Surfing past terrestrial television

September 17, 1999

Recently, direct streaming of video images over the worldwide web has moved from the realm of science fantasy into one of today's most exciting internet technologies. Although still in its infancy, this technology enables one to watch BBC news broadcasts as a direct video stream to a computer anywhere in the world, listen to the Today programme, and sometimes even follow testmatch cricket via your computer. Web designers can make programmes more interactive, mixing traditional video with online reference material, question-and-answer discussion groups, and links to other sites.

Pirate radio and public access cable television opened the doors for minority audience broadcasts, but the doors are now flung wide. We can expect a massive explosion of new internet broadcasters catering to every conceivable type of audience. As is always the case when media revolutions occur, it is clear that the quantity of information will expand - but will the quality improve?

Video streaming is still very much in its infancy, particularly on this side of the Atlantic where internet connections are relatively slow and expensive. The breakthroughs that the US has already achieved are mainly because of free local-call internet access. Only a complete revision of our telecommunications payment structure will enable Europe to catch up - although the government seems blissfully unaware of this disastrous state of affairs. UK image quality is often poor, with minute images and jerky updates when the internet becomes too congested. The situation is better for academics and students at universities, which have high-speed internet links.

Nonetheless it seems likely that we will eventually follow the pattern laid down by the US - where commercial internet broadcasters, such as broadcast.com serving an exclusively internet-based viewing community, are becoming well established. Netradio.net offers more than 120 live 24-hour radio channels, and new video and audio streaming services are becoming available daily. It is one of the aims of The Vega Science Trust to ensure that video material streamed over the internet under the Vega name will be created with the philosophy that the scientists who create advances are enabled to communicate their achievements themselves.

Chris Ewels, The Vega Science Trust

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