Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A TV revolution

Every night, after we finish our daily dose of soaps and serials on TV and after I finish my customary browsing of news channels, which mostly show high pitched political fights to score brownie points over other political parties, my wife and I, switch on these days, what is known as internet TV. I am so much impressed by this new channel of infotainment that I consider it nothing short of another TV revolution.
TV came to India in the seventies and colour TV in the eighties. Yet for next decade or so, all that we had was a single, Government controlled, channel known as Doordarshan. The channel showed, what mandarins sitting in their offices wanted us to see and were never really bothered about what watchers wanted to see on their screens. To start with, there were no microwave links to connect two TV stations located far apart, say Mumbai and Delhi, and each station had its own programming liberties. Sometime in late eighties, they managed to connect all TV stations by microwave links and things became even worst. Now, instead of local mandarins, it was the turn of the bureaucrats in Delhi to extend their control over programming nation wide. As a result of which TV programmes became even more dull and insipid.
Some time in early nineties, satellite TV came to India like a fresh breeze in otherwise stale environment of Government controlled media. The things changed rapidly, first came the entertainment channels followed by cinema, news, sports and documentaries. Finally with DTH, TV got liberated as territorial limitations also were gone and someone sitting in a far off village could see all the latest channels by just putting up a satellite dish.
What I have described above, is perhaps true for most of the countries of the world, to a greater or lesser extent, perhaps except in US, where free to air private channels with minimum Government control came into existence much earlier. Today, in most of the countries of the world, except for few exceptions, TV watchers can watch a wide bouquet of channels that are specialized to the core.
Even with all that choice, one basic lacuna remained. We could only watch, what channels want us to see, not what a watcher might be interested at that point of time. I would enumerate this with an example. Yesterday, I wrote a blogpost about the ruins of Moenjo-daro in Pakistan and my mind was occupied with that subject. I would have liked to see a short film perhaps on this subject, but I had no choice and could only watch what National Geographic or Discovery wanted me to see on that day.
More advanced countries now give you option of seeing TV on demand. Here also, firstly the selection is mostly restricted to films for obvious reasons and one needs to make a payment to see a film of his choice. We are all used to see free TV, except for paying monthly charges for the TV signals coming from cables or satellite dishes. The idea of making a payment again to get some programme of my choice, is not palatable to me at least.
Around five or six years ago, Japanese and Korean TV manufacturers introduced internet TV for the first time. These TV have their own internet servers and can be connected to internet directly with a LAN cable or through Wi-Fi, by using a small modem like device called a dongle. I did buy this kind of TV, few years back but my experience has not been a very happy one. The media servers built in these TV are not particularly good and are unreliable. Few applications work well and most of the time a watcher ends up seeing a geared wheel rotating around itself, till his patience is over and he switches it off. 

Around three or four years ago, Apple inc. brought into market a new device, what they named as Apple TV. It is really a small black box about 5 to 6 inches square in size. All one needs to do is to connect this box to your TV with a HDMI cable and power it up. Initial models of Apple TV were quite flexible and net savvy people immediately jail broke them so that other media servers like XBMC could be routed through them. Apple inc. were not very happy about this and brought in version 3, which is jail breaking proof and has to be used the way Apple wants us to use it. 

For people with more independent frames of mind, there are similar black boxes made by other companies like Western digital are available. These would work with any other media server. Readers might be puzzled about all these details of new hardware available and how it really relates to a new revolution for TV watchers, but that is where I am now coming to.
Let us take as an example, the black box that is simplest to use;Apple TV. There are three kinds of applications for which this little box can be used. First is of course the way, Apple wants us to use this. It (Apple) has built up an on line store, which it calls as App Store. Apple wants us to make purchases in this store (it even rents), for songs, videos and films that we want to watch; once we buy them, Apple TV would simply show them to us on the TV screens.

The other application for which Apple TV can be used is to run media like songs, videos and films that are stored in our computers, which can be linked by the local Wi-Fi network to the Apple TV. Here again the choice is limited and we can not possibly store every other film we want to see because of storage space limitations.
This finally leads us to the last application, which I just adore. It is totally free and the choice is almost unlimited. These are applications like You Tube and Vimeo, where people around the world, keep uploading songs and videos by thousands every day. Apple TV or other serial media controllers provide apps for these on the home screen. All you need to do is to select these and see a new world of infotainment opening up before your own eyes. I have mentioned about Moenjo-daro above. If you type these words in the search engine of You Tube, you could be awarded with many choices. I managed to see yesterday a film made by UNESCO on this subject.
For seniors like me and my wife, searching You Tube is like going on a treasure hunt. During last few nights, I have re-found hundreds of songs from 1930-40's to 1970's. Hundreds or thousands of music enthusiasts, who had kept the original records for all these years with them have converted these songs to electronic formats and have uploaded them for listening pleasures of people like me and you and that too at no cost. You Tube and similar Apps have programming that is really by the people and for the people.
I no longer feel bored and constrained by the routine advertisement filled fare offered by TV channels to us. At the end of the day and just before bed time, half an hour on You Tube works out to be a perfect prescription for a good night's sound sleep. This is nothing short of a revolution, a TV revolution.
4th February 2014

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