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Video On Demand Almost Here For San Franciscans 159 writes: "Looks like San Francisco-area folks could be in for a taste of video when you want it, according to this article from Reuters. The article mentions that we will be able to start and stop the on-demand stream whenever we want. Kinda sounds like TiVo now, except you still have to fit around the broadcast schedule. Interesting statistic quoted from the article, though: it is expected that 5.5 million homes will have VOD by the end of the year. Imagine being able to pull up 2001: A Space Odyssey at 2:38 a.m.."
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Video On Demand Almost Here For San Franciscans

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  • 2:38 (Score:3, Funny)

    by SkulkCU ( 137480 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2001 @10:33PM (#2750706) Homepage Journal
    The way the article makes it sound, you could even pull it up at 2:39!
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 )
    And it's all brought to you by AT&.... oh wait... Comcast.

    Really cool stuff. I've played with the motorola DCT that does this for 30 days now. and it is really cool.
  • VOD causes ad avoidance, which forces advertisers to find new and untested ways to reach consumers.

    As in the Depression days the advertising industry gets bolder and more raucous during times of privation.

    We need to keep people's consumer spending up at least at somewhat respectable levels. In fact I believe that the fact we are immersed in advertising media is what makes our consumer confidence more resilient than it would be otherwise.

    We should not destabilize vital parts of the economy like airlines or advertising. It's truly a matter of national security.
  • by ( 264791 ) <jbd@j[ ].com ['d87' in gap]> on Tuesday December 25, 2001 @10:39PM (#2750719) Homepage
    On Long Island we have this. It is called I/O (Interactive Optimum), and it is provided by Cablevision.
  • by theoddicy ( 453461 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2001 @10:41PM (#2750729) Homepage

    Porn on demand.
  • Time Warner in NYC is getting ready to roll this out real soon. The digital cable converters are all set for VOD. The backbone infrastructure is getting there. Not complete yet but looks like it should be ready sometime in mid 2002.

    Nothing specatular about it tho. Why would anyone want to pause for bathroom breaks. Isnt the whole point of a movie to sit still for two and a half hours while watching some running water drip down your tv screen. Damn that dude in the matrix. Cant believe he could hold it in. Blonde Brunette Redhead
  • by gengee ( 124713 ) <> on Tuesday December 25, 2001 @10:46PM (#2750746)
    I've had digital cable for about 2 years or so here in Hawai'i - And we've had video on demand at least that long. In the beginning the selection was small and quality would sometimes degrade during 'prime time.' But for the last year or so quality has been perfect, and selection has steadily increased (To about 200 movies, usually 5-10 new movies every 2 weeks or so).
    • About a decade ago, BT tried this in Ipswich, UK. I don't know how successful it was, or how many consumers were actually able to use it, but it was demonstrated at the public library where I played with it for a bit.

      The demo wasn't very impressive, as I suppose there were too many technical hurdles which hadn't been properly thought through, let alone surmounted, but the public access portions were working. It actually was designed to function over copper phone lines, with pause and reverse possible in the middle of a movie you selected from a menu, via Teletext.

      What is/was Teletext? Well, before the web, it was pretty cool, and I'd still like it if I could access it here in the US. It was a textual overlay, sent during the VBI, that you surfed with your TV's remote control. There was news, horoscopes, puzzles, jokes, competitions, local TV and film schedules, film reviews, and even downloadable games (with the right attachment).

      Anyway, BT's VOD system was also surfed via your TV remote.

      Does anyone remember the name of this vanished but once promising system, now part of geek-interest history?
      • You mean the already deployed and available HomeChoice [] system in the UK? Which doesn't use teletext, is already installed in homes in the UK and is also providing an internet access side channel.

        VOD is here and now in the UK, not a pilot scheme. It's up and running and has been for a year or more.

    • I live in Hawaii, (Honolulu), how do I get this? Is it through Oceanic?

  • How will this work? (Score:3, Informative)

    by scriptkiddie ( 28961 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2001 @10:47PM (#2750747)
    Last time they tried this, the major roadblock was that no one could figure out how to build a server fast enough to stream multiple, unique video streams. Even assuming you're using conventional televisions and the stream size is limited to 500kB/s, you've maxed out Fibre Channel bus at 40 users under ideal conditions - and for each such group of 40 users, you need a complete copy of all the video material available, at perhaps a terabyte. There's just no way, using today's technology, to get more data on to the network - so the cable company will be stuck with tens of thousands of VoD servers, all reading information off their hard drives at the maximum rate for 24 hours a day.

    I just can't see them making that kind of investment.
    • OK not totally experienced on the VOD end. But if they cache the info into memory it can stream quicker than if they pick it off the harddrives. infovalue quick video does supply streaming software and it appears that thy cache their content for quicker download. rrdejay
      • True VoD would allow you to pick and choose what you see and when, so each stream going out will be completely different. Caching = useless. Where will they store this immense library? If they divide the library up among all servers, you'd need switching to connect servers and customers, and I can easily see bandwith problems. Is that an understatement? Good gosh there WILL be bandwidth limitations. Boggles my mind. I can only assume this is a less-than-complete VoD.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      If you want some additional information about how the servers actually work, you can check out the wesites for either of the two largest suppliers of these systems at or
    • Last time they tried this, the major roadblock was that no one could figure out how to build a server fast enough to stream multiple, unique video streams. Even assuming you're using conventional televisions and the stream size is limited to 500kB/s, you've maxed out Fibre Channel bus at 40 users under ideal conditions - and for each such group of 40 users, you need a complete copy of all the video material available, at perhaps a terabyte. There's just no way, using today's technology, to get more data on to the network - so the cable company will be stuck with tens of thousands of VoD servers, all reading information off their hard drives at the maximum rate for 24 hours a day.

