Streaming: A Minor Rant

Buffering...Perhaps I’m just old fashioned but TV/movie streaming services generally suck as they stand. Don’t get me wrong, Netflix etc are a great innovation (evolution rather than revolution though really). But why does it have to be streamed live? Why can’t we choose all our shows in advance, mark whole series for download – then play them back at our leisure 100% instantly and reliably from cheap hard drive space?

Sure if you live in the middle of a big city, with superfast internet speeds, no data cap and a service that never goes down – you probably don’t notice the difference. But it annoys the hell out of me if a show buffers even once in the middle of playback – and niggles me slightly when slow to start playing (more buffering). And do you think you’re getting the very best image quality at all times – or do you think that scales according to how well your internet is working at the time..?

There’s no technical reason why we can’t have terrabytes of temporary storage space in our streaming boxes. We’ve been doing it with PVR’s and media PC’s for years. It just seems to be about the same old “we can’t give them something they might copy” paranoia that has been dragging technology down since the MP3 format was created!

It’s not even consistently paranoid. The BBC in the UK have a service called iPlayer for streaming. If you run it on a PC you can actually choose shows to download for later playback. But if you use an iPlayer app on anything else, forget downloading, you’re back to streaming only again!

The other benefit of downloading versus streaming is that it spreads the load of demand. Some people find their internet speed is blazingly fast – at 7am in the morning – but sit down at 9pm and try to stream anything and it’s unusable. That’s because streaming services have become so mainstream now that everyone in their street is trying to do the same thing, at the same time. And your “up to” internet speed rating is because you’re really sharing bandwith with everyone else around you. Yes, you get top speed when they are not using it – but everyone streams at the same time, and everyone gets low speeds. If everyone had trickled that data down to a hard drive overnight, or even during working hours – no problem, everyone would be happy.

So can we move on now from ‘streaming’ and use the available technology a bit more wisely? Thanks Netflix et al.