Internet TV

by Bob Seidel

Well, it certainly was a wet and dreary week! But the bright spot for my wife and I was that we were able to take care of our 21 month old grandson while his family went down to Disney World. We had a great time and he was just a doll.

But I think that computers and electronics are being understood at a much earlier age these days. Of course, we played lots of games on the PC; we got one from Disney themed on the "Cars" movie and he loved it. But I cannot believe how quick the little guy was. He shut off my PC twice by finding the reset button, and ditto for my wife's PC. But in her case, he turned off the PC by finding the little red recessed power button for her UPS. Even my wife didn't know where that was!

He also got into my 200 CD carousel player. He managed to find the power on button, then the button that opened the door used to put CDs in it, and started rummaging around inside! All in seconds. Well, his mom and dad have him now and life is back to normal.

A reader asked me to comment on Internet TV. This was an area that I have little background in. Any experience that I have had with TV over the Internet has been fairly poor. The only bright spot that I have seen is the instant movie feature on Netflix, but even here the quality is only slightly better than minimally acceptable.

My reader indicated that there were a number of services offering free TV over the Internet - just Google "internet TV". So I did, and there were a number of them. Free, by their definition, is that you only have to pay a one-time fee, or a monthly fee, but then you get to select and play all you wish. The one-time fees were in the range of $40. They claimed to have literally thousands of TV channels from around the world, but seemed to avoid discussing premium channels, such as HBO.

But the websites just screamed "scam" and one was actually quite nasty - not allowing you to exit unless you declined to speak to one of their operators! So what are they and could they at all be useful?

First of all, I am quite sure that they cannot display copyrighted content. They may pick up and rebroadcast all kinds of free content (including local broadcast TV stations), but I am quite sure that they don't bring in anything you would normally pay for. If you just want broadcast TV (and perhaps not even your local broadcasts), then it might be a cheaper alternative to cable.

The image quality will almost certainly be poor. There is no magic here - it is a question of pure bandwidth. Even your 5 or 6 megabit DSL or cable connection will not be enough for true high quality video. You will probably see video in a small player window. Even the samples they showed on a website I visited were fairly grainy.

My reader also raised the question of outputting the video from the PC to a regular TV. If you have a video card that does support external video output then this is possible. But the TV would have to be physically near the PC so you could control it (channel selection, etc.) and you would also need to use your PC sound system, or run external cables to where your TV is.

And then there is the specter of ads. I would bet that their video window contains ads, or you would have to first watch an ad before you would watch your show. Remember, these guys are not doing you a favor - they are in the business to make money, and that money comes from selling to you!

So the bottom line is that the price might be OK as an alternative to basic cable, if you would put up with the video quality and the ads. If there is someone out there who uses one of these services, please let us know!

(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)