Competitive England soccer match on internet only

England’s soccer fan-base is still rocking from the news that the next competitive match, this Saturday, will not be available to view on the television. Due to the collapse of Setanta, the rights for the match against the Ukraine have been snapped up by a firm called Perform, who will be streaming their live coverage to a million viewers on the internet.

The question is, has this really been thought through? I’m a big fan of internet technologies, and I’m absolutely subscribed to the idea that computers will provide to gateway to future TV style entertainment. BBC’s iPlayer concept is fantastic. I’m aware that Channel 4 got there first, but the BBC now have a significantly more advanced product, and their commitment to formats such as the PS3 has got me hooked. I watch much of my TV just like this – PS3 connected to TV:

PS3

Catching up on Question Time is however a completely different kettle of fish to watching an England match live. I have visited www.ukrainevengland.com and checked the ‘HD’ stream. I have a number of issues with the concept:

1) Sport is especially good in HD, and is certainly best on a big screen. This ‘HD’ test stream was about 50% of the size of my 720p display. That’s not HD. 1080p is HD. This is significantly worse than standard telly.

2) Internet video streaming is still a bit ropey. The PS3 is hard wired to my good 20mb network, but I don’t trust it with something like a live competitive sport. If newsnight fails to stream, it’s no biggie. If I’ve got a load of mates around to watch the footie and the feed fails, it matters.

3) I’m a long way from being convinced by England’s broadband capacity. I figure that on Virgin Media’s fibre I stand a pretty good chance compared to those on traditional copper fed DSL, but in both cases, how can we be sure that when it comes to the crunch, the transfer capacity will be there? Gloomy autumnal Saturday afternoons are peak internet traffic zones – add the significant weight of 1,000,000 users, many of whom wouldn’t normally load the internet much at all, loading up on video streams, and I think we’ll hit our biggest contention problem to date.

4) This video stream isn’t technically permitted in pubs. Pubs aren’t well known for internet savvy landlords and big internet connections, so even if it were permitted it would present issues. I know that some pubs will acquire potentially dubious foreign satellite feeds, and while this may not be entirely legal, it makes a lot of sense. For all the reasons listed above, a landlord needs to do whatever it takes to keep punters happy.

5) There will certainly be a lack of community spirit about these matches. The very fact that pubs shouldn’t be showing it means that social football viewing will be decimated, but equally, not many homes have the capability to show internet video on a big screen. Are fans supposed to crowd around tiny computer screens to catch the atmosphere? And worse still, if you’ve got a big computer monitor like my 24″ Dell, at 1920×1200 the apparently ‘HD’ stream looks nothing short of revolting.

All this said, I’ll go into this with an open mind. I’m going to get some friends round, and hope that all the technology works. I’ll need to log in to the site on my PS3 with the details I purchased earlier in the week. The provider’s server will need to be able to support 1,000,000 streams. My internet connection will need to hold up for 2 45 minute periods. The quality of the stream will need to be good enough to reveal the sport correctly when upscaled to a 40″ 720p screen.

This isn’t a big ask. I can watch some premier league matches on ESPN HD on real 1080p HD at no extra cost, where the image is pin sharp. I predict a bit of a fail here, but I’ll let you know. I am certain about one thing though: I’m glad this match isn’t crucial, and that this effective trial will be out of the way before the World Cup Finals. I believe this is the future, but we’re simply not technically or socially ready for it yet.

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