by October 8, 2010 0 comments

As a Star Trek fan, Andrew Orlowski’s column in the Register caught my eye. The original Star Trek in 1965, he notes, predicted

teleportation and faster-than-light travel. But one innovation was notably absent: converged electronic devices. Cosmonauts either got a tricorder (a PDA), or a communicator–a mobile phone. Was Star Trek’s creator onto something? Are we chasing phantoms that nobody needs-like convergence in a smartphone? (See

And I see this in other areas too. Like television. Where convergence hasn’t been a roaring success, compared with dedicated systems like DTH.

Since early this year, my home has divided into two camps: those who hate IPTV and refuse to use it (led by my wife), and those who tolerate it (just I). For we switched from Tata Sky DTH to Airtel IPTV. I was swayed by the convergence: phone, Internet and television, over a single line.

It works, of course. You can use voice, data, and TV at the same time, on that one line. And you can pause and rewind live TV on many channels.

Airtel stores over 40 channels for a week, so I can go back and watch any program from the past week, say that one episode I missed on Tuesday… That’s fun, even when I don’t want to watch a specific program. When I simply want a movie. I have a choice of any movie from the past week on over a dozen movie channels-giving me over a hundred movies to choose from! (Yes, you could get time-shift with a DVR like the Tata Sky+ box, but you need to set it up in advance to store a specific program to watch later. And you can’t choose from hundreds of movies on dozens of channels.)

And there’s video on demand on IPTV-I can pick any movie to watch anytime, pausing, rewinding, or skipping the songs.
But IPTV’s different from DTH or cable, which broadcast hundreds of channels at a time, and you simply pick one. IPTV comes in over a thin phone line, with limited bandwidth. So you get only one channel at a time, being streamed to you by Airtel.

If you change a channel, that command goes via the IP switch to Airtel’s streaming server, and the channel changes from there. So there’s a second’s delay. Not much, but enough to render channel-surfing next to impossible. Even going up and down a menu selection is challenging. You press the up-arrow three times, thinking nothing’s happened, and then you’ll find the selection going up three steps, out of your control. The easier way to use it is to remember, and key in, channel numbers.

What’s more, Airtel IPTV’s video and sound quality are lower than DTH’s.
And then, the IPTV set-top box is a full-fledged computer…and it likes to hang now and then. (But it also does software updates on its own. Neat.)

If you’re used to DTH (even Airtel DTH), with a nifty menu that responds instantly to the remote, you’ll hate Airtel IPTV. What’s worse, Airtel hasn’t really offered interactive services, beyond video on demand, that leverage all the interactivity possible on a broadband connection.
Once again, a dedicated, application-specific system beats the converged compromise hollow.
So while Airtel’s IPTV is a great second source to have, for our main source, I might have to go back to Tata Sky very soon, to maintain peace and harmony in the family.


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