Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/12/22/iptv_future/

IPTV/VoD: Fast forward to Christmas future

A day in digital heaven

By Alex Cameron

Posted in Data Networking, 22nd December 2006 11:07 GMT

Industry comment It's the Friday before Christmas. The very first thing I hear at 6am is the latest Crazy Frog jingle at full volume that's been remotely programmed into my alarm clock as a hilariously mischievous prank by my girlfriend.

I'm tempted to smash the thing, but that would mean buying the fifth one this year. At least it's nice and warm – the heating system receives hourly weather briefings from a central server that help it to regulate the temperature levels in the house. It was cold last night so it went on for two hours longer than usual.

Being a not-so-secret nerd, I live in a flat that's IP-based. You can't tell it from the outside because everything is so seamlessly integrated that it looks the same as it would have done years ago. The lifeblood of the network is my electricity cabling, which runs a gigabit Ethernet network into every room.

Every device in my home has PLC technology built in microscopically, and gets an automatic IP address when it’s plugged into the mains. It forms a home area network that controls everything electrical. The devices speak to each other through common protocols and protected from the outside world by a router/firewall fixed to the wall underneath the stairs.

As I bumble downstairs to get my morning mochaccino (already boiling as it's programmed to talk to the alarm clock), my TV has stopped playing the video version of Crazy Frog and has turned itself on and automatically tuned into Sky News, as that's my first port of call in the morning. It's important for me to get my daily dose of propaganda before I try and be independently-minded in the day.

Stock market down, politician being economical with the truth, interest rates up, international crisis – same old, same old. To break the monotony I flick over to CBC in Canada to see what the weather's like over there, as my family will happily be ice-skating away at minus 50 while I huddle up in my scarf.

I added CBC to my menu a few months ago from the line up of 5,000 international TV channels as I can get any that are available in any country. The days of satellite and terrestrial never allowed anyone to do that, but now every channel is streamed over the backbone of the internet, hundreds are springing up every day.

While I'm watching the gorgeous brunette pointing at the map, in the corner of my eye a small mail icon has appeared telling me I have new messages. I'd usually just ignore it, but I've got time, so I decide to check my inbox. Eighteen video mails, and most of them are spam. The days of written messages about penile enlargement, Viagra, stock market quotes and money-making scams are long gone – now it's the next-generation of video junk. Two of them are actually useful and from people I know. The first is from my girlfriend, clearly heroically drunk at 2am telling me how much she loves me before doing something unspeakable to the camera.

And, of course, my cat has to cause trouble. His bounding round the house and stamping on my laptop keyboard has triggered the motion sensors on my security cameras and sent me the video footage of him peeing up the curtains again. The only other piece of news is from my CFO on his way to work. He's calling to let me know the figures for the day that were collated in the last 24 hours and asking me to pop by his office when I get a chance. I need to brave the cold and go in a little earlier than anticipated.

I'm due to stay in a hotel for a conference later tonight so need to get the directions before I inevitably forget. Using my remote control I surf onto the AA's IPTV portal and text in the postcode of the place I'm going. It generates an on-screen map within seconds and I click the button telling it to email me a JPEG copy to my work email that I can print out later, and feed the details to my car, which has wireless LAN connectivity to the home network. Alongside my map is the option to peek in on the CCTV cameras along the route for real-time traffic news. I choose only the five most critical choke-points and it seems ok.

Being that ABC1 early-adopter male, my Aston Martin has all the goodies I need and they are all integrated with one another. My GPS and multimedia deck already know what I need as they are securely logged into my house network via Wi-Fi. Before I went to bed last night, I queued up five new albums of music downloads and set them to transfer onto my hi-fi in the lounge and my car stereo. Luckily, it's clever enough to auto-kill any suggestions like X-Factor singles, boy bands, emo and record label-manufactured dross before it reaches my sensitive morning ears.

It will auto-sync when I get to the office and when I get home tonight to reflect how often I play certain songs and what kinds of mood playlists I've put together. Today it's a John Mayer day. Not sure if I can deal with the Manic Street Preachers at 7am. Surviving the obligatory M25 and South Circular traffic jams is a breeze, because I can just watch TV on my mobile or car deck. Last night I got an email on my mobile phone from an industry colleague recommending I subscribe to a new news service for lovers of James Bond.