      It is true that one choke point are the hard drives. One DVB stream takes half a megabyte a second of bandwidth, and so a single hard drive is probably going to be able to source only 50 or so streams. (The fact that there is probably going to be lots of seeking involved limits the practical speed of the drives to a fraction of their theoretical maximums.) But hard drives are getting cheaper every day, and the real bottleneck is the cost of the Fibre Channel SAN that you'd need to hook all of these disks to your pool of VOD servers.

    • Last time they tried this, the major roadblock was that no one could figure out how to build a server fast enough to stream multiple, unique video streams.

      The solution is custom hardware, Kingston use hardware from This is about the best (only) kit you can get in the world for this application. Each Server support's about ~500Mbps of streams, divide this by the bit rate, say 2.5-4.5Mbps, gives 120+ quality streams per server.

      BTW Two years ago these cost >150,000 uk pounds for each node(server), this year they cost 40K each. Next year who knows ?
  • I really enjoyed this bit of news when I read it this morning. I hate having to be tied to a device or the TV whenver something cool is going be broadcast. And though Pay-Per-View is an option, I found it interesting that the article said that Pay-Per-View hadn't really "taken off". If VOD can replace Pay-Per-View, we will be further on our way to not only getting content WHEN we want it, but also offering content that is only obtained by buying it on VHS or DVD. And perhaps this will also move corporations to start building those "Want to Know More?" systems like those seen in the movie Starship Troopers.
  • This is good and bad. I'd say that many of the things I would want to watch might not be available. This is a glorified pay-per-view, it would seem, with some added convienience.

    Even if (as suggested by the article) it is based on a subscription model/flat rate model, what kind of money is worth paying for this? $20/mo? $50/mo? Anything more than that will put it out of reach. It must be cost effective enough to make use of a movie-rental and/or DVR uninteresting. I think part of the question is basically how much I'm willing to pay given the amount of TV I watch.
  • I live on the Presidio of Sf and the cable from AT&T is dreadful.This has got to be some sort of post sales FUD.Even if they have the technology in place I doubt they AT&T or who ever bought them could maintain it .
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 25, 2001 @10:59PM (#2750782)
    As someone who works with this type of technology day in and day out, I can tell you it is here, and it's here to stay. Just about all of the cable companies that my company services, have said that there digital box returns after VOD was rolled out went from aroun 50% to less than 10%. It's a good source of revenue for the cable providers. As far as streaming the movies, the way that we do it, is if there are say 5 people that order the same movie within say 60 secs of one another, then they will actually all be receiving the same stream, which of course takes less bandwidth, until one of them decides to pause, rew, ff, etc, and then they break out of that stream and will have a single stream of their own.

    One of the really cool offshoots of VOD is SVOD (Subscription VOD) which is currently being deployed through a number of operators. SVOD is where you can watch past episodes of shows on premium networks, such as The Sopranos or Band of Brothers, which means you could finally get to see that episode that you may have missed.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    since the begining of the year and it plays dvd quality video.
    • Some more details about the product available in austin. First of all, here's Time Warner's webpage to visit about iControl:- default.asp []

      Most of the time it's fine. It does suffer from the same quality problems that all digital content on Time Warner here in Austin does, which is in peak periods (or bad weather, eg extreme cold) you can lose the signal, or get a bit of pixellation happening in areas of the screen where there's alot of action happening. However, that doesn't happen too much - maybe 1% of the time? Unfortunately, a few times that happened in key Bab5 episodes, dammit!

      Every so often I've had problems where the iControl software wouldn't launch on the settop box. A phone call to Time Warner has usually revealed problems they're having on their servers.

      Incidently, time to clear up a previous post (titled "More ways for them to charge you"). The author stated that as iControl like content is digital content, it's not possible to tape. That's an incorrect statement. It's as tapeable as anything coming from the set top box.

    • Pardon me then.....why the hell don't you just buy or rent the damned DVD? This VOD shit is stupid. It's like Enterprise JavaBeans: a solution in dire need of a problem.
  • I guess it's easier to roll it out in a smaller big city. Insight Communications is our provider, and the service is pretty good. I've already watched a couple of movies on it. And yes, you CAN get p0rn on it as well. ;-)
  • Lately I've been recording my favorite shows using my TV tuner card and downloading others from Morpheus. What I would like to do is have some sort of program to select among my different video files with a remote. Ideally I would have a program to provide a unified interface to DVD viewing, TV, and playing video and audio files. What I really need is some sort of conglomeration of Ogle, MPlayer, Zapping, and some sort of file browser with which a snapshot from a video can easily be associated with a file (perhaps some sort of integration with Nautilus). I would like to put this together myself, but I'm not sure I'm up to it.

    Some means of scheduling when to record something would be nice too. I think that simply bttvgrab and cron would work, but it would be nice to have the ability to set up the recording from this program.

