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Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Thursday 8/6/2006So, everyone's getting jiggy with the Slingbox. Big deal.

Thursday 8/6/2006

So, everyone's getting jiggy with the Slingbox. Big deal. Hackish Tivo users have been piping their telly and video over the Net for years. But you should get excited about the idea not because of what it does now but for what it will do next.

First, it makes a joke of TV on mobiles. You could pay a tenner a month for a choice of six channels on one network with their choice of handsets, or you could get all two hundred channels on your set top box relayed to anywhere in the world you can get 3G or WiFi.

Then, it means you don't need to stick to the telly anyway. You can watch your video library, stuff you've harvested off the Web, videoblogs, what have you, anywhere you like. In other words, you're your own universal TV broadcaster.

Then it gets really fun. Everyone's noticed that the headline speeds for broadband have been getting faster, to the point where ten megabits isn't that special any more. But the upstream speeds have been getting faster too: once, you were stuck at 256k. Now you can get up to 1.6 megabits. That matters a lot.

A reasonable video stream needs 256k – until recently, all you could get. With that only you can watch your video. With 512, two people can watch – and that's enough to change the world. If you find something good to see and tell two friends, they can both watch it – and if they each relay it to two of their friends, then seven people are watching. The next layer is fifteen, then thirty one... by the time you've gone through the same process just twenty times, a million people can be watching your video stream, and it's all done through ordinary broadband. Nobody's using up anything more than their alloted bandwidth.

As yet, the protocols to do peer-to-peer video streaming are still experimental. They work, just not very well. But they will. At that point, anyone can put together their favourite video clips, pick of YouTube, anything they like, and live TV follows Napster into the place where big business gets very scared indeed.

Everything's in place. Just watch it happen.