If you’ve watched any telly in the past few weeks then I’m sure you will have seen frequent adverts for the latest generation of on-demand services such as YouView, LoveFilm, Sky On-Demand, BT Vision, BBC iPlayer, etc. I get lots of questions about the performance of these services so I hope to clear up any confusion in this month’s column.
Many “Smart-TVs” and digital TV boxes and even DVD players are now being sold with streaming video services installed, and some older units are being upgraded in the background without your knowledge to support streaming. Almost all computers will also support Streaming services such as BBC iPlayer and 4OnDemand. Streaming media means that you can watch a program across the Internet , instead of watching it over the air or satellite while it’s being broadcast, and this means that you can choose what you watch and when.
A half-hour TV episode viewed via a Streaming service can be anywhere from 50MB to 500MB and this data enters your home via your Internet connection. A 500MB download would be an easy job for a fast business-class connection with a download time of about 5 minutes, and 500MB isn’t a problem either for homes located in big towns and especially towards the City Centre where the broadband is fast and reliable; but it’s common for our outlying villages and hamlets to be as low as 1 Mbps or 0.5 Mbps where a 500MB file could take more than 2 hours to download. And even worse, some rural broadband users have very unreliable connections which can drop for minutes at a time. This slow and erratic speed can mean that many users face the all-too-familiar “buffering” message while their program tries to download.
The BT Vision boxes, Sky+ Boxes and some Smart TVs have internal video storage which is capable of pre-fetching the program from the Internet in advance. This means that you could download it today or overnight and watch it tomorrow without any risk of buffering or interruption, but sadly the people with devices who don’t have this kind of storage will just have to hope for faster or more reliable broadband connection.
If you’ve got a PC, Mac or Tablet, then you should be able to watch the BBC iPlayer and other online services for free, and some of these services also offer a download feature so you can download the whole episode and watch it when you’re ready.
A slow or unreliable Internet connection isn’t the only bottle-neck that affects Streaming Media services. Often wireless signal strength can be guilty of poor bandwidth and many Smart TV suppliers will recommend only a wired/cabled connection for their services. If it’s possible to install a dedicated data cable from your router then this will give you the best possible connection but if this isn’t possible due to decoration or the position in the house then it may be possible to use an EoP (Ethernet over Power) system to get a wired connection to your TV or Computer. These types of devices are also useful for improving wireless coverage across your house. I keep Solwise kits in stock from £30, so if you’d like a quick survey to see if these devices could benefit you then please get in touch. I’ll talk about improving your broadband, home network and wireless connection in my next article.
Remember that any TV programs that you download via your Internet connection will count towards your monthly bandwidth allowance, so if you have a metered broadband service or AUP on your account then keep an eye on your usage, it’s easy to rack-up 10GB of downloads once you start watching films online.
I hope you find this information useful. If you would like to see particular subjects covered then please feel free to ask at www.alfindlay.com.