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IP To TV: How?

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Ashley Highfield | 15:18 UK time, Thursday, 10 January 2008

All I want from CES or MacWorld is a solution to get my TV programmes from the web to my TV set: why is it still so difficult?

Bill Gates' keynote at this year's Vegas tech-fest, CES, spoke of the growing importance of in-home wireless connectivity, to ease moving your digital assets from device to device, room to room. Well, this is hardly new news. He's been saying pretty much the same for years.

The question that I have is: why it is still so hard to do, and so costly?

I've tried various solutions over the last few years to get content from my computer to my TV (first photos and music; more recently downloaded and streamed video). For a while, the media centre promised the answer.

But it's been an intensely frustrating piece of kit, with poorly executed and buggy software. And now, speculation is rife that the PC under your TV is not the solution to the "missing 10 yards of rail-road" between PC and TV, and is in fact fast approaching the end of the line (see active-tv blog for a good summary of the issues).

I thought last year that perhaps the solution lay in using a more inexpensive, simpler piece of kit (rather than a full blown PC) as a "media extender", a relatively simple box (with thin client) connected to my TV, that would pick up TV programmes from my server, wirelessly, and allow them to be watched on the TV.

Well, a year of frustration trying to use a couple of such solutions including an Xbox360 has proven that this doesn't currently work well either. At least, not well enough to be a mass market proposition.


Of course, I may have just been using the wrong operating system, but AppleTVs have hardly been flying off the shelves either. When the boss describes one of his products as a "hobby", be warned.

The problem with the Apple solution is that it is geared around their business model of downloading and owning files via iTunes, not streaming A/V from a multitude of websites, or using other formats such as Divx, XviD, MPEG2, and WMV.

Going for the simplest possible solution, I have more recently tried connecting a VGA and audio cable from my laptop to my digital TV (how many TVs have VGA sockets though?), and simply hit Fn-F7; that worked until the laptop battery died and the screen saver kicked in. I know - both easily sorted - but still a hassle, and an untidy solution.

Of course, more and more laptops have decent High Definition screens now anyway, so perhaps some people might just decide to eschew their lounge plasma TV - but I enjoy the 40" screen, surround sound home cinema experience.

Mentioning this to a very tech savvy colleague this morning, he replied that he downloaded programmes through BBC iPlayer, stripped the DRM (hence his anonymity!), re-encoded the file, burned it to DVD from his PC, then took it to his DVD player connected to his TV in the lounge. Hardly a solution for my mum either.

The sorry truth is that all the solutions are currently suboptimal, to say the least. But I don't blame the manufacturers. I think the reason is that there's not been much demand from the audience for these gadgets, and hence the investment in R&D has not been worthwhile. And that's been because there's not been that much legit long-form television video content out there, easily, legally and cheaply available.

Well, there is now. Hundreds of hours a week in the UK. And I think consumer demand will rapidly drive solutions.

A simple, elegant, cheap, open standards box, that easily allows streamed or downloaded, free, rented, or bought programmes, direct from all vendor and other sites (from YouTube to iTunes to DailyMotion to BBC iPlayer) and from your hard drive, in all formats, is what the industry needs from either CES or MacWorld this month.

Can't wait to get my hands on one, and see whether it does the job.

Ashley Highfield is Director, BBC Future Media And Technology.


  1. At 11:31 AM on 11 Jan 2008, Wil wrote:

    Join the Mac Mini - HDMI TV crowd. Hook one up to your TV and you've got yourself a full blown web experience direct through your TV. No compromises or proprietary playback.
    Mac Mini is ironically Apple TV's biggest potential killer.
    People are using this setup for all sorts of great stuff, including music. See Wilson's setup where he streams his tumblr' friends' music through his Mac Mini.
    https://avc.blogs.com/a_vc/2007/12/bringing-the-we.html Now that's power.

  2. At 11:57 AM on 11 Jan 2008, Wills wrote:

    Aren't the BBC to partly blame here? Already have YouTube on Apple TV and mobile phones. But iPlayer content is hardly portable is it.

  3. At 12:28 PM on 11 Jan 2008, Tom wrote:

    I use a PS3 and TVersity Media Server on my PC to view media on my TV. It works very well, photos, MP3s and many video formats can all be watched full screen on my HDTV.

    All apart from content downloaded through the BBC iPlayer, because of the DRM.

    Please BBC, why do this? there are already video recorders, Sky+, V+ and Freeview HDD recorders, why cripple the video with DRM in Windows Media formats?

  4. At 01:10 PM on 11 Jan 2008, Adam Bowie wrote:

    Mac Mini is a nice yet still quite pricey solution.