    I'd also need an extra hard drive or two, as my current 45GB one is going to be full before long.

    Something like this could offer all of the capabilities of video on demand.

    While I'm on the subject, does anyone know of a program I could use to cut the commercials out of my video files? I've got one file with 4 episodes of Samurai Jack, commercials and all, that is rather unwieldly.

    • As for cutting commericals out and also able to divide that big file into a couple smaller ones there is a free solution availible. Virtual dub does all that. Fairly easy to use.

      Virtual Dub []

    • Why don't you hit and parse their listing for your area? Then you could use the VCR Plus codes to insure that you never miss a show, even if the show you're interested in is rescheduled or comes on at an unexpected time.

      As for the remote control thing, it'd be fun to do with bluetooth and a bluetooth enabled PDA. You could even hack the PDA so that your PVR could dynamically adjust the displayed keypad. You could pull this off with IR too (IR transmitter/recievers are pretty easy to find for the PC) but it wouldn't be as much fun.

      I've kicked around the idea of building a PVR, but I'm not into TV enough to actually do so.

  • by Gangis ( 310282 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2001 @11:09PM (#2750810) Journal
    Time Warner Communications is preparing to roll out their VOD service pretty soon here in Brevard County, Florida. Average price is $3.99 a video, and will be available for multiple viewing for a single customer within 48 hours of purchasing the movie. The digital cable remote controller already has VOD featurs, such as a switch that allows us to control the VCR or VOD. There are buttons like those you'd expect in a VCR, such as Rewind, FF, Pause, etc. Yes, you can pause a VOD!

    Mmm... LotR in DVD-quality through VOD...
  • only now??? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Meanwhile over in Belgium:

    The national boradcasting company (VRT []) is working together with the largest telecom operator (Belgacom []) on a Video-On-Demand platform.

    They are using 2Mbit SDSL connections (yes - that's 2 Mbit UP and 2 Mbit DOWN! ;-) to stream the media into the tester's homes.
    And the SDSL connections will also be available for home use too!

    According to what I've heard, all tests are going very well, and it should get commercial in january or february.
  • After all of the bandwidth issues that are there and blow my mind, I have questions about where this would go.

    The question I am thinking is, when are we going to see purchase tier services that rival HBO?

    Its great that I can watch a $5 movie on demand with my cable access, but when are we going to be able to buy a package that allows us unlimited viewing of a grouping for say, $15 bucks a month?
    Now that is what I am looking for. Maybe a month with Sci-Fi classics, then a month with schlock horror.

    Hello, custom made HBO!

    Personally, I don't think that I would be buying individual movies if there wasn't an economy pricing scheme, otherwise I would blow my month of entertainment in an evening.

    Also, this would be a kickin' delivery system for all of you independent film nuts out there.
  • Orlando... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cirby ( 2599 )
    Supposedly, we're getting VOD on Time Warner cable this spring. Some areas had it here about five years back, in the big experiment that Time-Warner ran. Movies on demand, news on demand, restaurant reviews on demand (all through streaming video). I worked in the control room for the local production arm, and it was a pain in the ass (we had a dedicated video compression rig based on a Sun workstation).

    The server farm was a large room full of SGI hardware. They said it was the biggest data storage center in the southeast (lots of terabytes involved when you start serving movies). At least, until they gave up on the test and sold it all at auction...
  • Morpheus []. What else could you mean?
  • 3 Mb/s required (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2001 @11:30PM (#2750854) Homepage
    For this to work, the network must deliver a unique Mb/s data stream from the headend to each consumer. How many cable plants can do that today?

    Clearly this is possible, but what are the costs like?

    • For this to work, the network must deliver a unique Mb/s data stream from the headend to each consumer. How many cable plants can do that today?

      Each 6Mhz analog TV band (in the upper ranges) can carry between 27 and 32 Mbps. That's 9 or 10 streams per band, assuming MPEG-II at 3 Mbps (although eventually a better codec could reduce the bandwidth requirements.)

      Obviously, the bands in the lower end of the TV range can't carry as much information. Traditional cable networks also budget a very large number of them for analog programs, but sooner or later that'll have to go away.

      For now, let's assume 50 bands allocated to digital programming, including traditional broadcast and VOD. That's between 450 and 500 independent programs per local cable loop. If you assume that each loop can be reduced to 300-400 homes, you can provide between 1 and 2 unique programs to each home on the loop-- assuming 100% take and 100% use. This is absolutely the worst usage scenario.

      Of course, some of those programs will be traditional "live" broadcast channels (MTV, NBC, etc.) But there's no reason those channels can't be "multicast" on demand, which keeps them from tying up bandwidth when they're not being watched, and also saves bandwidth when multiple people are watching the same channel.

      A major constraint is that the number of homes per local loop be kept low, and that there be an adequate quantity of fiber bandwidth connecting the head-end to the local loops. The obvious advantage is that you can provide serious VOD service without running fiber to the home, or leaving expensive, fault-prone digital switches/servers out in the field.

      To be honest, this is just casual diddling. Does anybody have any idea how far off this estimate is, or how much total bandwidth can really be squeezed out of the full cable TV spectrum?

    • For this to work, the network must deliver a unique Mb/s data stream from the headend to each consumer. How many cable plants can do that today?

      This is a very good point, most cable systems cannot do this because there network topology is a ring. ADSL however uses a star topology and this is probably the Killer Application for it!
  • by purplemonkeydan ( 214160 ) on Tuesday December 25, 2001 @11:40PM (#2750874)
    Pretty rare that Australia is actually somewhat close to leading edge ;)

    Optus [] are trialling a digital VOD system in Sydney. You can subscribe to the commerical trial, and pay to be their guinea pig ... err ... early adopter. They are using Liberate as the platform, and Pace STU's.

    The movies are about 6 months old, which is 12 months better than standard pay TV.
  • VOD (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 25, 2001 @11:50PM (#2750888)
    Ok, I work for a major cable company on VOD, and I'd like to clear up some issues you guys are talking about...
    1. Price. VOD is simalar to PPV. expect to see movies costing about $3.00 (more for porn) you have the movie for 24 hours, and can stop rewind, fast forward, and watch it as many times as you'de like in 24 hours.
    2. Quality. Digital cable picture quality is really really good. bit rates run about 3.5-4.5 Mb/s. this is just about where the average bit rate of a DVD falls (although DVDs peak higher) Now, if you operator's plant is fucked, your picture quality will suffer... I've seen AT&T systems that macroblock constantly.
    3. Advertizing. its like PPV. content providers get a cut everytime a movie is watched. (same with the operator) avertizing never even enters the picture.
    4. Content. currently the plan is to roll out servers near the customer with commonly viewed content, and less requested content will sit in a main library. whjen obscure stuff is requested it streems to the systems near the consumers, and then played out. ive seen systems right now with 500 titles. HBO is about to provide their content soon. Sapranos any time you want.
    5. Porn. porn far and away is the biggest money maker.
    • by Jordy ( 440 )
      Quality. Digital cable picture quality is really really good. bit rates run about 3.5-4.5 Mb/s. this is just about where the average bit rate of a DVD falls (although DVDs peak higher)

      Boy I wish that was true all the time. The problem is that any DVD that had real production money thrown at it has bitrates of ~6 Mbps and up. For instance, Gladiator is up at 6.6 Mbps, Cast Away is way up at 7.24 Mbps, Crouching Tiger (Superbit) is up at 7.58 Mbps and that doesn't even count the ~754 Kbps DTS/DD audio tracks.

      MPEG-2's bitrates can be tweaked quite a bit if you don't mind choppy video on fast forward/rewind or if you a chroma bit or two, but there is a significant difference between 3.5 Mbps and 7.5 Mbps in terms of quality, especially if that 3.5 Mbps includes audio.

      Of course, I don't even want to think about really high bitrate movies for HDTV which unfortunately don't exist as far as I know on DVD due to bitrate requirements exceeding 15 Mbps, but boy would it be nice to watch Star Wars a little closer to the resolution it was shot at.

      VOD sounds nice and all, but with ~1 day turnarounds here in San Francisco... Netflix seems to work ok. Not to mention I don't have to deal with advertisements on every menu screen like my damn cable box has (damn you RCN.)
    • And how sound is the business plan? In days where ISPs go out of business or raise their high speed internet connection, why suddendly would the cable cies be able to provide such bandwith?

      True, I pay for a flat fee for my ADSL connection while the movies would go for $3. Yet, if there is a lot of people switching from rentals to VOD, it will be a strain on the infrastructure.

      And since rentals do not make much money already and they did not have to invest in technology, servers and the such, I wonder how with all the extra expenses technology asks for would these cable companies be able to make a profit.

      ...unless they dug out the dusty old internet business model "lets built it, get a lot of customers and someday it will pay itself" (yeah, right).
    • I don't know what cable provider you work for, but let me tell you this - bitrate doesn't mean crap if your box only has composite A/V outputs. I guess you don't work for AT&T, but the digital box they are using is crap. Motorola/GI DCT series in case you're wondering.

      You have (so I'm told, I've never seen it) a great quality digital signal coming into the box, which is then bastardized down to composite video and analog L/R audio. Would it be too difficult to get component video and digital audio out? You can buy a TV w/ component in, and a receiver with coax or toslink audio for under $500 total nowadays.. am I the only one who cares how my tv picture looks?
  • Where does it say anything about VOD in San Francisco? The article's byline says San Francisco, that's all. Also, you don't have to fit around the broadcast schedule. That's Pay Per View. The article makes the difference between PPV and VOD pretty clear.
  • I've had digital cable for about six months and the video on demand for about 3 months. It's quite nice besides movies (and porn of course) there's local weather, news, daily trivia and I can even play solitaire on my set top box (no I'm not kidding.) Many many movies are availble (new and old alike) and specials from networks like discovery, the learning channel, and the travel channel are also available.
  • Imagine being able to pull up 2001: A Space Odyssey at 2:38 a.m...
    Shouldn't it be 4:20?

    Lewis Black - The Daily Show - Year in Review [] (2001), to wrap it up, my review of 2001 the year is the same as my review of 2001: A Space Odyssey; it went on too long, it was hard to follow, and you could only enjoy it if you were really, really, really really stoned.
  • In Calgary, Shaw Cablesystems is currently testing True VOD on the employee cable map.

    In terms of the challenges left to launch, the server infastrucute is easy to set up. We wrote all our own software for 90% of the session and playback control. (It's a wacky combination of Perl ASP(ick) and Java).

