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TV over ADSL?

By dopefishdave in Technology
Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 07:01:02 PM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

I live in London, UK and recently I've noticed adverts for a company called HomeChoice.co.uk offering "TV you control". At first, this sounded like a TiVo type product, however after reading their website it appears they're offering something slightly different.

Having read all sorts of news about the success of the TiVo in the States, I anticpated its release here in the UK. After a quick search however, I couldn't find anything about their release plans. But after continual bombardment by the adverts for HomeChoice I finally gave in to the advertising and checked their website.

Their site is quite short on details, however it seems that they offer a combination of two services:

  • The ability to pause, rewind and fast-forward live TV signals.
  • The ability to view content on-demand - their website advertises some 800 films, for instance.

Now, this in itself is not too astounding - but they require a phone line in an area serviced by ADSL - which is still only just being rolled out here in London. In fact, I've only just started looking at getting it installed. I'm still awaiting their information pack, so perhaps this is a little premature - but they seem to be offering TV over ADSL. Given that ADSL has only been available in my area for a matter of a few months, this seems absolutely astounding to me. The fact that already companies are using this technology specifically to deliver alternative content - not just a raw Internet connection.

So I have a few questions to ask the community:

  • Have any UK users trialed this service, or installed it since? How does the service look? Whats the quality like? Is the main problem BT's speed of rolling out ADSL?
  • And for our friends across the pond, are services like this available over there? Do they work? Are they worth it? And what's the quality like? Is ADSL bandwidth enough to deliver a decent TV picture?

Personally, I find it amazing the fact that only months after ADSL has become widely available, companies are already offering additional services dependant on broadband connections. I have no doubt that TV over IP (or similar technologies) is the way TV will evolve - I'm just amazed at its speed.

So have you had experience of this kind of service? How do you rate it? Would you even want it? Is this the TV of the future?


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TV over ADSL? | 25 comments (19 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
Well... (4.60 / 5) (#4)
by slimboy on Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 05:10:59 PM EST

My best friend from school works for HomeChoice at the new HQ just outside London.

From what he's told (and tried to sell) to me, it offers full video-on-demand, but you can only pause/fast-forward programs that they have agreements with - at present there are none, but they're talking to Sky (UK Satellite TV provider)

Also, I've seen articles in a non-Tech mag (*gasp* - there are some ;) advertising TiVO for sale in the UK - I'll grab it from work tomorrow and see if theres a URL for it.

This is interesting to me, being UK related, apart from the fact I've already got ADSL, so I can't have HomeChoice installed ;(

On a side-note, you can also get PC ADSL service through the set-top box they provide, but at present it only allows PPPoA via a serial port, so a max 115K up/download, but again, there's talk of a USB interface being trialled at the moment, so figure full 2Mb UK ADSL real soon now via your TV ;)
-- Reverse the _entire_ e-mail address
Re: Well... (3.00 / 1) (#6)
by dopefishdave on Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 05:22:17 PM EST

Thanks for the insight there. Their site is really light on details - so I'm still waiting for their info pack. I had kinda suspected that the interactive tv thing would only be for their controlled content (MMmmm still contemplates hooking up to a TiVo - must have more toys).

I've only just started looking round at ADSL prices, and it just struck me as a really neat way to get it installed if i could get a sweet TV service thru it, too... but if the net links so badly crippled - it might not be such a bonus. Still might just invest in a straight adsl connection and be done with it.

We think we understand music until we try to compose it and what comes out of the piano scares the cat.
-- Robert McKee
[ Parent ]

I don't see how (3.33 / 6) (#5)
by el_guapo on Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 05:16:22 PM EST

I don't see how DSL could have the bandwidth to sustain a reasonable TV program (reasonable max of 6Mbs I think). More than likely it is a bit like my digital cable - you get the inband programming through coax/whatever u brits use ;) , and the DSL is a digital out of band 24/7 management thing. My digital cable gets the programming through my old cable cabling (sorry) and uses a dedicated modem line for out of band management stuff. Most people don't realize the "theoretical" bandwidth of legacy analog CATV, pretty high, actually....
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
Re: I don't see how (3.00 / 2) (#7)
by dopefishdave on Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 05:26:52 PM EST

Yeah this was exactly my concern. Their website seems to quite explicitly suggest that the content is delivered directly thru the broadband link - no additional catv / sattv connection required. I can't remember (or be bothered to work out, i'm tired) what the xfer rate of a dvd is, and how pitiful an adsl link is in comparison.

This could be a great technology, but for the kinda price they're liable to be asking to watch low-quality MPEGs? Somehow i don't think so...

