Is IP TV really a step forward?

Let me say that I’ve been an IP TV fan since its introduction a couple of years ago in my town. But now I have to say that I am really concerned with this stuff in general. Here is my negative side of experience:

  1. Problem with modem. When I got it the service was simple – more than hundred of channels and news from provider’s web site. Yet the modem provider sold me had so huge problems – at the start it was freezing once per day. After hundred upgrades from provider (they can tamper with my modem/router and they do it even without telling the customers – one day you don’t have a problem the next day you have a problem due to upgrade which you don’t know it happen) it finally reached a state that one could call fairly stable. The modem in question is Sagem Fast 3344. My recommendation: stay away from this modem. Furthermore the rumor is that the modem we got was a part of shipment for Deutsche Telecom which rejected them as unusable and so they somehow got to my provider probably for free.
  2. You have to buy set top box (STB) and those aren’t exactly cheap. My provider was giving (both modem and Amino 103 STB) for free if you sign a two year contract. This is worse that having them rented because you are on your own if it fails some day and you won’t get it replaced with newer model.
  3. Amino 103 STB is the very low of the Amino offering – having only video output and stereo sound output. Since it is receiving a digital signal one would expect Dolby Digital 5.1 or something but, no. The device itself has one (1) red light which tells you whether it is connected to currency + it flashes when it is receiving remote control signals. That’s it. No buttons. If your remote fails for some reason you can’t turn it on, you can’t change channels and you don’t have a clue which channel it is streaming unless your TV is on. Why would you need to see the channel? Because there are radio stations on the list. And to listen (to switch) to the radio station you have to turn on the TV. Besides that Amino sometimes freezes or shows other weird behavior.
  4. MPEG Artifacts on the picture are often visible specially in fast moving scenes. And nobody know who the culprit is, well, nobody even cares that much besides the customer. I mean it could be a satellite receiving problem on the provider side, communication between provider and modem, modem problem, communication between modem and STB, STB problem. As one would expect there is no diagnostics whatsoever (exception is the modem which can tell you the line quality and the amount of packets dropped, etc.)
  5. Some channels work, some don’t and some work sometimes. Do you get an explanation? No.
  6. Provider dependency – if your provider has problems or it decides to cut you out your are without TV for at least some time. If you have a problem you can call toll free support line, wait for 20 minutes to get a student that can’t help you much anyway.
  7. A STB per TV you have to have a STB per television if you want to watch on more than one television set.
  8. No support for watching TV on computer. Currently you can watch using VLC application, yet it already happened that it stopped working for a day or two. So there is no guarantee that tomorrow you’ll be able to see the picture on computer. Ah, and you need a second network card on the computer. The other option is to use a video input on your graphic card(wonderful one – convert from digital to analog to show on digital LCD) and of course, another STB to get the signal from.
  9. Recording. Oh, this is a big issue. Forget about recording your shows. So far there are two options. Either use your computer (see above) (you really want to leave your computer on and go through myriad of clicking and computer stuff just to record a show) or use set your STB to proper channel and use your classic VCR. The later is better but, but, you are running into problems if you want to record from more than one channel. Remember, lousy Amino can change channels only through remote control.
    My provider is preparing new service called personal recorder to record the shows. Sounds great, but: limits are 6 hours and each recording disappears into the void after 2 days. Great, if you are gone for more than two days forget it. Furthermore you have to set the recorder at least 15mins before the show. If you are watching a show and you want to record it to the end – forget it. Did I mention that service is not free? All in all the personal recorder is very much useless.
  10. Video on demand. This is another service that is being launched soon. Sounds great, but: you pay for movie and have 24hrs of time to watch it. Enough? Not for me. Imagine you start watching in the evening and suddenly you have to stop for whatever reason (kids, natural disaster, something else).  You can’t watch it next day unless you get a day free and watch it in the morning. The picuture and sound quality is still a mystery. Furthermore movies aren’t exactly cheap charged 2€ and the movie catalog is very thin full of all movies. I guess the quantity will improve slowly. Will I use VOD? Unless it changes – no, thanks.
  11. Games there are few games you can play. Simple classic games and the TV doesn’t play when you are playing games. Who really needs these low level games in the era of hitech consoles is besides me.
  12. Picture in picture. Simply forget it.
  13. I certainly forgot some problems – I’ll add it when they comes back to my memory…

I have started to think if IP TV is really an improvement over my old cable TV when you didn’t need a STB – each TV has a tuner included and you can watch as many TVs your want each showing different channel for free. And you need to use a single remote control. And recording shows is so simple one could cry – fire up your VCR, make few clicks on remote and voila – any channel any time for as much time one wants. OK, you can’t watch TV on your computer unless you use video/audio input on your graphic card but who watches TV on computer anyway? Since recording options on IP TV are none I would use computer as a (last resort) recorder, that’s why I am concerned with watching IP TV on computer. Then cable TV service is much more reliable and picture has better quality (go figure). Perhaps the drawbacks are limit of the number of channels (around 40 vs unlimited on IP TV) and absence of electronic programming guide (EPG – at least I think there is still none on my cable TV – it is technically feasible though) but hey, I watch only max. 10 channels – others are junk.

Was I a naive when I switched to IP TV? Probably. I am aware of the potential of IP TV and was really hopping to see it in full glory. But it turned out that IP TV is two steps back in quality, ease of use, and much more expensive compared to cable TV. OK, there are some bright points (EPG, news) but then its other services are crap. Seems like IP TV is squeezed between a bad provider(s) and digital rights (who knows what’s behind all of these problems) The near future is uncertain and doesn’t look bright to me – even now, if you want VOD service you have to buy newer STB (not sure what happens if you want personal recorder). My provider SIOL, as all big companies, is completely ignoring customers, too. While they are making huge profits they aren’t capable of delivering services that would actually work as one expects.

BTW as a test of IP TV ease of use, try teaching your mother to use it.

What do you think?

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