    All that's left now is figuring out how much we need to build up the cable plant before rolling it out publicly.

    Right now, we can serve 2,000 streams off a given server. Problem is that in the traditional Cable network setup, that would mean about 2000 channels of video available to a given city. Which isn't near close enough. We're trying some tricks now with our gear (hence the employee rollout), and hope to be able to launch with 50,000 VoD channels to a city with about 500,000 cable customers.

    Fun fun :) Though I should point out that while most of us here are pondering the uses for watchign good Films at any time, 45% of the revenue off Nvod (near video on demand, pay per view) comes from Porn. I doubt that's going to change for VoD.
  • There's one thing I've alway though about: If the program is going from source to storage and not being viewed why does the video feed have too be in real time? Why can't you say double the bandwidth going to your TiVo and halve the transmission time? Send a two hour movie in one hour. Or send it 4x in 1/4 of the time.

    I've always thought it was waste to have all those fringe shopping and infomercial feeds and TV preachers tying up a whole satellite channel for so long.

    How about it?
  • Am I crazy, or does the ReplayTV 4000 series seem perfect for video on demand? If licensing and legal issues were dealt with (and that is perhaps a very big if) it would be nearly ideal. It would require a software update, but the Replays are already planned to have the capability of downloading content directly to the box and playing it back with digital audio and 480p output, if so equipped. SonicBlue could be sitting on a goldmine if the new boxes take off.
    With file trading exploding as it is, those who stand to gain from VOD should get hopping now, and making use of the Replay would be a good start. Just my two cents.
  • Okay, so without meaning to sound like a troll, let me get this straight....
    The Slashdot "generalised mentality of contributers" wants to see:
    1. Software be sold outright.
    2. Music listening rights sold outright - buy the CD, listen to any of the tracks on it in any form, anywhere, anytime and without extra fees.
    3. Pay per view for television and movies.
    I think I missed something here. Yes being able to call up your favorite movie at any time is a good thing, but why is it that this doesn't scream out as moving to a suscription based service instead of an ownership based service?

    Two possibilities are that 1) in America most people pay a subscription to television anyway (in Australia free to air TV has the stronghold atm) and 2) we already pay each time we go to the movies. The second reason is not entirely valid as when you go to the movies you go for the whole experience (wide screen, surround sound, comfy seats and a dark place to take your significant other).

    What I would think would be more exciting is seeing the cost of DVDs drop to a price which makes it feasible to have a massive collection of DVDs which you can then play on demand.

    Are movies and television that different to music?

    • I had mod-points on this thread, but I feel compelled to responed:

      I think what people what (in both music and video/audio) is to be able to play, on demand, any movie or audio.

      I know I would happily pay for that, esp. since within a SHORT time someone would figure out how to hack the stream and record it for later replay.

      Once something is released into the wild, it's gone, be it DeCSS, MP3 or any other codec/hack you can think of.

      Let the MPAA/RIAA go wild with a subscription service.

      We'll figure it out.
    • I think I missed something here. Yes being able to call up your favorite movie at any time is a good thing, but why is it that this doesn't scream out as moving to a suscription based service instead of an ownership based service?

      Because the ownership-based service will be around? PPV TV hasn't destroyed the ad-funded one, not even close.

      But I can think of one good reason: just imagine how much good hardware will be needed, and how many good sysadmins they will need to hire! :-)

  • Broadband 101 (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    VOD is possible because of broadband. Analog cable tv channels are about 6MHz wide (including audio) across the available spectrum (currently 25MHz to 1GHz). They have been standardized (FCC) at certain frequencies, i.e. channel 2 is always 55.25MHz and certain frequencies are not used such as the FM frequencies (88-108MHz). Digital Cable modulates that same 6MHz to get a data rate of 28MB/s to 38MB/s depending on the modulation type (QAM64 and QAM256 respectively) that gives you about 10 to 15 digital video channels (respectively). Cable Modems typically use 1 or 2 6MHz blocks (channels) over the entire plant.

    That's roughly a total of 54GB/s of bandwidth available on FLAT a 1GHz plant.

    VOD is sometimes done in a distributed fashion. With QAM Modulators and Content servers located at a hub site, each serving a small number of nodes (a node typically has 100-1500 boxes in it). A group of channels will be reserved for distributed use only.

    Lets say that were're in a city with 150,000 VOD capable boxes. Lets say that this plant has 15 hubs and 10 nodes per hub If you had 4 Channels per node allocated to do VOD at each hub, you would have the capability to serve 144MB/s per 1000 boxes in addition to the normal video lineup. That's an additional 21GB/s on the plant overall using up only 4 channels on the spectrum!!! Of course it is assumed that not all boxes will be ordering VOD at the same time. The revenue for the cable companies is potentially enourmous (you can do the math for $5 per buy).

    I work in cable tv and I have seen many headends installing the necessary equipment to pull this off.

    Blockbuster beware...

  • by Bowie J. Poag ( 16898 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2001 @01:16AM (#2751064) Homepage

    "Imagine being able to pull up 2001: A Space Odyssey at 2:38 a.m.."

    Wow, you Californians are high-tech!!!

    Ever heard of Kazaa, Lopster, or freakin' BLOCKBUSTER?

