The demonstration of Microsoft’s LiveStation last week shone the spotlight back on the live P2P television market. Whilst P2P on-demand video participants such as Joost and Bablegum gain the most attention in the broader market, the live television streaming market (ie: not on demand like Joost, not user generated cam sites such as Ustream) has continued to thrive in relative obscurity. Here’s a quick look at some of the bigger players.
The newest competitor and still in private beta testing. Built on Silverlight, LiveStation has the ability of becoming a serious player due to its backing by Microsoft. See our previous coverage for a demonstration.
TVU Networks would be the most well known provider in this space. Copyright issues aside, there lineup of live channels is fairly solid with a range of US based content, although like most in this space, you’ll get better value from it if you speak Mandarin. I’ve used TVU previously, and again with my testing for this post; both times picture quality was flaky; audio is fine but it’s difficult to watch. It’s a service that would probably work better with a high speed internet connect, one quicker than my 2mb cable.
Sopcast is a very similar offering to TVU Networks but with a less polished interface. Looks aren’t everything as in my tests the picture quality from Sopcast was of a higher quality than TVU, although still not perfect. A somewhat different range of channels, for example Channel Ten Australia is available and quite watchable, although there would appear to be not quite so many US channels.
Zattoo could quite easily become the leader in this space if it wasn’t currently restricted to Switzerland and the UK, and then only by invite in those countries. The channel lineup on Zattoo is excellent, and unlike many others it’s all broadcast legally as well. Reviews for Zatto elsewhere would indicate that the viewing quality is first rate. If anyone knows how to view Zattoo outside of these countries, let us know.
PPLive comes in an English version, but that’s about the extent of English on the service. A fairly extensive range of Chinese programs. Streaming quality was pretty good for me in testing, even if I had no idea what anyone was saying.
PPMate, like PPLive and a number of other platforms (we won’t cover them all) is Chinese based and doesn’t include English content. Lots of Chinese content though and stream quality was good.
There are others. StreamStar has a reasonable list.
An alternative to Live P2P television programs is Web TV. Many providers stream live content online now, however quality, both in terms of content and quality of the picture itself can be hit or miss as programs are not streamed by a P2P network but directly. All of these stations can be viewed for free and without special program aside from the video codec support (Real, QT, WM). WWiTV is the oldest and best portal online for those looking for web TV. For unique content, ManiaTV would be one of the largest web only live TV stations.
The Mac problem
Not one live P2P television program I tested offered a Mac version, although they did work well under Parallels. There’s not a lot of legitimate money in the space due to the copyright issues involved so don’t expect to find a lot of Mac clients any time soon.
Live P2P television services do provide an alternative to on demand services such as Joost. Live P2P television lets you watch channels you may otherwise never have access to; the value provided is similar to the value many, many people get by downloading American television shows from Bit Torrent instead of waiting 6-12 months to watch them locally. It’s another nail in the coffin for geospecific broadcasting; when more and more people bypass traditional broadcast models, the old location based television model will eventually fail and we’ll all get to watch programs at close to the same time worldwide.