We think we understand music until we try to compose it and what comes out of the piano scares the cat.
-- Robert McKee
[ Parent ]

If it does work that way (3.50 / 2) (#11)
by el_guapo on Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 06:06:01 PM EST

I would expect some noticeable latency when switching channels. Even if you're lucky enough to get 6Mbs (not likely), that's nowhere near the bandwidth available on coax (I think I remember seeing 60Mbs as analog coax's theoretical bandwidth). So I could see channel surfing being a laborous thing, indeed. Hmmm channel 2 synched up, but it sucks, switch to channel 3 (TV box frantically sends inband management up the link saying "gimme channel 3 right now"). 6Mbs (remembering that you'll more than likely have 1.5Mbs) could hold, I dunno, 3 or 4 good quality channels (trying to remember my videoconferencing stuff, h11, h323 arrrrrgh) so if you wanted what wasn't on the current stream, you're stuck with watching your screen paint in funky blocks as the stream does get to you. I'd wanna see it in action before I paid money for it.
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
[ Parent ]
Re: If it does work that way (4.00 / 4) (#15)
by Michael Leuchtenburg on Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 06:20:04 PM EST

That 60 MB/s, however, has to carry every channel. With 6 MB/s devoted to just what you're watching, the quality should be significantly above cable tv

As to latency, why would there be a lot of it? I don't see why there'd be much at all. If the ADSL provider itself is providing the content, or someone with a really good link into their network, the raw network latency should be around 20ms. The video latency should closely follow that, depending of course on the format used. Highly compressed formats would have higher latencies, and so forth.

And as to latency from decompression, well, that depends on the specifics of the hardware and the format. We don't know anything about that, from the story (I haven't read the links yet). So the overall latency is probably very low.

[ #k5: dyfrgi ]
[ TINK5C ]
[ Parent ]

I would think (3.00 / 3) (#17)
by el_guapo on Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 06:40:06 PM EST

that it would have to work with either a videoconferencing type codec or an IP multicast thing - I've worked with both, and "synching" is a Big Deal(tm). Moreso with the videoconferencing stuff I guess...the more I think about it, the more I lean towards multicast. The problem with my experience there is all of our multicast has to co-exist with other data traffic, so we don't have the luxury of a dedicated pipe - but still, changing from one stream to another is nothing like flipping channels on an analog TV. Maybe the private pipe helps, but here, changing streams on switched 100Mbs (with GigE backbone, no less) is a far cry from channel surfing at home. Now, that said, if this is as bad as my experience tells me it will be, then ain't noone gonna buy it. So it seems I'd have to be wrong here, but I have a hard time overriding what I've seen with my own 2 eyeballs....
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
[ Parent ]
Re: I don't see how (4.50 / 2) (#18)
by Aztech on Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 06:59:34 PM EST

This uses a special video capability of ADSL which guarantees set bandwidth, it's abstracted from the IP layer and therefore doesn't inherit the speed fluctuations/inabilities of the net.

It's simply more than TV over IP.


[ Parent ]
it all depends on the bitrate (4.75 / 8) (#8)
by mrr on Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 05:31:25 PM EST

I used to work for nCUBE a company that makes the servers that stores the videos and streams them out on demand. During my time there I look at alot of digital video. With compression (MP2) that was available through the end of last year this is how things might look:
  • 1.5Mbps - like garbage
  • 3Mbps - depending on the complexity of the video from OK to good. A knowledgeable viewer would see the artifacts introduced by the digitizing.
  • 4Mbps - generally quite good.
  • 6Mbps - better than broadcast TV
So if your ADSL provider is able to pump 3Mbps or better down to your home the claim is viable.

There are some markets in the US where this is available, I believe Florida and the upper midwest. It is also being used to insert advertising into cable broadcast streams.

Cable companies like the ability of this type of service to increase their revenues - it makes some forms of pay per view much easier to implement and it allows more selections to be available for pay per view. This also gives cable an edge over satellite TV providers who cannot offer this type of service.

A side effect of this technology is that it enables a cable company to sell advertising that is targeted to smaller and more tightly defined audiences. For example, an ad for a pizza place could be shown only to people who live within two miles of the business. Or one ad would go to people who live in neighborhoods with higher than median income while another ad is shown to people in those with a lower income.

Re: it all depends on the bitrate (none / 0) (#21)
by ewan on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 06:17:15 AM EST

The bitrate they are offering is a rather pathetic 256k i think, so im guessing theyre not offering the same kind of service as youre talking about.


[ Parent ]
Re: it all depends on the bitrate (none / 0) (#23)
by PhadeRunner on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 10:52:08 AM EST

As mentioned before, I work in this field.

As someone who watches MPEG2 video day in and day out, I spot glitches and artefacts that other people just don't notice. You also get to the point where you can take a reasonable guess at the bitrate the video is encoded in.

It worries me that NTL digital cable in the UK uses about 3-3.5Mbps for all its broadcast TV. BSkyB and ONdigital are much higher using around 4-4.5Mbps.

If anyone from these companies (or anyone in the know) would like to comment on this I'd be interested to get the inside track.

[ Parent ]

TiVo in the UK (2.50 / 2) (#12)
by Aztech on Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 06:10:54 PM EST

The TiVo was released in the UK last week. It works nice if you've got a SkyDigital box, apparently.