While I'm walking through the office with my Starbucks mchaccino I remember there are two TV shows I need to record as I won't be in the house to scream at my voice-activated PVR. On my work PC, I call up the software to instruct my TV to save those shows on-demand on its network PVR storage service as mine is full of West Wing re-runs and A-Team episodes.

The day moves fast as we don't do meetings in my office. We walk and talk, we shout, and we get things done. Staff have Bluetooth headsets connected to a VoIP phone exchange in the office and don't have fixed seating positions. Our office workflow systems are massively advanced compared to the days of Microsoft Office. Our address books are networks, ideas are visualised in 3D, opportunities on the horizon go into IdeaBanks and radar systems to form a collective conscious ecosystem for us all to feed on and from. Work is now about intellectual output as there is no paper and all systems inter-operate. It still needs human judgement, but we've innovated-out bureaucracy.

Thank god for automation, as I'm not a man for paperwork. All my bills, correspondence and accounts are consolidated into a central electronic identity that I can access from anywhere. I can see my bank accounts, tax information, investments, insurance, utility bills, food shopping, medical history, entertainment subscriptions and transaction histories all in the same place from wherever I am, whenever I want. Everything is cross-referenced, statistically analysed and illustrated in real-time. My phone is also de-centralised and international, so rings through wherever I am, regardless of whether I'm on the mobile, at home on the landline, or on a PC.

But my electronic world has its downside too. PMT is electronic. My mum can call me whenever I am, even in the most remote of places. If I was prime minister the woman would still be neurotically video mailing me about ridiculous things that don't need to be dealt with for at least another five years. At least now I have the time to enjoy the things that the administration time took away from me before. The world is globalised and everything is local.

But it's soon time to go home, and I'm off to my hotel. GPS on my phone helps me locate the place itself, which is only a few tube stops away. My payment and check-in have already been pre-processed and the hotel's systems now I'm on my way and will be arriving in less than half an hour.

As soon as I arrive, it's time to throw my bags everywhere and settle in. The widescreen HDTV is asking me for my account details, so it can look up my centralised preferences and purchasing history. I text them in with the remote control and in a few seconds, what appears on my TV at home is exactly mirrored in front of me, hundreds of miles away. I've got 15 minutes or so before I have to head out the door, so decide to check what's new. It's found 76 new international TV channels, 400 TV programs I might like (in order of popularity), and a list of suggested system updates (themes, portals and other additions).

Just as I'm about to go out the door the TV screeches out The Cheeky Girls, because my girlfriend is on some resentful campaign of scorn and has reset my message alert at 3am as she thinks its very amusing. It's an incoming video call from my sister, who is bouncing around on the screen with my little nephew. They're singing to some dreadful IPTV karaoke service and want me to record it on my network PVR for later. Even the lyrics are playing as a ticker on my screen. It's cute, but I really have to go.

The night is as any industry conference usually is, swinging from tedious to remotely interesting. Any more talk of added-value is going to make me remove some value from someone face's. My tux is creased but I'm unscathed.

But thankfully its back to the hotel earlier than expected, which is good as I'm exhausted as usual. Eighteen hours into the day and it's about time I stick my feet up and wind down before I get any more wound up and do another marathon of sleep deprivation. It may be a sign of genius, but it makes you grumpy as hell. As soon as I get through the door, I throw my mobile on the sofa, the TV switches on and I press the button to display my voicemails and text messages because I'm too lazy to look through my phone.

While I've been schmoozing the night away, the TV has been thinking and searching and compiled a nice list of things for me to watch on a lazy Friday night. That's very handy as I really can't be bothered to decide. I flick through TV channels in different countries with the 3D interface, which means I can tuck flying and revolving screens around the box instead of just watching one thing at a time. The programme guide is a slick grey-black as I downloaded a custom theme for it.

Suddenly, shock and horror. One of the channels wasn't Star Trek, but something much worse. I've clearly stumbled on someone's home pay-per-view porn channel. Its two fifty-something old people doing things to each other that should be illegal. Nowadays anyone can have their own TV channel and this hotel obviously has paid a blanket licence to be able to show them all. I hope I'm that flexible when I'm their age, but it's time to switch over quite quickly. I've just eaten dinner and that's not really what I want to be looking at.

