April 7, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
High-def TV not ready for Net's prime time
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Few companies are more interested in improving Net video quality than Major League Baseball. The league has been a trendsetter in distributing live events over the Net. Critics showered praise on MLB's technicians for handling the live feeds of this year's NCAA basketball tournament games to more than 268,000 viewers.
Justin Shaffer, MLB.com's chief architect, is more optimistic than many insiders regarding when the Net may be ready for HD.
"Things are really starting to come around," Shaffer said. "Clearly there needs to be upgrades in bandwidth, but there's definitely reason to be encouraged."
He said several companies are working on technology that would allow computers in close proximity to each other to share data. Instead of streaming the same images to multiple people, such technology would send the information once to a hub computer and then use that to distribute it to others.
HD doesn't present as much of a problem to sites such as do CinemaNow and Movielink, which recently unveiled plans to offer downloadable movie services. Apple Computer and Amazon.com are also exploring the possibility of distributing films over the Net, according to a report this month in the New York Times.
Akimbo Systems, which distributes video content over the Web, downloads material that doesn't have to be watched live. Users who leave their computer running can get feeds from Akimbo regardless of any traffic jams on the Web. Once the film or TV content is finished downloading, the viewing will be excellent because the information is already on the user's hard drive.
"You have to get away from the streaming model to distribute high definition," said Josh Goldman, CEO of Akimbo Systems. "It's best to do it as a download."
But even with downloads, there's a big size difference. The movie trailer for "Walk the Line," available on Apple's QuickTime site, for example, has a standard and high-definition offering. The file size for standard definition is 36 megabytes and the high definition is 93 megabytes. The HD version packs more than twice the amount of information than the standard.
Will lower quality stymie the nascent Internet video market?
"If HD were to hit, it wouldn't really affect YouTube," said Julie Supan, the company's spokeswoman. "Our service focuses on short format, fast delivery and lower-quality video content uploaded from devices. Our service is more about the entertainment quality of video content versus the 'resolution' of the content."
Josh Martin, an IDC analyst, echoed Supan's comments. He said sites like Ifilm, Atom Entertainment and YouTube draw audiences because of the unique entertainment they offer. Martin uses as an example a clip that has crisscrossed the Internet recently of an autistic high-school basketball player who became a national star by hitting six three-point shots in a game.
"Is that story less compelling because it's not high definition?" Martin said. "I don't think so."
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