Thursday, March 27, 2014

making more efficient use of real-world data bandwidths

UPDATE: Almost simultaneously with my posting this, Microsoft announced Word, Excel, and PowerPoint for iPad. While editing requires an Office 365 Home subscription, the free apps work as viewers without that, so they have essentially just shipped a free PowerPoint viewer for iPad. My recommendation? Get Keynote instead. It's fully functional for $10, and it also works as a PowerPoint viewer.

While all of us not in the business or holding stock in one of the major broadband providers would like them to both drop prices and raise the bandwidth above the threshold where it becomes meaningless as a constraint on internet use, we shouldn't be holding our proverbial breath. Prices charged to consumers may come down, and overall bandwidth will surely continue to rise, but unless the FCC sees its way clear to declare data transmission a utility, and those that provide it common carriers, savings to consumers will likely be more than offset by charges to content providers for the full-speed access to networks they require to remain competitive, and those charges will necessarily be passed along to consumers, except where the content providers' price structures already provide sufficient wiggle room to absorb them.

This mainly affects the delivery of streaming media, streaming video in particular, which needs uninterrupted bandwidth to perform as expected. Buffering can help, but to really be sure that a playback won't balk halfway through, the entire program or movie needs to be buffered, which is no longer streaming.

Part of the problem with both streaming media and play on demand is that each instance of delivery is a separate transmission. Multiple data centers allow a content provider to originate transmissions more locally, but thousands of store-and-forward nodes would be required to make them truly local, and the cost of so many network connections at that level could very well prove exorbitant.

An option as old as programmable VCRs is to record the programs you want from a broadcast stream, for later viewing. Digital equivalents exist, but my impression is that they really don't do anything to enhance the quality, like capturing files complete with adequate error correction out of the digital cable stream.

If you could capture a bit-perfect file from a broadcast stream, and I'm certain it's possible, that file could also be encrypted, facilitating paid high-quality content.

While I'm on the subject, I'd also like to mention the glaring absence of a standard multimedia format that combines video sequences, still photos, transitions, programmed graphics and animations, audio, and so forth, using no more data than is required for each. There's Flash, but if it were easy to use why do we see narrated slideshows recorded as video? There's PowerPoint and Keynote, but the same objection applies. Quicktime may have come closer to providing a cross-platform solution than anything else, and if it were to be transformed into a player for Keynote files (including video as a media type) and made available on Android in addition to Apple's platforms and Windows, that might be the best available solution.

With this foundation, Apple would be in a position to challenge YouTube, by providing a better experience per bandwidth consumed, while providing yet another reason for content creators to own a Mac.

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