lot of bandwidth I see trouble ahead.

Here's how the math of Internet TV works. First, all Internet video is highly compressed. It has to be. Raw or lightly compressed with MPEG2 Over the Air (OTA) video for ordinary old 480i TV takes up an average of 2.5Mbps; 720p/1080i OTA HD averages around 15Mbps. 1080p, which you only really get from Blu-Ray players, takes up 40Mbps.

Cable is the most common kind of broadband that can deliver a fast enough connection for Internet TV. The technology that the fastest cable uses, Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) 3.0, can share up to 304Mbps between 50 to 400 customers.

The average U.S. Internet connection in 2009 was a mere 5.1Mbps. That placed the U.S. a dismal 29th in the world. This does not bode well for Internet video quality.

OK, so by now you've figured out that you're not going to get high-quality HDTV over the vast majority of Internet connections during prime-time. The video companies figured that out long before you did. That's why all Internet TV providers use lossy video compression codecs such as H.264, VC-1 or MP4. With these codecs in use, typical 720p HDTV Internet TV bandwidth requirements are Apple TV with 4Mbps; Hulu at 2.5Mbps; and Netflix at 5Mbps.

All of these are watchable, but if you're a videophile, you're not going to be happy. To show 720p video the video providers set their video codecs to throw out a lot of data. This can be downright painful to watch if you have a trained eye and you're watching a movie with a lot of action or complex imagery. If you have an 'average' connection, it still means you're likely to see video-stuttering and other artifacts of bandwidth starvation that doesn't require an expert eye to spot.

It's not going to get better. Even if you're lucky enough to have FiOS with its 620Mbps per 32-user capacity, the video providers aren't, and probably couldn't if they wanted to, providing higher-quality video for these users. I think both the video content companies and the ISPs are going to have their hands full delivering enough bandwidth to just keep the flood of new Apple TV users happy, never-mind everyone else.

I love the idea of kissing my cable TV bill good-bye, and I probably will soon with the arrival of Hulu Plus. I also know though that, even though Internet devices like the Google TV-compatible Logitech Revue are making it easier than ever to view TV over the Internet, Internet bandwidth caps and shortages will keep Internet TV's quality low.

Topics: Mobility, Apple, Browser, Google, Hardware

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27 comments
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  • You said

    "I?m sure the future of TV is on the Internet."

    I sure don't know anyone other than a few geeks that think so. Well that's not exactly true, providers sure want to see it happen so they can track usage and then spam everyone into oblivion.

    Myself, when I pull up in front of the TV I do not want to "interact" with it, I want to be entertained, not fuss with a gadget or have links poping up, ot recieve spam or anything else. I just want to watch a show or movie, nothing more.

    If I want to muck about on the internet I have multiple computers around the house with an internet connection, thank you very much.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Rofl, you really don't get it do you No_Ax

      @No_Ax_to_Grind Some of us already haven't paid for Cable for over three years now. You don't have the bandwidth, geez, where have you been living.

      If I want to watch a movie or news, I just watch what I want, no hassles, and no need to surf through unwanted infomercials.

      With T mob you can even stream up to 10GB a month with out problem. But if you really want TV over the internet, you need to be able to download 30GB/month at 500kbps steadily for a half decent picture, twice that for HD.

      I have been doing so for over 3 years now.

      Most media companies stand to lose their dominance if they don't move here fast.
      Uralbas
      • Cable?

        @Uralbas

        never had it, never will.
        No_Ax_to_Grind
      • RE: Google TV, Apple TV, & Roku's Biggest Enemy: A lack of Internet Bandwidth

        @Uralbas So everywhere that everyone has cable your saying they should be able to get this bandwidth? Interesting...because that is not the case. And with business, while one or two geeks may have that, it's the all about the #'s. Don't have the #'s you don't have the business.
        ItsTheBottomLine
    • Rofl, you really don't get it do you No_Ax

      @No_Ax_to_Grind Some of us already haven't paid for Cable for over three years now. You don't have the bandwidth, geez, where have you been living.