    I think the games console routes are still the best way to go.

    The Wii has a browser which makes it fine for YouTube videos, although I haven't yet tried streaming iPlayer programmes yet. I doubt it'll play ITV programmes either, which also require a codec update before you can stream them. It wirelessly connects to my network - just a shame that it's not Draft-N to minimise buffering.

    Meanwhile the Xbox 360 will now natively play Divx/Xvid files, as well as WMV. Of course that's not going to help with DRMd iPlayer downloads, nor those from 4OD or Sky.

    I'm not sure about the current state of play with a PS3, but a combination of the two above boxes would surely do the job? Put a nice front end on it, and you're there.

  5. At 01:36 PM on 11 Jan 2008, DB wrote:

    I think the problem would be alleviated for developers trying to do this with the iPlayer if there was documented methods of identifying and streaming its content. The pictured Xbox Media Center as I'm sure you know can play content from YouTube et al with ease and there are some talented individuals working on doing the same with the iPlayer. While there is some support and conversation between them and BBC Backstage, having to reverse engineer the iPlayer isnt conducive to end results for them, manufacturers and other third party developers.

  6. At 04:57 PM on 11 Jan 2008, sys admin wrote:

    for raw transmission of the video image I use a GrandTec PC-to-TV adapter. It has audio and VGA inputs and sends the audio/video to wireless receivers that have RCA jacks for audio/video to connect to the TV like a DVD player. I use MythTV with a Windows Media Center remote for home theater applications. I'm investing in a Neuros OSD and a NAS device with 750GB of storage so I can stream my videos.

    So what's your problem? The future is already here, although it doesn't support DRM from large companies like the BBC.

  7. At 05:18 PM on 11 Jan 2008, Martin Owens wrote:

    Did you ever try one of the Linux distros that are built for media centre and tv like operations? While it's difficult to install MythTV on ubuntu lets say, it's easier when the operating system distribution has been tuned for that purpose.

    Another problem that perhaps you can help with is Listings, TV listings hurt these boxes ability to record as a PVR and a simple XML format containing all times and shows is in every TV companies best interest.

    Although I'd like to see a mini pc with a light and soundless processor that will take tv fromt he network, the problem is that wireless just isn't fast enough and the latency is way too high. Ethernet is much better.

  8. At 08:40 PM on 11 Jan 2008, Carl wrote:

    Have you heard of the Neuros OSD?


  9. At 01:47 AM on 12 Jan 2008, Myth TV user wrote:

    Take a look at Myth TV.
    Google it.

    There is a version for Ubuntu LINUX that is a good one to start to play with.

    Also - using google...

    Take a look at the HomePlug consortium's efforts, involving a who's who of electronics, to get rid of all the wires in your house and instead use your home's electric power wires to send TV to your computer, your TV, your refrigerator, anything... all devices on the HomePlug network understand each other, and the mass of wires on the back of devices is reduced to one wire (your power cord).

  10. At 02:40 AM on 12 Jan 2008, I've Had PC Entertainment on my TV for 9 years wrote:

    Time to get with the program, Ashley...yes I'm talking about Linux. Either do it yourself or get a Linux-based media center.

    Oh, and I would advise against quoting anybody who says something as moronic as "640K ought to be enough for everybody" or has a product crash during a controlled demonstration.
    It's just bad form.

  11. At 07:44 PM on 12 Jan 2008, Peter Hewitt wrote:

    Out of interest, why is the BBC library on Virgin On Demand so limited compared to 4od?

  12. At 12:05 AM on 13 Jan 2008, Steve wrote:

    Let me introduce you to the Neuros OSD.
    It is completely open source and they encourage tinkering. I am already doing what you say you want to do. Watching IP content on my TV.

  13. At 04:41 AM on 13 Jan 2008, hawkeyeaz1 wrote:

    OSD from Neuros Technology International

  14. At 06:30 PM on 13 Jan 2008, Car wrote:

    Have you seen the Neuros OSD?

  15. At 09:01 PM on 13 Jan 2008, John Drinkwater wrote:

    Neuros’ OSD device is perfect for this, but there’s another device millions of people have in their homes already, connected to their TV and wired into the Internet.

    A PS3.
    With the option to install Linux onto it, you get a media centre that can do everything you’ve asked “A simple, elegant, cheap, open standards box, that easily allows streamed or downloaded, free, rented, or bought programmes, direct from all vendor and other sites (from YouTube to iTunes to DailyMotion to BBC iPlayer) and from your hard drive, in all formats”

    Except that “all formats” bit. Apple aren’t going to give support for their FairPlay DRM to Microsoft, and Microsoft aren’t going to give support for their DRM to Apple. And they certainly wont share it with the rest of the platforms. Apart from that, it’s an ideal solution.

