It can be very confusing for someone when first looking for video content on the Internet. A variety of confusing terms, lack of decent information, dubious legalities, the threat of viruses, and a healthy dose of snake-oil salesmen, all add up to an unpleasant and potentially soul destroying experience. In this guide I will try to help you avoid the bad, while steering you towards the good.
There are two distinct flavours of Internet TV. The first is video that you can view on your computer, either live or pre-recorded, and the second is video delivered over your Internet connection to your regular television, using a modified set-top box. This second option, known as IPTV, is a new technology, and has more in common with traditional cable or satellite TV service than online video. This article is concerned primarily with online video.
If you are like myself, you are probably interested in seeking out good quality video content that is available on the Internet. The question is, where do you start?
Live TV stations broadcasting on the Net
There are a limited number of television stations that are broadcasting their signals over the Internet. This is in stark contrast to the number of radio stations doing the same thing. The main reason for this is that TV stations tend to buy in a lot of their content, with tight restrictions on where it can be shown geographically. Stations that produce all their own content such as community stations, public broadcasters, and those covering niche subjects or news, are far more likely to webcast their signal. While there are a few notable exceptions, for the most part this means that the choices available are pretty dire. It doesn’t help that there are few decent subjective resources for finding these stations, something we plan to address at WorldTV in future. For the time-being I would recommend the venerable wwitv.com as a starting point.
Live TV stations broadcasting on the Net (Illegal)
Where there is demand that is not being met by legal means, illegal sources to meet that demand will always proliferate. In the case of television, there is a huge demand to watch television from other countries, and quite frankly it’s insane that in this day and age you can’t. So where there’s a will there’s a way, and where there’s neccessity there’s invention. Say hello to P2P-TV.
P2PTV is the concept of peer-to-peer taken to its next logical step – streaming video. There’s a handful of P2PTV software programs available, most coming out of China. What these programs do is relay TV stations illegally to other users over the Internet.
These products are generally advertised through websites such as TV.org, unlimitedtvshows.com, tvadvanced.com, freetvshowsonline.com, football-4-free.com, and so on. DO NOT GIVE THESE WEBSITES ANY OF YOUR MONEY. All you are buying is links to free software that you can find yourself through Google. Some also make the dubious claim of offering ‘support’ in return for your $£€. One good site which I do recommend, and which is free, is football4less.com. Although it is focussed on soccer, it has a good guide on the different P2PTV software programs, as well as download links.
A few notes of caution. Most of these programs are written in Chinese, and while a few have English translations, the translations are pretty diabolical. The TV stations that are available are also generally Chinese, or Italian, and navigating your way through the channel listings can be an exercise in frustration. Very often channels will not work, and this is especially the case when trying to access during peak demand such as during a popular sporting event, the main reason you’d probably want to use one of these programs. Unless you are very desparate, or speak Chinese, I do not recommend you install these programs. They do appear however to be pretty safe i.e. no viruses.
The programs are illegal because they involve the public rebroadcasting of copyrighted television signals. By installing the program you are technically aiding and abetting in this, although it’s unclear whether Chinese copyright laws extend to the TV stations in question. In any event, P2PTV is well off the ‘radar’ for now, although that would certainly change if a popular English language P2PTV program was released, surely just a matter of time. I suggest for now though that you give these programs a wide berth, if only for the other reasons stated earlier.
Downloadable movies and TV shows (Legal)
This is perhaps the most active area in terms of new development. From Apple selling TV shows for its video iPod, to AOL offering free back catalogue TV shows, every week it seems there is a major new initiative or announcement. But things in this area are just getting started, so for now the choices are slim. I’ll be covering every new announcement as it happens on these very pages, so be sure to come back regularly, or subscribe to the RSS feed.
If you can’t wait until then, and are itching to find some content, I’d recomend CinemaNow.com, or if you live in the US its competitor MovieLink.com. Another site with less attractive content (albeit some of it free) is MovieFlix.com.
Beyond that, you will need to visit individual broadcaster’s sites to see what they have available. Usually it’s not very much. Do let me know if there are sites that you particularly like.
Downloadable movies and TV shows (Illegal)
This is a risky area, much more so than P2PTV. Traditional P2P file sharing software such as eDonkey, Gnutella and Limewire allow you to find all sorts of video content, most of which is illegal. The threat of downloading viruses is high, and the threat of receiving a nasty fine from the MPAA or similar body is quite real – although you would have to be very unlucky.
If you must explore the file sharing networks, DO NOT follow ads on Google that purport to offer TV download software, and be wary of any software that you have to pay for, unless it is an ad-free or deluxe version of a popular file sharing program like Morpheus Ultra. Instead, do your research on software review sites like download.com, and follow the reviews, advice and links from fellow users. If you are on a PC, be sure to install anti-virus software, I would recommend F-Secure. Another tip is to only download files that are an appropriately large size for the content they are supposed to be. A video clip, even a fairly short one, is rarely smaller than 10MB. If it’s smaller than that, it’s probably a virus.
The most recent development in this area is services based on the BitTorrent protocol. BitTorrent is not for the fainthearted and some technical expertise is needed. A comprehensive place to start is Wikipedia’s BitTorrent page.
Internet born video and experimental services
So far I have discussed ways of finding traditional video content produced by the major media companies. Beyond this, there is a vast amount of non-traditional video content created exclusively for the Internet. This includes professional productions such as web-only dramas and behind the scenes documentaries, semi-professional content from aspiring producers and upstart Internet broadcasters, and non-professional content from people’s mobile phones, video blogs or ‘Aunt Gemma’s 80th birthday party’.
Where to start? Well for professional quality stuff, look no further than Atom Films or the very excellent iFilm. For video blogging check out Vlogdir or Vidblogs, and finally for a bit of everything try Google Video, Vimeo or YouTube.
If that isn’t enough for you, be sure to come back regularly for all the latest developments in online video as well as reviews and recommendations.