  • Carry all your programming via multicasted MPEG2 streams (or the codec of your choice, whatever) so that my TiVo-like product can capture multiple streams at once, and I can watch them at my leisure. It's an interesting question how to handle advertising on a system like this, but you could do it like a DVD, and simply force people to watch them, I guess. I don't like that idea very much, but it all has to get paid for somehow. Of course, if you could buy individual channels, or better yet individual shows, you wouldn't need so many ads. Or if shows had more internal ad-placement, I suppose. If you were subtle enough about it, it wouldn't be that bad.
    • Internal ad placement?!?!?!? You are asking for the corruption of the content itself to make money for unrelated corporations??

      What if great films had ad placement in them... They wouldn't be so great now would they. I challenge you to find one film on the top 100 movies of all time list (any of the top 100 lists at any credible site really) that has any blatent ad placements in it.

      Man, go watch some N'sync or something, and have a coke and smile.

      I'm not drunk really. And this probably sounds more like flamebait than a mean it to, but seriously man.
      • Open your eyes! Ad placement is done all the time in movies, it's usually subtle so that you don't really notice it. But I'm sure that on some subconsious level you do.

        2001 A Space Odyssey had AT&T, Pan Am, and several other ad placements (I'd have to watch the movie again to catch them all). E.T. ate Reeses Pieces. Blade Runner had Coke displayed on the giant video billboards. The Back To The Future movies had Pepsi as the 'choice for a new generation'.

        Most, is not all movies have product placement in them. You don't think that it's a coincidence that a movie character is using a certain brand of item, or consuming a certain brand of food/drink? It's just part of the business of movie making.

        If you're making a movie and you're a big producer, a company will probably come to you and say 'If you feature our product in this movie, we'll give it to you free, and also give you this money (or whatever)'. It happens all the time, you can't blame the producers, it's all about the benjamins (money).
  • Our digital provider in Columbus, Ohio offers on demand digital cable which includes over 300 movies (usually newer ones), and they are getting good about adding them as they come out.

    But what I really like is the ability to stream individual shows. I can watch whatever episode of Dragon Ball Z or Star Trek I want for a fee, that is.

    What I would really like would be an unlimited package. I would easily pay $100 a month for unlimited on demand of a large database of movies/TV shows.

    However, as others have pointed out this service is not new. It started when cable companies switched over to MPEG2 using UBR switches a few years ago. With 1000 slots each with a DVD-quality MPEG2 channel and three or four NTSC quality channels each, it just made sense to offer it on demand. I do notice that in busier sections of the city with more users of the on-demand service frames are actually dropped and MPEG artifacting can happen every 15 minutes or so. I've only seen it freeze once, with a "Service Busy" screen popping up. This is pretty amazing considering all the decoding is being done on the set-top or sometimes in the local UBR (which in some setups can do several streams per second). In fact, the digital set-top CPE even have an integrated webTV for browsing web sites, although I'm not sure if they use the same up/down frequencies as a regular cable modem, nor am I sure if on demand TV shares the cable modem spectrum (probably not). The main point is when's the last time you could actually watch a realtime video stream on your PC over the Internet at NTSC+ resolution? What these companies have done is build a fast, private network from the ground up free from abuse and the bandwidth waste the Internet see's today. It's the same as streaming DVD over your gigabit ethernet, only it's city-wide.

    As for a revolution in TV viewing -- I don't think so. I still often prefer to watch scheduled programming because, well, I just like knowing other people are watching what I'm seeing at the same time and it creates a sort of audience or community feeling. Sure, I do use the TV on demand feature sometimes but because of the cost (around $3.50 a pop) I sometimes find myself waiting until the show is actually aired. Don't know how the TV distributor is paid per-the-view, that would be interesting also.
  • What about HDTV? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2001 @01:48AM (#2751110) Homepage
    This is a whole new infrastructure to support sub-NTSC quality video. Will this slow the transition to HDTV? Or will you be able to order movies as a 1080p 24fps 16:9 stream? If you could do that, getting a HDTV monitor would be worth it.
  • by jschmerge ( 228731 ) on Wednesday December 26, 2001 @02:15AM (#2751147)

    I work in the ITV industry and I have to say that this will not happen overnight. Most digital cable plants out there broadcast over a 27 Mbit pipe. This pipe is not wide enough to accomodate more than a couple of channels of really low quality VOD (they lower the quality of the mpeg compression to accomodate the bandwidth).

    In order for most cable plants to offer true high quality video on demand with more selections than this, they have to upgrade everything from the equipment in the cable plant to the wire running into your home. Given the speed at which Cable Companies change the technology that they use, I give this five to ten years before we actually see it.

    Sorry to burst everyone's bubble.

  • Techie #1: "What's that beeping sound, sir?"

    Techie #2: "My God ... this can't be happening!"

    Techie #1: "What, sir?!"

    Techie #2: "We're getting two hundred and fifty four thousand requests for Knight Rider!"

    Techie #1: "Fools! We told them not to hand out signup sheets at GenCon!!"

    Techie #2: "And it's not just any episode of Knight Rider, but the really bad one ... with the fake KIT!"

    Techie #1: "Dear God, NO! The one with KARR?! And super-speedo-superhero David Hasslehoff portraying Micheal Knight's evil twin brother Horag!? NOT HORAG!"

    Techie #2: "Garth!"