TV over ADSL is available in New Brunswick, Canada (4.20 / 5) (#13)
by Tim Locke on Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 06:13:42 PM EST

Our provincial telephone company NBTel, offers such a service via ADSL. They call it Vibe Vision. I am not overly familiar with it and have not seen it in action. I believe it is currently only available in one part of the city of Saint John, but this has been available for a few months now and people are signed up and using it.
--- On the Internet, no one knows you're using a VIC-20.
Re: TV over ADSL is available in New Brunswick, Ca (none / 0) (#19)
by jmcneill on Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 10:13:24 PM EST

What part of New Brunswick are you in? My area has HFC, any idea when (if at all) we'll be getting Vibe Vision? I'd hate to go Rogers for Cable TV, but I'd also have to downgrade to DSL (even VDSL, it's not worth it for me if it can't upload at greater than 10mbps).

``Of course it runs NetBSD.''
[ Parent ]
Nothing new ... ADSL was designed to do this (4.25 / 4) (#16)
by Aztech on Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 06:39:30 PM EST

You have to remember ADSL was originally developed to deliver video-on-demand way before the net was a mainstream entity.

It all goes back to BT's privatisation, they want to use their "embrace, expand, monopolise" strategy to capture the emerging multi-channel TV market, Sky (satellite tv) was a young company and the cable networks were only starting to be released en mass. So BT saw an opportunity to leverage its existing network for tv, however there was some legal restrictions stopping them from supplying TV content, they've been lobbying parliament for it be reviewed for years. Also the system required huge computers capable of streaming hundreds of streams asynchronously, obviously very costly, the step-top-box (Mac based) were pricey too. To cut a long story short, the original tv/video-on-demand service was put on the back burner.

BT ran trails in a remote Welsh village in the late 80's (from ~ 1986). Viewers were able to watch films whenever they liked, and there were two-way services, which is just passť these days since all the cable networks do this. They also ran a larger trial in Colchester and Ipswich in 1994, advancements in compression (read: mpeg2) made it more feasible.

You have to remember this uses the video capability called "BT VideoStream" which is basically the adsl carrier without the IP layer. They've been trailing the TV services years before the IP services.

ADSL bandwidth (none / 0) (#20)
by PrettyBoyTim on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 04:30:26 AM EST

I was looking into this on the behalf of my girlfriend, who lives in north London - but I was looking at it mainly to get the 'always on fast internet' side of things rather than the TV - it was looking pretty good - £20 per month for ADSL internet connectivity... However, I found out that their decoder box only connects to the computer via a serial port, which limits it's speed somewhat.

IPTV reaching critical mass soon (none / 0) (#22)
by PhadeRunner on Thu Oct 12, 2000 at 06:54:25 AM EST

I work for Pace Micro Technology, the digital STB manufacturer in the UK. I deal specifically with TV over IP products, we have a dedicated STB on the market right now.

It is very easy to have VCR type controls on live TV, the signals are broadcast through a video on demand server such as Oracle Video Server (as used in the nCube servers mentioned above) which spools the last hour or so of the channel. The signal is then broadcast using multicast IGMP protocol to the TV set (STB really). When the pause button is pressed by a customer they stop recieving the multicast tranmission, when they hit play again, the correct portion of the spooled video is unicast P2P by the VOD server.

Although ADSL has only been widely available for a short time, there has been a LOT of interest in IPTV. Telecom companies have been trialling this sort of service for the last 2-3 years. It is soon to reach critical mass when ADSL penetration reaches a reasonable level. Some cities in the US have up to 80% to the home penetration. It is this kind of area that will benefit shortly from IPTV.

As well as the service in St. John run by NBTel, which is being expanded very soon. There is already a service in Kingston upon Hull in the UK which has been running for up to a year. This is being run by Kingston Interactive Television. We supply the STBs for both services. Expect many more like this to be launched within the next 12 months, in all areas, Europe, North America and Asia all have a lot of interest.

BTW, nCubes rock!

Just a quick thanx (none / 0) (#24)
by dopefishdave on Sun Oct 15, 2000 at 05:36:11 PM EST

I'd just like to say thanx to everyone for their input on this. I hadn't expected to see so many posts from people in the industry - those that actually fucking know about this shit! So thanx guys. I'm still waiting on the info pack from HomeChoice :-( But if/when i get it installed I'll let yous all know about it.

I'm a bit upset that there wasn't more discussion about the future of IPTV. I'd be interested to know what others here think is gonna happen to tv in the future. Convergence is obvious - but I'm interested in how this is gonna affect us. Ah well, prolly shoulda phrased the question better.

But thanx for your comments guys. Got some good background and some good info and have since done some more research and starting to feel a bit more clued up on the subject. So cheers, just sorry it didn't generate more discussion :-(

We think we understand music until we try to compose it and what comes out of the piano scares the cat.
-- Robert McKee

But you'll still have to pay your TV licence fee.. (none / 0) (#25)
by Dop on Thu Oct 19, 2000 at 11:20:30 AM EST

Apparently, the BBC demand their licence fee even for TV over the net. See this article here.
Admittedly they won't be trying to get the money from people overseas watching streaming video from the BBC web site, but they've managed to apply the 1949 Wireless Telgraphy act to anyone in the UK watching TV over the net.

Do not burn the candle at both ends as this leads to the life of a hairdresser!
TV over ADSL? | 25 comments (19 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
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