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The near-future of TV? It's not on the web

People check out new TVs at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January.
People check out new TVs at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January.
  • Today's 3G networks don't always have the capacity to handle steady streams of video
  • People who subscribe to cable and broadband have increased, according to Nielsen
  • New devices and faster wireless networks may make mobile video more realistic

(CNN) -- With all the free video on the web these days, or compelling new video devices such as Apple's iPad, it's tempting to get excited about the day you can fire your cable or satellite TV company and get all your entertainment from Internet streams.

But having spent a few years as an early adopter trying to do this -- a "Hulu household," I called it -- and recently caving in and resubscribing to cable, it's clear to me that the future of TV is simply more TV.

At least for the next several years, the way most people consume video in their homes isn't going to change much. There may be new gizmos and services to complement or extend your home video entertainment. But the vast majority of television is still going to be watched the old-fashioned way -- on a TV set, from a cable or satellite provider.

Case in point: My most recent experiment with mobile TV, a technology that's been hyped for years but still hasn't delivered.

Last weekend, I brought my new iPad to the gym, excited to stream some of the afternoon Chicago Cubs game while I worked out.

That's one of the nice things about Major League Baseball's "At Bat" iPad app. If you subscribe to the league's MLB.TV web TV service, you can stream all the live baseball you want to your iPad.

And, in theory, that's the beauty of the iPad 3G: You don't need a wi-fi hotspot to access the internet, and can watch live video -- such as baseball games, Netflix movies or ABC television shows -- anywhere.

But the reality is that the technology just isn't there yet. After a few seconds of watching, my screen went blank, indicating AT&T's 3G signal couldn't keep my video stream alive. Then it switched me to a fuzzier stream of the game, which used less bandwidth. And then it went blank again. I tried to reboot the stream. It worked for a few seconds and then went blank again.

Based on my experience, today's 3G networks just don't always have the capacity to reliably handle steady streams of video. It may work sometimes, in some areas, but it's not reliable.

So I plugged my headphones into the TV set on my elliptical machine -- powered by a cable feed of some sort -- and watched the rest of a World Cup game. Not as futuristic, but at least it worked.

I experienced different challenges at home while trying to be a "Hulu household." There was no shortage of sources for streaming video content or new gizmos to try to hook up to my TV to support streaming video.

But if you enjoy even watching a modest amount of video, it's a lot of work always having to figure out which sites offer which video, how much it costs, which gadget it supports to hook up with the TV and how the video quality would look on a hi-def TV.

And the biggest problems are the small problems: Figuring out what to watch next, and actually going through the relatively easy motions to make it happen. Don't overlook the simplicity and serendipity of linear television channels, which always have something cued up to watch next.

TV just works. It's always there, and that's what people love about it.

So that's why Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks and co-founder of HDNet, cable network HDNet, isn't crazy when he argues that "The future of TV is ... TV." Despite all the talk about the internet disrupting TV providers, it isn't happening yet.

A few supporting facts from Nielsen:

People who subscribe to cable and broadband have increased to 66 percent of the U.S. population, up from 55 percent in 2008. Meanwhile, the percentage of the population that only subscribes to the internet -- and doesn't subscribe to cable TV -- has stayed the same around 4 percent. Online video streaming accounts for less than 2.5 percent of total video consumption.

So when are Google, Apple and everyone else in Silicon Valley going to come and steamroll the cable industry with futuristic products and payment or advertising models? That's a good question, and we're still waiting for the answer.

Apple has tried to invade the living room for a few years already with Apple TV, and it's been one of the company's biggest flops. Meanwhile, the only thing that's really exciting about Google's new Google TV product is that it works with your existing TV service. This suggests that it's not going to replace your cable subscription for a long time.

Over the next decade, technology will likely enhance TV in the living room, making it better, more interesting and possibly more social. New devices such as the iPad and faster wireless networks may eventually make mobile video a more realistic proposition.

But the Internet isn't going to knock the TV industry out of business any time soon. And the future of TV is still TV.

Copyright © 2011 Business Insider.


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