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Introducing Brian L. Clark, Gizmodo's new writer on all things TV. He'll talk about everything that's coming next—IPTV, Video-on-Demand, HD, Blu-ray, Interactive Media, iPod and cellphone video, video downloads—stuff that's going to turn a decades-old, highly-entrenched industry on its ear. Brian is a reporter and consultant on all things digital, runs the The Tech Enthusiast's Network, and writes for Money,Men's Health, and Laptop.

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We See IPTV

By Brian L. Clark

This just in from the obvious news bureau*mdash;a new study from IBM entitled, The Future of Television 2012, clearly shows that TV as we know it is changing; that disruptive technologies like IPTV will put consumers in charge of the viewing experience and, in turn, screw up TV s traditional business model.

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Duh.

Frankly, the idea that you can get 57,000 channels via a broadband connection makes me tingle all over. What doesn t is the idea that I m somehow going to have to pay for all those channels, except for the one from that guy who broadcasts out of a barn in Billings. His channel s free.

Before discussing the future of IPTV, it might be useful to talk about what it is not. It is not any old video popped up on the Web. Rather, says Ed Graczyk, director of marketing for Microsoft s television division, IPTV is next-generation television delivered over a managed network. Graczyk promises IPTV will be better from a viewer's perspective. Users will get functionality they can t get over a one-way broadcast service, he says, like multiple picture-in-picture and incredibly fast channel changing. The typical digital cable box takes a second or two to channel hop. IPTV flips take 300 milliseconds. It s surfing at the speed of light.

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The new AT&T (formerly SBC) has launched a controlled-market IPTV entry in San Antonio, where the company is headquartered, and is promising to pass 18 million homes by mid-2008. Meanwhile, the mere promise of IPTV already has cable companies quaking in their steel-toed boots. And they ve begun to kick back. Last week the California Cable & Telecommunications Association attacked AT&T s initial plan to provide IPTV services in the state. At issue: Whether telcos should have to pay communities the same franchise agreement federal law requires of cable operators. Balderdash, responds AT&T spokesman, Gordon Diamond. They want to frame it that this is just about video, Diamond says, when it s really a network upgrade. As a result, he adds, AT&T s offering doesn t meet the requirements of a cable service as defined under state or federal laws. We ll see which industry has the better lobbyists.

Still, phone companies are drooling over the possibility they ll soon be able to offer everything cable companies can. That means bundling (TV, broadband and VoIP) services, instead of having to partner with a satellite provider to offer television service. When telcos add TV to their bottom lines, greedy little shareholders get richer.

Alas, the real holdup with IPTV is not regulation-related, but the Internet itself. Today s broadband connections aren t broad enough, so video via the Net isn t at all like flipping channels on a cable box. In fact, IPTV, Internet access and VoIP require 20-25Mbps downstream (VDSL or very high speed DSL). So telcos are in the process of laying even more fiber to the neighborhood.

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Until then, there is another way to get 57,000 channels (sort of) via the Internet. Video aggregators spend a great deal of time consolidating webcasts solely for your viewing pleasure. Here s a short list:

BeelineTV - Features TV from around the world. Great for Internationalists who need to know that the Luxembourgers are thinking, not so great for those looking for good, old-fashioned American TV.

http://www.mediahopper.com or http://www.tv4all.com Bills itself as the ultimate guide to live TV webcasts with 1,169 channels (forgive us for not counting them), including 232 from the U.S. alone. There s even a connection to Vatican TV should you need to get your confession on.

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NeepTV - Claims to have 300,000 members so far, watching live TV, movies and music videos. It charges for access—$60 for a 12-month subscription. Hmm, let s see: $60 for choppy video dependent on my Internet connection, or catch many of the same webcasts elsewhere for free?

Web62 - Includes music, sports, style and travel videos. Not a lot in the way of live television, but if you just feel a hankerin to relive the 2005 World Bowl, or gawk at Oakland s Raiderettes, this is the place for you.