  16. At 09:37 PM on 13 Jan 2008, Kian Ryan wrote:

    The solution you show in the screencap above is the X-Box Media Centre project, which runs on the original X-Box and not the 360 as you suggest above.

    I admit to maybe being a little technically minded, I'm a .NET developer by trade and tinker with all manner of hardware and software in my spare time.

    But I am amazed that you find the XBMC solution "buggy". I've been using XBMC on an X-Box Crystal for over a year, and it has been the most stable media centre solution I have ever know. We run a linux server from the office which serves video and audio over Samba to the device. XBMC itself has an easy to use plug in architecture that has allowed people to create plugins for iTunes Podcasts, Youtube and other services. There's even discussion about how to create an iPlayer plugin.

    Other people I talk to also comment about how incredibly stable the project is. It's supported everything I've thrown at it (and we have some content in some obscure formats), compared to the proprietary solutions I have tried that have only supported a subset of our content. All praise due to these guys!

  17. At 12:39 AM on 14 Jan 2008, Andrew Pam wrote:

    The Neuros OSD is aiming to be that device. It's already a pretty good start - it's simple, elegant, cheap, open standards and it plays and records in most formats to and from memory cards, USB devices and drives on your LAN. It also lets you search and browse YouTube on your TV and has a built in video editor.

  18. At 09:56 AM on 14 Jan 2008, Ryan Morrison wrote:

    I have two long cables running from my PC to my TV - one is a S-Video cable and the other a 2.5mm jack on one end and the red/white split on the other.

    I plug the s-video cable into my video card (making sure I've got the latest drivers and software) and the other end into a scart adapter and I plus the 2.5 mm jack into my audio out on the computer and the other end into the same scart adapter (£5 from a computer shop).

    Then I just make sure the video driver is set up to accept the TV as another monitor and only use it to play video - so when I press play on a video file it plays it on the TV - the scart adapter and audio cable means I can control the sound from my TV remote and I have a bluetooth adapter that lets me use my mobile as a remote control for my PC

  19. At 03:35 AM on 17 Jan 2008, Connor wrote:

    I've had good luck so far with XBMC, the Xbox Media Center. This is an award-winning open source project that uses original Xbox hardware to produce an extremely decent media center. There's a few things lacking - no DVR capability for example - but you can stream content to it with ease in many cases.

    First off, it plays nearly any video and audio format under the sun, including Flash. It will read from network shares on your PC or storage server, as well as stream from iTunes or MythTV.

    There are great plugins that let you stream Internet media from iTunes radio, Shoutcast, and basically any Flash- or MPEG based video source that you can fish a URL out of. There's even a Firefox pluging that lets you send a URL directly to the remote XBMC box.

    This awesome project is currently being ported to run on regular Linux and Windows hardware, so keep an eye out, or just pick up a first-gen Xbox (you have to mod it) and check it out.

  20. At 07:30 PM on 18 Jan 2008, Dave Crossland wrote:

    You mention "Divx, XviD, MPEG2, and WMV" but miss the crucially important free software codecs from Xiph, Theora and Vorbis. I hope the BBC will support codecs like those ands its own Dirac format because respecting people's software freedom is important if the BBC is to be taken seriously as a champion of open innovation.

  21. At 02:34 PM on 19 Feb 2008, Mark D Haley wrote:

    It strikes me as strange that neither manufacturers nor resellers have come up with a stand alone media engine capable of moving media to and from PC and TV/other media displays systems.
    Frankly you are right to identify the PC as not being the missing link - whatever device will eventually arrive, it needs to be an out of the box, wireless, firewire/USB/ehternet enabled solution and needs to streem to 1080p.

    It needs to be able to be capable of being hooked up to PCs(and hence the net)as well as freeview and Sky boxes (all via wireless user expandable interface systems) but it needs to be independent of them and able to deliver the content wirelessy to a TV/display media.

    Above all it needs to be easy to set up and "drive" (plug and play in reality rather than plug and scratch head !)

    It strikes me that if you were to include the ability to connect USB mass media devices, it shopuld be capable of timeshifting the content it has access to.

    What you end up with this is a wireless media server with TIVO/SKY+ style functionality that can sit at the heart of a media network but be used by people rather than programmers, can connect to all the standard media sources and deliver all the standard formats and standards. That isn't dependent upon buggy software and is reliable. Not much to ask for really !

    Whoever pulls this together as a consumer product could make a mint if they can deliver something with Apple's style of ease use and sony mass consumer appeal. "Koreanglish manuals should be avoided"

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