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A Year Over the Top

This week marks one year of
sampling a large variety of overthe-
top video hardware and software
in a makeshift office lab.
Why? To understand the reasons
people cut the cable cord, or hang
out on the “connected” side of today’s
Internet-connected TVs.

It seems like a good time to
share some findings.

1. What I use the most of the
over-the-top services: Amazon
Prime. Why? Amazon was first to offer Downton Abbey
season two, which I could watch on a Vizio screen at
home while “getting steps” on the treadmill. (I am OCD
about 10,000 steps per day, thanks to the Fitbit, to which
I am wonderfully addicted.)

After that, and still on Amazon Prime: Tanked. Tanked
is a family viewing activity, marathon-style — but, alas,
the main TV in the house isn’t Internet-connected. So I
brought home a Sony streamer, which was dissed at the
lab for its clunky on-screen remote (it’s as clunky on the
Sony PS3). But, it has Amazon Prime. The Tanked binging
continued in the living room.

2. Observation: Be careful what you wish for, in terms
of user experience. OTT apps like Netflix and Amazon,
as well as cable-video apps like Comcast’s Xfinity TV,
can use or not use various native features within each
streaming device. This means the same app can behave
differently from one screen to the next. (Maybe we’ll all
just get used to this?)

When marathon-viewing Nurse Jackie on the Vizio
screen, for instance, the Amazon app keeps track of episodes
I’ve seen with a simple check mark. No such feature
on the Sony streamer upstairs. Same app, same
show, but you need to remember which episode you
watched last.

The flip side of that, which comes with DLNA, is that
any software-based video app can leverage native device
features that are cool or handy.

Example: At the Cable Show in June, on a back wall of
the CableNET area, Cox Communications showed how
its Trio guide had taken advantage of a native feature inside
a Sony connected TV, such that in-show navigation
happens on a scroll bar, frame by frame. It looked great.

3. What I use the most at work: Comcast’s AnyPlay,
fed by Motorola’s Televation box. Live, streaming cable
TV on the iPad. Love it. Make it do trick-play, I’d love it
even more.

That’s a short walk through a year’s worth of OTT-ing
in the lab. Next time: What all that streaming did to the
broadband meter; the puzzle of getting a signal to everything;
and the multiplier on remote-control clutter.

Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis at