A couple weeks ago I was invited to take part on the ongoing beta test of The Venice Project, the new creation from the people who kindly revolutionised VoIP and brought us Skype. The Venice Project aims to do with TV what Skype did for phones; it wants to be able to provide on demand television content to who ever wants it, when they want it. The concept is simple but the hardware, software and legalities in making it a reality are far from it. I’ve been using it almost every day and I have come to the conclusion that it’s a promising piece of software that could change the face of IPTV as we know it.
Using the Software
Once you’ve downloaded and installed the software, it’s a simple matter of logging into your account – whether or not accounts will be needed when it becomes publically available remains to be verified. The user interface is very nice and does not get in the way of the video you’re watching. The current beta is definitely not a ‘proof-of-concept’ such as the early releases of Songbird were. Although it uses much of the same technology, it’s quite a smooth program to use and the user interface has been designed with simplicity in mind. The icons for the controls are easily recognisable and you pick up how to use it pretty quickly.
At the moment, there is only a Windows XP version of the software but the creators are saying that there will be versions available for Intel Macs and Linux in the future.
At the moment, the content available isn’t that substantial but what is available is a nice look at the potential of the concept. I was pleasantly surprised to find clips from the highly popular British motoring show Fifth Gear on there but most of the other content is American and honestly not pleasing to watch.
The quality of the video was rather surprising. It’s not quite DVD quality but it’s better than most PVRs on the market. The idea behind The Venice Project is to allow you to watch what you want and when you want it so there’s no need, or reason, to save the content locally. This idea is important because it means that content providers such as the BBC, ITV, Fox and ABC etc. don’t need to worry as much as they would. Saying that, The Venice Project is meant to deliver programmes from big content providers such as BBC and Fox because they’re high quality (both in content and in resolution) and they’re recognised names in TV and film.
Although not fully functional there are additional features in the software that have real promise to make the TV watching experience more interactive and more integrated into our daily lives. Because it’s based on the same technology as Songbird and Firefox, there is the future possibility of extensions such as news tickers which could allow extra connectivity and a world of new options.
Current features in the program include channel chat, clocks and although it currently doesn’t function, The Venice Project also appears to want to integrate instant messaging via the Jabber system. That means that you can chat to your friends or complete strangers while watching TV. The extensibility of the software is promising.
The Venice Project is both an exciting idea and even more exciting to actually use. It’s got a lot of features to brag about and the software engineers and all the team behind it certainly have something to be proud of. It will certainly make an impact on the way on-demand content is watched on the computer but the mystery is how it will impact; especially with the imminent release of Apple TV.
Certainly here in the UK, I can say that the concept is something I welcome dearly. The closest things we have to a product like this is Sky+ or Freeview coupled with a DVR. The problem is neither of those are free. I’d love to see The Venice Project take off but the problem herein lies with the content providers. Recently, Channel 4 launched an on-demand service for the computer where you rent shows to watch. ITV have their own on-demand service and I was told today that the BBC are going to launch their own service in the very near future. I can only say that what differs TVP from other on-demand services is the fact it’s on your PC, it’s peer-to-peer technology and its free. The fact that it’s free for consumers would most likely put off content providers from showing anything.
Another worry is that people who have caps on their download and/or upload bandwidth will face problems. According to the site “In one hour of viewing, approximately 320Mb data will be downloaded and 105Mb uploaded, which means that it will exhaust a 1Gb cap in 10 hours.” I don’t have caps so it wouldn’t worry me but even people who don’t are subject to ‘fair use policies’ which mean that excessive viewing through the software will most likely make your ISP a little unhappy.
So, is The Venice Project going to be plain sailing or is it going to get lost? We’ll have to wait and see…