      If I want to watch a movie or news, I just watch what I want, no hassles, and no need to surf through unwanted infomercials.

      With T mob you can even stream up to 10GB a month with out problem. But if you really want TV over the internet, you need to be able to download 30GB/month at 500kbps steadily for a half decent picture, twice that for HD.

      I have been doing so for over 3 years now.

      Most media companies stand to lose their dominance if they don't move here fast.
      Uralbas
    • RE: Google TV, Apple TV, & Roku's Biggest Enemy: A lack of Internet Bandwidth

      @No_Ax_to_Grind

      It's all just data. My 52" lounge room screen is used for broadcast digital TV, HD cable with recorder, Blu-Ray and Internet.

      The real problem here is streaming. While live newscasts or events require streaming for their immediacy, shows and films can be transferred through peer to peer at much lower speeds and be available in 15 min to an hour. Once stored they can be viewed without any problems. My cable company also background downloads HD movies to my PVR so I can see them when I like.

      If we must have streaming for everything, then you need to fix the infrastructure. In Australia, we are currently building a National Broadband Network that will provide 100Gbs fibre to the home and that speed will improve significantly in the next few years. It's highly unlikely that this type of infrastructure investment will proceed in any country without significant goverment backing.
      tonymcs@...
      • Right in one.

        @tonymcs@...

        Yep, if you want those kind of speeds, you are going to have to have government backing in order to do so. At least government giving tax breaks AND monitoring the internet companies HARSHLY to make sure that they are ACTUALLY IMPROVING THEIR NETWORKS so that the tax breaks aren't just shoved in some rich guys pocket.
        Lerianis10
  • Agreed

    That's the real snag in the whole "The future of TV is the internet" dream. Not enough bandwidth. Even if it were possible, the cable providers are not going to make it easy for the likes of Google to shut them out of their revenue streams. They will jack up the pricing of "internet only" consumers and/or place caps. They are doing it right now in my area, the likes of xfinity and their "triple play", TV/internet/phone for like $89 but if you just want the internet only guess what, you'll be shelling out almost $50 for the same speeds.
    oncall
  • Just now figuring this out?

    People have been posting about the meager bandwidth and cable monopoly problems for at least the last two years. It has come up in every discussion of net neutrality, when TWC announced their trial cap program, and when the various "Internet TV" gadgets have been announced. <br><br>Everybody assumes this problem will get fixed somehow, but nobody's got a solution. The broadband providers have the Congress and the FCC firmly in their pocket, witness how the FCC got slapped down recently on net neutrality. The "white-space" WIFI initiative has faced serious opposition from the broadband providers who are anxious to protect their turf. They are actively lobbying in state and local governments to protect exclusive franchise agreements. Providing new capabilities to the customer is the LAST thing on their minds.
    terry flores
    • Right in one.

      @terry flores

      The FCC got stepped down because they didn't have SPECIFIC authority to regulate cable internet companies AND won't reclassify them as another group, where they have the authority to regulate them even though they now fit into that group.
      Lerianis10
  • no big deal

    at 720p a two hour movie is about 2 gb, that's 125 movies a month or eight hours of movies a day with a 250 gb cap. should be sufficent. <br><br>as bandwith goes: i have a very average 4 mbps connection and a 720p movie starts almost instantly on my appletv. sometimes i have to wait a few minutes for it to buffer. big deal! <br><br>another none story at zdnet that tries to hysterically inflate "a problem" where there is none.
    banned from zdnet
    • Well

      @banned from zdnet

      Most of the iTunes HD movies I have watched clock in between 4 and 5 GB. The Disney animation movies tend to be less, about 3GB probably due to their shorter length and limited color palate. I'm sure Netflix probably compresses it further to get a smaller file size.

      Of course the average speed is only part of the story, you have 4 Mbps, I have 12 Mbps (I could buy 50 Mbps) and the author has 20 Mbps it's probably a safe bet there are some folks out there that cannot even buy the national average of 5 Mbps.

