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The Future of Digital Video

Once bandwidth requirements are met, the sky is the limit.

The future of digital video is anything but futuristic; rather, it’s remarkably near to the present. The advances and technologies that will transform the world of digital video in the coming years are taking shape here and now. But close as we are, I believe the future of digital video still holds many exciting developments. We are living in a visual world, one that’s on the verge of being inundated with digital video in an incredible array of forms.

Digital video itself isn’t all that new. Satellite and cable operators have been using video in a digital format for a number of years. DVDs are digital video. However, the future will alter and expand the amount of content available and the number of ways that digital video is delivered and presented.

This change will perhaps be most noticeable in our own homes. The experience of watching movies and television has undergone multiple transformations, with the advent of cable, then satellite television, then TiVo, then video-on-demand. At first, our options and choices for television programming were expanded and then new technology made it simple to watch the desired programming at our leisure and based on our own schedules. The future of digital video will take both these concepts to an entirely new level.

The brave new world of digital video will be one in which available content is astronomical in its scope. These days we are impressed by satellite television’s offering of hundreds of different channels. But the coming years will open the floodgates for broadcasters of all kinds. Virtually anyone with a message will, in theory, have the option of becoming a broadcaster. Given the plethora of personal Web sites, blogs, and podcasts that we see on the Internet today, it’s safe to presume that people will take advantage of the opportunity to disseminate their own video material via DSL, cable, or wireless delivery methods.

More news, more often

Think about all the people who will become providers of digital video content in the future. Then think about how that will expand both our access to video content and our choice of what to watch. Tuning into the 6 o’clock news will no longer mean sitting down in front of the television and viewing the news in a linear, static form. It won’t even mean TiVo-ing the news and then fast-forwarding to the sections that interest us the most. News in the future will likely follow the formula for video-on-demand much more closely than it will the current format, creating a kind of news-on-demand format. Viewers will be able to select news stories that interest them from a wide range of options and topics, then compile the content to create a news program tailored specifically to their interests.

In addition to complete control over what news options they choose, viewers will also be exposed to an incredible variety of options that goes far beyond the network and cable news offerings we currently enjoy. Again, imagine the effect bloggers have had on the news business. In the future world of digital video, these same people will have a chance to interject their commentary and viewpoints in a visual, digital format.

I don’t believe these changes portend the demise of news, or even the downfall of traditional news outlets. I think there will always be a need for news that comes out of a recognized and generally respected organization, but I don’t doubt that these organizations will be forced to learn to compete against a new segment of content providers with their own ideas and agendas.

Voice your choice

But the changes to the way we watch video content in our homes will go above and beyond how we get our news or how we choose which programs to tune into. In the future, we will very likely see home entertainment systems based out of a single server that fulfills an impressive array of functions.

This server–or residential gateway, as some refer to it–will be the hub of all entertainment and communications activity. It will become the “personal Blockbuster” for families, allowing them to download and store digital content that can then be streamed throughout the home network–a sort of new, improved video-on-demand offering.

This content will include movies, of course, but it will likely be expanded to include personal content as well, such as home videos. Streamed video could also include current content delivered from cameras stationed to watch and monitor certain rooms in the house, a child’s daycare facility, or even a beach to check for current surf conditions.

The server could even replace our need for telephones by providing VoIP. In short, the residential gateway could very well become the driving force behind television, home entertainment systems, telecommunications, security/safety systems, and a great deal more.

On-the-job training

Many of these advances in the consumer realm will also apply in the business arena. Companies will reap benefits from advances made in the way digital video is delivered and presented. Service employees will be able to pull up video content that will show them exactly how to perform various tasks–a mechanic might look up a video that illustrates how to change the transmission on a specific kind of car.

The same sort of digital video “training” might be used in a retail setting to teach customers how to set up certain products or to demonstrate how easy they are to use. Home Depot could offer video content that shows customers how to handle certain tools or even how to complete various home improvement projects. It could also offer video content that provides a comparison between similar products from a number of different companies.

The ease of broadcasting digital video will also enable more CEOs and other C-level officers in corporations to share messages directly with their workforce, even if the company’s employees are spread across the country or the world.

Socially secure

Advances in digital video technology will have a tremendous impact in the arena of homeland security. Digital video will one day make it feasible to put “G.I. Joe cams” on the helmets of military servicemen and to broadcast the images from those cameras back to field command. It will also allow for better surveillance of shopping malls, financial institutions, and even street corners. It will make it possible to position security cameras in the cockpits of airplanes for ground controllers to see what transpires and act accordingly.

The ways that digital video will inundate our everyday lives will sometimes be inconspicuous, sometimes explicit. We will surely notice technological advances in the field of telemedicine, allowing for remote diagnoses, videoconferences between doctors and patients, as well as remote education for medical students.

This would, of course, require digital video of a very high quality–high-definition video, in fact. High-def, however, requires vast quantities of bandwidth and therefore poses problems for the world of digital video. Advancements in the use of high-definition, and all the applications discussed above, will only be possible if technological advances in the ability to compress digital video can keep pace.

The simple truth is that large amounts of bandwidth are needed to stream digital video and there won’t be enough bandwidth available unless digital video can be adequately compressed. The goal for the future should be to deliver high-definition digital video in less than 3MB.

The digitization of video, and the compression of that video, will, in turn, enable a whole range of additional products that rely on limited storage space. It will mean that a high-definition movie can actually fit on a single DVD, likely boosting consumers’ willingness to switch to a HDTV set. It could one day lead to the creation of a sister product to Apple’s iPod–perhaps a “vPod,” a type of tablet PC able to store hundreds of hours of video, will one day make video as portable as music now is.

The future is now

Unlike a future that seems foreign and almost unbelievable, we are so close to realizing the “future of digital television” that it already seems familiar.It’s going to be incredibly exciting to see the future become a reality.

Rod Tiede is CEO of Broadcast International.

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