    Techie #1: "What?"

    Techie #2: "Garth. Micheal's evil twin non-brother was Garth!"

    Techie #1: " ... sure."

    Techie #2: "You could tell it wasn't Micheal Knight because he was all evil and cold, and he wore that goatee and sinister smile that said 'in Germany, I am a star.'"

    Techie #1: "Uh ... Jesus, Ted, how long have you been working in here?"

    Techie #2: "Long enough to know this system can't support that much bad acting and hope to survive! We'll have to pipe in some Battlestar Galactica and hope they don't notice the slight increase in acting ability!"

    Techie #1: "Uh ... and that fixes the problem how, exactly?"

    Techie #2: "It's either that or an episode of Homeboys in Space!"

    Techie #1: "My God ... we're screwed ..."

  • I think most of the problem with VOD is bandwidth, or more to the point the lack of it - imagine if everybody on the cable network wanted to watch a movie at the same time - pandemonium :-)

    Anyway. My idea is to take the technology of a digital video recorder, TiVO, ReplayTV, whatever. Some time before you want to watch the thing, say night before, day before, week before, perhaps you are given a list of new VOD's each week and select what you might want to watch. Your selection is sent off to the providor, who places your requested movie in an outbound queue if it's not already there, meanwhile your DVR waits around watching for your selection to come off the queue channel, when it sees it it grabs it down. Then when you decide to actually watch it your DVR sends a message to the providor to say "bill this client for this movie" and starts a 24hr clock ticking down that you have access to the movie for. If you try to watch the movie again after 24 hrs it just asks if you want to hire it again.

    It's not quite VOD but it's pretty close. Of course it opens it up to the hackers I guess - you could concievably get movies out of the hard drive without sending the "bill me" message.

    • Wow, you mean kinda like Divx used to do? You bought the disc, and the 48 hr timer started when you watched it. If you wanted to watch it again after the 48 hr period was up, it'd charge you a couple of bucks, and off you go.

      Divx got the heck beat out of it here from a lack of understanding of how it worked and the usual FUD from its competitors. I found it extremely useful - it encouraged you to view movies that you might not otherwise choose since the only investment was the $3.00 purchase of the disc. If you liked the movie enough to want to buy a DVD of it, then you're only out $3 for the experiment. It also had the potential to have first-run movies available much sooner, since the possibility of 1337 h4x0r5 getting the digital stream was quite remote.

      Oh well, another useful technology shot down by FUD...

  • Comcast cable in Arlington/Alexandria VA (right across the river from Washington D.C. for the geographically challenged) already has VOD. Errr, to be more correct, is getting it as we speak []. Random digital cable customers are getting 'invitation cards' in the mail, offering them the chance to test the service. It looks very neat, and I just ordered digital cable specifically so I can hopefully test it (I needed to get my cable modem turned back on anyway). Reminds me of those commercials by the electronics company (I forget who) that use the old Beatles lyrics: You got to admit it's getting better, getting better all the time
  • Just thought I'd toss in my "we have it here too!" comment.

    Here in St. Louis, Charter [] has been offering Digital Cable and VOD for over a year. I've watched a few movies and the quantity (200 maybe?) and quality was always quite good. Prices vary depending on age and popularity; anywhere from $1.99 to $3.99 I believe.

    Along with the standard movies, there's a good 100 or so pr0n flix; I think those are between $7.99 and $9.99.

    One thing that really surprised me was that there's a kids section too! You can watch old episodes of the Care Bears and other cartoons and educational shows, and they're only $0.99 a piece.

    In case you don't trust your kids (or roommates, which frequently act like kids), they offer an administration feature where you can set up user accounts and spending limits. Pretty cool, IMHO.
  • Yup, we've had VOD from Charter for several months now. I think the wife has watched one or two movies on it; I haven't yet because I've been spending all my TV-watching time on NHL Center Ice. Go LEAFS!

    I've been fairly impressed at how well Charter has rolled out new tech to our area.

    I'd be much more impressed if they were a bit better at keeping it all running. But they're getting better; over the Thanksgiving holiday we lost cable for two days and Pipeline (cable modem) for four days when a power company transformer blew. This holiday weekend (go figure) the same transformer blew again, but cable and Pipeline were back in a few hours.
  • Digital cable infrastructure is hardly ready to support mass rollouts of VoD. Providers will need to fork out a lot of cash in order to address the following constraints:

    1. VoD streams, by nature, are not multicast. They are unicast streams sent to a particular subscriber. This consumes an ever increasing amount of bandwidth per subscriber that is using the service. For example, being able to deliver 10,000 1mb/sec streams to a 100,000 user subscriber base isn't realistic. That is 10 gigabit/sec. The current infrastructure to support this level of concurrent VoD streams doesn't exist in many places, if anywhere. The equipment to build dozens of 10Gb/sec transport networks in a metro area is very expensive, and in low production volume. The initial capital to build such a network is what will prohibit many providers from rolling this out as a mass service offering. I see limited roll out beyond what is out there today for the next 18-24 months.

    2. A possibile solution to the above problem is to decrease bitrate of the stream to increase the amount of concurrent users. Several techniques exist that would enable providers to do this, but looking at the existing digital decoder hardware that is out there, the providers are limited unless they put forth the capital to upgrade their digital cable boxes. Also, providers may provide flexibility at a price. For example, a VoD program may be viewed at low quality for X dollars, while a high quality stream is available at Z dollars. What ever they choose to do, the initial subscribers are going to have to pay a pretty penny for quality.