      It's a real problem, go to the Apple forums and see all the folks crying they have to wait hours for their iTunes rentals to be ready to go. These are your "early adopters" and they are already hitting the bandwidth wall at 720p.
      oncall
      • you are right

        @oncall
        at 720 p it is 4gb for a two hour movie or 2gb per hour. still 62,5 movies per months with a 250 gb cap, which is more than anyone will ever need. sure, if you don't have at least 4-5 Mbps you shouldn't try to stream hd (you'd have to go with sd - which is no big deal either, looks pretty similar on a hdtv from 10 feet away).

        oh my, i should prepare for the onslaught of the videophiles ...
        banned from zdnet
      • I wouldn't

        @banned from zdnet
        "oh my, i should prepare for the onslaught of the videophiles .."

        But it's your call I guess. The author foresees a problem, and I agree. How fast it arrives remains to be seen. I personally think that streaming will not achieve mass adoption for years to come. Simply because there isn't enough bandwidth for HD streaming to go "mainstream". The average USA connection is 5Mbps, barely enough to cover streaming 720p. Nowhere near enough to stream 1080p and yet devices are hitting the market now that claim to be able to do just that. People are going to buy these things, and they are going to be upset.
        oncall
    • Forgetting something.

      @banned from zdnet

      Sorry, but I have to point out that most people DON'T only do movie watching. They surf the internet, have family members watching two or three different movies in different rooms at the same time, etc.

      Personally, I use 200 GB's a month on Comcast just for video watching. Add in my other downloading? It goes to 500GB's a month.
      Luckily, Comcast has never tried to get on my case because the one time they I called me up, I said "Okay, I will cancel..... and you won't get any money from me anymore, which is about 1200 dollars a year!"
      You could have HEARD them backpedaling on the phone, because I would have actually done that.
      Lerianis10
  • Television is the best way of watching TV.

    And its not antisocial, whereas watching TV over the internet is, because it spoils the internet for others.
    peter_erskine@...
  • Apple TV just can be applied on IOS devices

    Apple TV just can be applied on IOS devices, i expected some new stuff brought by other system but IOS.
    i think the new google TV is a hope . And that the apple TV is too simplistic to runs many applications . for example, even if the users can download movies from Netflix, they can not use Vimeo; can see the pictures on Flickr, but can not see on Facebook or SmugMug;can play HD mp4. videos , can not play any other kinds of videos so that i must rely on Aneesoft video converter.
    xiaoa
  • hello,hot playing hot more instereting...

    www. voguecatch.com/index.asp
    www. voguecatch.com/productlist.asp?baseid=41&bid=568
    jocaso
  • Don't forget most households need multiple streams

    A typical family of four today all have their personal TV, PC, or other media viewing devices. And it's not uncommon for everybody to be watching different programs at the same time. Divide your total available bandwidth by four, and suddenly it's not so much.

    Over-the-air HDTV broadcasts are around 18 to 20 Mbps. The compressed crap streamed over the internet typically comes in around 4 or 5 Mbps. It may meet the 16:9 HD format, but it's hardly HD. How often is the sound even 5.1 surround?

    We just spent the last 15 years converting to HD picture and sound quality. After all that money and effort, it amazes me how often people settle for much, much less. I guess all people really care about is having a bunch of noise to drown out their surroundings.
    zackers
  • RE: Google TV, Apple TV, & Roku's Biggest Enemy: A lack of Internet Bandwidth

    ATT DSLhas no cap, but tops out at 6mbps. This is perfectly fine for streaming hd movies from netflix as often as you like, should be enough bandwidth to support two ROKU boxes.

    Sometimes we fall asleep watching Hulu on the computer and it runs all night.

    Video quality is generally excellent, but yes sometimes fast action sequences get more pixellated and dark scenes can have ugly blocky artifacts.
    onephatcat@...