Hello 2014 – The future is nearly here – but with TV not quite

Welcome to 2014, it does not seem that long ago I was a lad reading 2000ad comic books thinking how far in the future the next century seemed. I wanted to start the year of a positive technical note and that is at last we are back on BT Infinity. That means business wise it is possible to be back delivering interesting projects without a 9 hour overnight upload 🙂
Being back on high speed broadband has highlighted a few things to me though. I had thought, with a little whoop of glee that I might be able to finally have streaming media from the outside world across the house.
It turns out though that it’s not that simple!
Just before christmas we seemed to lose our digital TV signal. Both the installed antenna on the main TV and the portable one on the bedroom TV stopped working, well they worked but a lot of break up.
To solve the problem of the bedroom TV, which pretty much is only used for BBC breakfast in the mornings I popped out and bought a Roku2 streaming media box. It said “with iPlayer”. I plugged it in, did the requisite account set up in case I suddenly felt the urge to buy something from them. I installed BBC iplayer and up it popped. However what I saw was far from the iplayer I was expecting. it was a very limited subset of catchup programmes, not at all like the iplayer on the laptops. The main thing it didn’t do, which I really wanted it to, is stream live BBC 1. The BBC News Roku app did not stream the live news channel either, merely a few snippets of things to lookup. I looked at the iplayer app on my “mobile” device the iPhone and iPad and sure enough they stream BBC1. It did not seem to make much sense.

I saw some posts that people were able to use their Apple TV (a similar streaming box) to watch BBC1 by mirroring their ipad screen via the Apple TV box. I thought I would give that a go on the Roku. There is a long standing open source streaming media sharer called Twonky. It has a twonky beam app on the Roku and on the tablets and phones. I sparked it up and it worked to beam photos etc. However BBC1 was not happy to be streamed and it hit a digital wall. It was the same on the Samsung android tablet. Some things would beam, some would not.
Now if this did not work on the iPhone/apple TV combination you could say it was down to not letting streaming live TV for licence fee reasons on mobile devices was the reason. However, my laptop, phone and tables are all mobile, my Roku and TV are not really. So that is no excuse.
As a Sky subscriber (with a dish and account etc) sky multiscreen / Sky Go lets you watch anything anywhere on 2-4 devices depending on the account. So I figured I must be able to forget the BBC a they clearly don’t want me to be able to watch them, and instead Roku stream Sky.
Sky has NOWtv and their own Roku rebranded boxes that lets you pay them £9.99 a month to watch things. So the app it there and it is clearly technically capable of streaming Sky. Sky news is in fact the only live channel I seemed to be able to stream using the native Sky news Roku app. I was expecting my Sky Id to work with NowTV, hoping it would say, welcome fully paying long term customer feel free to use this Roku as one of your devices….. but no…. I needed to enter payment information. So I can’t stream Sky to Roku either. I can of course cart the Xbox 360 upstairs and log in with that and watch sky on this extra TV but that seems a bit odd doesn’t it?
I checked out some of the more private, almost hacky channels like NowwhereTV that re-streams but that was just a not very reliable BBC news channel, and hundreds of US local TV channels.
All in all this seems quite a mess? With the right device or just a full laptop I can get to the channels I pay for both on the BBC and on Sky. However non of it is very user friendly. Waking up in the morning and turning the news on should not really be an exercise in network management, patching, scrolling, clicking. There is room for a pure streaming service surely? Freeview and FreeSat do exactly what you need with a digital antenna or a satellite dish. There does not seem to be a FreeStream? The closest is probably the Youview boxes but they only really do catchup over broadband the rest is just a digital TV tuner antenna combination.
I tweeted about this and @andypiper said he was able to watch BBC and ITV using his Ouya games console using TVCatchup. This would not twonky beam either to the Roku So it seems the right combination of kit that basically supports a web browser and it will all work.
This along with the almost impossible to use ultraviolet and alike to let you see digital copies of the discs you have purchased is making a right mess of enjoying the excellent content. Even my shiny new Xbox one refused to play one of the kids DVD films at xmas. A bought one from the shop, citing some weird error code and saying I needed to be plugged into a different HDMI socket? Other worked fine just this one, but I have not tested very many to see why.
Publishers need to take a look at the industry as it is no wonder people pirate? All I want is to stream the basic TV channels that are on live. Catchup is sorted pretty much.
I did write to Roku and the BBC about this small glitch in the future of TV but I am afraid the help desk responses were nicely canned ones, and generally incorrect and inconsistent.
I wonder if I should be apply to be some sort of media Tsar for the government and sort this all out 🙂

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