There is more than way to watch TV online. The protocol that gets the most publicity is Bit Torrent, because it seems like most people have a Bit Torrent client and are more than happy to torrent. The publicity and attention that torrenting has got over the last couple of years has also put it in danger in much the way that Kaazaa was several years ago. Also, unfortunately, ISPs have started shaping their traffic and torrents have suffered as a result. There are other ways to see your shows and I am going to talk about three here.
Before I list them I want to talk, just briefly, about the Internet and how it works. The Internet works by sending messages from one computer to another via a server. These messages come in the form of data packets. They are small bits of information, and each packet can follow a different path. This is helps when getting information from one computer to another because it means that areas of high congestion can be skirted around. All Internet protocols use packets of information. These packets are then assembled on your computer and you see the image, or video, or website. Packets are also used by online TV, but the way they are assembled depends on the client you are using and can affect the quality of the image or sound.
Now, onto the three ways to watch TV online.
1. Streaming From the Network’s Website
Believe it or not, you can see a lot of shows on the network’s websites. If you’ve missed the show during the week you can go the NBC, ABC or CBS and watch the show there. The networks rely on streaming technology, which means that the packets are assembled and shown in order, and usually reside somewhere on a server. The shows are on demand. This is great news if you miss the occasional show, and the show will usually be there the next day for you to watch. There are few downsides to this way of viewing, though. If you watch during high traffic times you could get a lag as the packets will take longer to assemble, since the need to be assembled in order, and it’s possible that the picture will become jerky because of damaged packets. The episode is usually only up for a week, no more. Also, if you are not in the country of origin you are out of luck, the networks don’t allow anyone from foreign markets to watch their shows.
2. Peer to Peer TV or P2PTV for short.
P2PTV, as the name suggests, uses the same technology that torrents use. The only difference is that the picture is assembled in order so you can watch it as you go, where normal Bit Torrent clients assemble the file in a random order, taking the information from the various people seeding online at that moment. The two big players on the market with P2PTV are Vuze and Joost, which is in beta at the moment. The picture comes across clearly and the clients used are easy to operate, as you’d expect. P2PTV has the advantage of being able to get around network congestion more easily than streaming from, say, a network’s website, because of the way torrenting and peer to peer clients work. The main limitation is that because P2PTV uses the same technology as Bit Torrent it also has the same inherent restrictions as the torrents do. Namely, if your ISP is shaping traffic or you are on a college or school network that restricts the use of Bit Torrent, you are most likely going to get caught in the net with one of these clients.
3. Streaming Multiple Channels Via a Client
This is similar to the first option of watching the show via streaming on the network’s website, but it takes it a step further. As with P2PTV you have to download a client to watch the show, and with this technology you can watch the show real-time rather than later. As with the networks, the show is using streaming which looks like normal traffic to the ISP’s and college networks, and therefore is likely to make it to your computer. The client allows you to pick the station you wish to watch from a list, and from there you watch the show. It also has the advantage of bypassing the restriction on foreign markets that watching the show on the network’s website has. There are many clients available online that you can use to stream TV channels to your computer. The disadvantages of using streaming via a client are pretty much the same as for watching via a the network’s website: During peak load times you can get lagging images, or perhaps jerky images because of slow moving and damaged packets. This will mean that the picture and sound will be less than ideal.
There are three main ways to watch TV online that are not directly connected to Bit Torrent, although one of the ways uses similar technology. It depends on your situation and how much TV you really watch as to which one is best for you. You can either watch the show on the network’s website, use P2PTV or an online streaming client. Each way has its advantages and disadvantages. If you don’t want to use torrents, then there are alternatives.