My name is Tony Gargano, and I am a junkie. Yes, I confess: I am hopelessly addicted. It all started many years ago when I read my first issue of “Newsweek.” Then things got worse. I found myself hanging around the newsstand late on Sunday nights waiting for the latest issues of “Time” and “U.S. News & World Report.” I fought the valiant fight. And, just when I thought I had my news dependency under control, I was introduced to the hard stuff. You guessed it: “The National Review,” “The Nation” and “The Economist.” I have been hooked ever since. Yes, I admit it. I am an unabashed, inveterate news junkie.
For the past several months, I have been participating in the technical trials and now the open beta test of a service being provided by Livestation (www.livestation.com). The London-based company is a part of Skinkers, a privately held company with its roots as a Cambridge, UK, technology startup. Livestation delivers live TV and radio news to your PC via a free applet that resides on your desktop. Mac users, don't despair. A Mac version of the applet should be available for beta test by about the time you are reading this.
Currently offered TV channels include Al Jazeera (English), BBC World News, Bloomberg Television, EuroNews (English, French and Italian), France 24 (English and French), i>Télé (French) and Russia Today (English). There are also radio channels, including the BBC World Service. The available channels depend on the country you are in when you connect. For the current beta test, Al Jazeera, Russia Today, the two France 24 channels and the BBC World Service are available to U.S. participants.
Traditionally, video has been streamed over the Internet using a unicast model where each viewer requires a separate server connection, consequently making scalability a very expensive proposition. The other problem with unicast is that it does a really poor job in meeting the isochronous needs of live video. To overcome these difficulties, Livestation uses a hybrid peer-to-peer model where servers only have to provide the source signal to some of the audience who in turn share it with others.
The photo in this article is a screen shot of the 4in window I have open, watching Al Jazeera, as I am typing this month's article. The video quality is excellent. Opting for full screen on my 24in widescreen monitor, the video quality drops to something a bit better than VHS.
Livestation encodes its streams using SMPTE 421M (VC-1) based encoders, and this codec seems to produce an excellent balance of quality versus hardware demands on the viewing platform. I have installed it on both my laptop and my desktop. The service, which I use virtually anytime I am on the computer, only chews up 20 percent of CPU cycles, on average. Obviously, this will vary as a function of window size. Other Internet-delivered television services have various fatal flaws, such as poor video quality, complicated interfaces, excessive CPU or graphics card demands, or inappropriate content for the viewing medium.
Recipe for success
Livestation is the first Internet-delivered television service that I have found that has come up with a unique recipe for success. It offers a simple but effective interface, excellent video quality, minimal infrastructure demands and the critical ingredient — content that is most appropriate to the viewing medium. As I have said in the past, the PC is not conducive to a long-form entertainment experience. I have often described a PC session as “lean in, doing something,” while television is “sit back, entertain me.” With its focus on news, Livestation has matched that perfectly appropriate short form of television news content with the “lean-in” style of the typical PC sitting.
During a recent conversation with Livestation CEO Matteo Berlucchi, he indicated that the current timetable is to transition from beta test to full rollout during the fourth quarter of this year. Berlucchi, who loves to talk expansively about his new service and the technology behind it, likens the company's application of peer-to-peer technology as the yeast in its recipe for success. Helping him bake that bread is Microsoft, who now has a small equity stake in the company.
For a news junkie, it is manna from heaven.
Anthony R. Gargano is a consultant and former industry executive.
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