    3. The cable industry really wants to see this happen because it is likely to become one of the key benefits to remaining a cable subscriber. However, satellite TV providers such as DirecTV have many more hurdles to overcome to be able to deliver such a service. As such, the cable industry as a whole is most likely not willing to spend the mega-dollars needed to beef up their infrastructure to support mass rollouts of this technology until the economy strengthens and user demand is high. They know they won't be losing any users to satellite because it has VoD.

    In the interim, I think we are likely to see something that resembles a TiVO like device that is part of your cable receiver. You select what you would like to order. The content is then sent to this storage device at a speed and at a time when the network permits. The content can then be viewed at the viewers discretion until the content expires. This gets around the TiVO limitation of working around broadcast schedules, but isn't as glorius as immediate gratification. In theory, this could be delivered less exensively than VoD and whet the appetite for the future VoD consumer base.
  • When I had my DSL line put in 2+ years ago, they ran a "max cap" test - how much data could it shuffle? (Maximum Capacity?)

    It hit just shy of 10 Mbps - Somewheres around 9, as I recall.

    Of course, they made sure to cap it back down to 1.5 Mbps, since that's the plan that I bought, but it got me thinking...

    In compressed format, you can easily get VHS quality video over that size pipe. Actually, you can get much BETTER than VHS quality over that size pipe, you can get VHS quality (no problem!) at 1.5 Mbit...

    So, why doesn't the bandwidth provider remove that cap within their internal networks, and construct their own local streaming content cache? They'd have to strike a deal with RIAA, (and perhaps that is the problem?) but once done, they could store the movies and the like on their local network, mitigation almost all of the nasty bandwidth issues.

    Since the DSL line isn't shared, you'd only have to worry about the really major bandwidth between the DSL server modems and the content server. Additionally, you can have smaller, local content caches that handle 90% of hits, and a single cluster of major content servers that provide all of the movies/shows available, all within the service provider's network. (which means less expense)

    Charge a couple bucks per movie view or flat rate $30-$40/month and you see it quickly amounts to a major, PROFITABLE business model.

    Why hasn't this been done before?

  • Comcast here in Baltimore is test-marketing this to their employees currently ... so my friend who works for them gets to order up any VOD he wants for free right now, the lucky bastard. he demo'ed it for me, and it really is supercool. he used to work for Blockbuster, and he's counting the days until VOD puts them OOB (out-of-business).

    me too, really. When large scale video chains aren't buying up DVD's, the companies might have to charge less for them to recoup the sales numbers from the general populace ;)

  • Kinda sounds like TiVo now, except you still have to fit around the broadcast schedule.

    This is actually *similar* to a TiVo as it too has to wait for the actual show to get broadcast before you view it. Think of a VOD as a TiVo server that contains a database of thousands upon thousands of programs that you can call up at whim. You can still do the play/pause/ffwd functions. The difference is that rather than deal with a TV schedule (TiVo), you have to interface with a search engine to find your requested movie or tv show.
  • So what if they are getting it in SF?

    Not all computer users live there. We've had VOD for a year.

    HBO on Demand! Says they have the first two seasons of Sopranos on there... don't! Watched 9 episodes and then I noticed #10 was missing. Then they all were gone within 2 days.

    DIY, FO0D & HDTV have services too.
  • We have it here in rural Louisiana through Charter Communications, and in addition to pay-per-view movies, kids section, TLC and discovery selections, we can watch the previews/trailers for free. As an added bonus, it also has an "In Theaters" section to play trailers of movies in theaters (the selection on here is somewhat limited, I watched trailers for "Harry Potter" and "Hearts in Atlantis," but no SW-Episode II trailers yet hehe)
  • [sarcasm ON]
    Damn! And to think, my entire life up until now I've had to wait almost 30 minutes for pr0n. What I really want to know, is when VOD will be able to skip past that long 2 minutes of boring dialogue and get right into the action. Hell, I'd pay an extra $20 just to not have to wait those 2 minutes!
    [sarcasm OFF]

    Deep Thoughts...
    Of all the "great new innovative" things we devise every day, it's all to get porn to us quicker...
  • This is the beginning of a major tectonic shift. We are gaining control over what we watch on TV. We're moving from content push to content pull. Doesn't the impact of the Internet revolution point the way. Think of the implications for advertising. We'll be getting away from being brainwashed by commercials for products we were never really interested in. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Our entire culture will change when we get Everything-On-Demand.
  • I can't even get cable modem service in San Francisco. Wake me when this actually comes to the city.

    (P.S. I don't actually care about VOD, let alone (shudder) interactive TV - DSL is enough for me, but I'm not the tv fan that some here are.)

  • This service [] (I'm the Software Architect), have launched the worlds largest Video on Demand over IP.

    We have been doing this for two year now, I keep submitted links, each time we have a development, but slashdot have never seen fit to publish.

    Some links:

    "Kingston Interactive TV []

    Financial Times []

    Kingston Communications []

    Video Server Case Study []

    BBC joing broadband television platform []

    This case study [] reveals more details about the platform.

BLISS is ignorance.