I Don’t Get Streaming Internet “TV”

When I say I don’t get streaming TV, or more correctly, streaming video, I don’t mean that I don’t know how it works. I do. I work in IT. I know exactly what streaming video is and how it works. Which, in part, is why I don’t get streaming Internet video.

The thing is that in order to stream video over the Internet, and to be reasonably sure the video isn’t going to keep pausing while the buffer fills up again, the video needs to be as low bandwidth as possible. Making the video low bandwidth means sacrificing quality. In order to get the video stream to be ‘low bandwidth’ basically two things are done:

  • The resolution is decreased (i.e., the x,y size of the video frame).
  • The compression is increased.

Doing either of these things lowers the image quality of what gets shown on the screen. Doing both together, as is the case for streaming Internet video, significantly impacts the image quality.

Sometimes a third trick might be employed, which is to lower the frame rate, but doing this impacts the seamlessness of motion in the video so typically the frame rate is not allowed to fall below about 30 frames per second.

If you were to rank the common forms of video playback from top to bottom the ranking would look like this, with the best quality at the top and getting worse towards the bottom.

  • Blu-ray 1080p
  • Blu-ray 720p
  • Compressed transmission stream (TV broadcast) 1080p*
  • Downloaded 720p video.
  • Compressed transmission stream (TV broadcast) 720p upscaled to 1080p**
  • DVD-Video (576p) upscaled to 720p***
  • Downloaded 576p video****
  • DVD-Video (480p) upscaled to 720p.
  • Streaming Internet video.

The amount of compression applied may change the order slightly but Blu-ray 1080p will remain on the top and streaming Internet video will remain on the bottom.

* This is rarely seen. Typically only used for live sport broadcasts.
** This is what the bulk of modern broadcast television will be.
*** This is what most DVD playback is.
**** This is what most downloaded DVD rips will be.

The point being that streaming Internet video provides less than great image quality because the image resolution is reduced and the compression factor is wound up high so it takes as little as possible ‘room’ on the Internet as it is being streamed. Depending on your streaming connection and the speed of your Internet, despite this reduction in resolution and the high compression, you may still get pauses in the stream when the playback buffer runs out.

However, despite this, people are rushing to sign up for streaming Internet content.

I don’t get it.

While I don’t see the point of Blu-ray because there is no visible difference between Blu-ray playback and a DVD-Video playback when viewed from the correct viewing distance (for screens up to about 50”), from what I have seen of streaming Internet video playback there is no way I would bother with it.

But obviously there are a lot of people who care very little about image quality and they just want to be able to see the movies or the TV shows they like when they want—and this is what streaming Internet video provides. It matters not that the image quality is sub-standard and it was pretty pointless buying that 1080p 50” 200Hz ‘Deep Image’ LED LCD SmartTV.

I know. With most of these streaming services you can upgrade to the premium service and then you can have TV shows and movies downloaded for watching later (although some do expire so you need to must remember to make time to watch them). When you do this you get something much better. Then you get something akin to a ‘downloaded 720p video’ (depending of the actual source material). This is what I would be doing if I were to join one of these streaming services.

Mind you the problem with downloading is that each movie will be about a 2GB download, and each one hour TV episode about 1GB, so you may need to watch your download limits with your ISP, depending on what else you use your Internet connection for.

CatwomanSo, why is streaming Internet video proving to be so popular? I don’t get it. When I decide to watch a movie I want to see it in high quality; crisp with solid colour, and certainly no pausing going on while buffers fill back up and no digital noise (grit in the image) from high compression.

Imagine watching Get Smart with Anne Hathaway as 99 as streaming video! Or the new Batman movie when it comes out and goes to DVD with Anne Hathaway as Cat Woman.