Friday, April 27

Broadband bandwidth leapfrog leaves us behind again

I haven't seen a message like this one for a long time - warning me that I don't have a good enough broadband connection to get a good viewing experience. It's particularly worrying when this isn't some high-tech demonstration of bleeding-edge HD vision online. It's just a video review of a new Kodak printer by guru consumer tech columnist Walter Mossberg.
It's particularly depressing when you realise that I'm sitting on a corporate internet connection that says has a connection speed about twice as fast as the average Australian cable connection, which in turn is faster than the average Australian ADSL connection, which is what the average Australian is actually stuck with.

I wish!
It's a fact of life as immutable as gravity that Australia remains hampered by a reactive, defensive, greedy and inefficient Telstra. We're still hampered by Telstra because we're led by governments with a maximum four year window on the world, when planning for future technology requires a 10 or even 20 year perspective.
Since Optus/Telstra cable and ADSL started rolling out Australians (in urban areas, at least) have experienced a massive increase in their average connection speed, but starting from a very low base, and at the same time as the US, Europe and Asia have experienced an increase that was greater still.
For the past five years or so, urban Australians on ADSL or cable haven't been troubled much by jittery, jumpy streams, or by content that nannies us like Mossberg's by warning us not to even launch the video. But if the Mossberg video warning is a sign of anything, it's that the world has moved on much faster than we have, and we may be about to sink back into the kind of second-world, arms-length relationship with overseas web content we used to suffer from back in the '80s and '90s.
I remember trying to produce a knock-off of (dead now but there's a potted history on CNet) for Australian audiences on behalf of MSN Australia, in 1996 (or so.) An online video reality-style soap opera, was something of a pre-cursor to Big Brother, in that the cast were all sharing a house and the video was shot in wobblycam over-the-shoulder reality style, although it had to be scripted and acted, if for no other reason that limited processing power made video editing and encoding so time-consuming and costly.
Our knock-off, "Friday's Beach," was almost impossible to produce. While many US viewers enjoyed TheSpot at 640x480 and 20fps, the very best we could manage, even with the cooperation of Microsoft and Telstra (used to be partners in those days) was a barely viewable 320x240 and 10-15fps - the kind of stuttervision you'd be disappointed to find in a mobile phone these days. We were forced to supplement the video content with a separately-recorded audio 'radio show' (a precursor of the podcast! ha!) as well as still photos and text diary versions of the narrative for each of the cast. That way, if you were unable to watch the video, or unable to understand it if you could get it to play at all, you could at least participate in some fashion.
Needless to say, there was no way Friday's Beach was ever going to garner a commercial-sized audience, or ever pay for its own production costs. Only one thing kept the project alive: despite all the press hype received in Australia about being the future of entertainment, nobody in Australia could really watch it. So if you were interested in experiencing the future of visual entertainment in Australia at the time, you had to make do with Friday's Beach.
How depressing that we're headed that way again; that once again we'll be the poor cousins of the online world. Particularly so since in this decade, the internet really is the entertainment, education and business platform we hoped it might be in the '90s, and this time we won't just be missing out on watching six teenagers suffering broken hearts and complaining about their homework. This time it's going to have a material effect on our culture, our access to the world, and even the only thing the current government actually cares about: the economy. Horror!

Buy content through ScooptWords