But it's hilariously funny, so I click the message button on screen and text in a message to one of my less sensitive friends, who I can see in online and has his TV on. It will pop up on his screen as an instant TV message from me telling him to tune to that channel because they are some fascinating home cooking recipes he might want to try out while cooking for his wife's parents that night.

After that I just have to settle. I pause all the video on screen and take a snapshot. Five is showing one of those bizarre surgery programs so I bring up their stream to the front of the display to tune in. It's already 20 minutes through so I rewind to the beginning and watch it from there instead. An hour of watching morbidly obese fat people getting liposuction is ideal for me to drift off to.

And before I know it, it's 8am in the morning.

When I get back to the house it's that Saturday before I get to enjoy all the family arguments and Eastenders disasters scheduled in for yuletide. It's DIY day and time to indulge my masculine construction worker urges. My friend Amy wants me to get some culture and get out the 3D Tate gallery exhibition portal which has just sprung up on my IPTV service, but she doesn't have a chance as I need to get out the tools and do damage.

Instead, on the TV is my radio playlist of music videos that cuts in and out with DJs, weather/news announcements and adverts that somehow escaped my advert-avoidance software. The playlist information was on the home stereo and automatically loads up the videos when I put the TV into background mode. It can also lock up in kids-mode in the same way, but I only ever need that when my nephew comes round, and I just download my sister's security settings from her TV.

After mastering panelling first thing (which I thought I'd never see myself doing), I take some pictures on my digital camera and upload them to my TV homepage with a message for all my friends to worship my carpentry skills. I even took some video clips on my phone of me drilling into the wall violently and upload those so they are an eccentric-but amusing looping TV channel. A quick call to my ISP gets me capacity for another TV channel, as they gave it to me free with the package I bought last year but never used it.

After a little destructive catharsis, I'm in a slightly more relaxed mood so it's time for chill out and watch mindless rubbish on the TV. First stop, YouTube. The top 10 movies that morning are filled with home TV channels of weird Oriental types miming along to awful boy band songs and dancing kitten mash-ups. There's only one thing to do, and that's explore. The choice is overwhelming – every piece of content ever created, arranged alphabetically, chronologically, by popularity, by obscurity, category and genre, and even randomly. I could be here for years as the content just keeps piling in and is out of control.

But my relaxation is ended abruptly by my best friend letting himself in the house, telling very rude jokes about my mum and calling me awful names. He's decided to come over and pollute my day with a crate of beer and questionable movie clips on his mobile phone because I'm too serious, apparently. It's a few hours of video games for us, and thank God the days of consoles are over. He simply calls up the violent shoot 'em up he runs on his Playstation on my TV and we plug in a gamepad each to do battle at the level where we left off a few weeks ago when we were at his girlfriend's place.

It's time for that elusive lazy weekend that is well overdue. Man films that offer no moral or spiritual substance and cruel jokes at the expense of those too weak to fight back. We surf over to his favourite movies and TV, and pick out the latest violent horror film he's watched and been enthralled by. One lick and the IMDB information is on our TV screen and the trailer is playing to help convince me. As it's on demand we can pause in one room and move into another, which will be very handy when I finish building that bar in the front room that my other half will do anything to sabotage.

The future never looked so fun.

© Digital TX Ltd

Digital TX Limited is a London-based provider of technology and consultancy solutions for interactive digital television and broadband media. Alexander Cameron can be reached at alex.cameron@digitaltx.tv.

As well as co-ordinating the birth of the IPTV Consortium (IPTVC), Alex is now offering a great value one-day workshop course on IPTV and Video On-Demand (VoD) specifically for web and media professionals. It can help you get up to speed on the latest technologies, content deals, operators and applications across the world, and offer immense value in identifying both new opportunities and threats for your business and personal career. If you would like more information, call Alex on 07986 373177 or email iptvworkshop@digitaltx.tv. Readers who quote The Register as their source will receive a 10 per cent discount on the course fees.