I DON’t watch TV. There is no terrestrial TV reception in the tiny rural eastern Free State village I like to call home. But that’s not the reason I don’t watch TV — I could obviously go for the satellite TV option, as do most people in this part of the world.
Not that I don’t own a TV. I do — a 42-inch, full high-definition beast of a thing that dominates almost an entire wall of my TV room. I get a great deal of use out of it, watching oldish movies and music videos from my fairly extensive DVD collection, or, ahem, illegally downloaded movies, which I am loath to do, but I do have a fast, uncapped ADSL line and there isn’t a DVD-rental shop or a cinema within a 40km radius of my home. The iTunes movie store, now that it is finally available in South Africa, has a rather small and motley collection of films that are a year old or older.
The reason I don’t watch or subscribe to a satellite TV service is that sitting in front of the TV and watching whatever is served up to you by any given channel’s programme people is so last century. Granted, there are quite a number of channels to choose from, and DStv’s PVR (personal video recorder) does give you the flexibility to watch what DStv’s channels offer when you choose to, or have the time (and quickly skip through advertisements), instead of having the choice between watching it at the time of broadcast or missing it completely.
Even, so, this is not how TV is supposed to work in the 21st century. Not even close.
Like many other kinds of home entertainment in the 21st century, TV will eventually be watched using the internet — not on personal computers, but on TV sets.
What sensible person wouldn’t choose the ability to watch what they want, when they want over the present satellite or (elsewhere) cable TV models? YouTube points the way, with its billions of videos instantly available to anyone with an internet connection. More than 800-million people visit YouTube each month, watching more than 4-billion hours (more than 450,000 years!) of video. Seventy-two hours of new video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Obviously only a fraction of that is worth watching, and people tend to watch it on their PCs or mobile devices, but watch it they do, when they choose to.
The next step to true on-demand TV is the set-top boxes now offered by tech companies Apple and Roku.
Apple TV recently became available in South Africa (for about R1,000), with the same limitations as I mentioned earlier in the iTunes movie store, although there is a workaround to convince the store that you are in the US rather than in South Africa.
That gets you movies and series to rent or buy, along with Apple TV’s other great drawcard — streaming music and movies from your PC using Apple’s "home sharing" feature. The set-top box itself is tiny, unobtrusive and as slick in design as all of Apple’s other products.
Not as good looking but much more functional are Roku’s devices, which can be bought from Amazon in the US for $99 for the top-of-the-range unit, the Roku 2 XS streaming player.
It comes with more than 700 entertainment channels, plus the ability to surf YouTube and watch movies and TV shows on demand from online US companies such as Netflix and Hulu (again, with a workaround to hide your real location, and a small monthly subscription fee). All you need is a line speed of about 1.5Mbps or more and, ideally, an uncapped broadband subscription.
That is where TV is heading — and I will be heading there with it.
Force-fed TV is a thing of the past.