Chapter 8. How Internet/Television Connections Work
When people first began talking about the "information superhighway" several years ago, it wasn't the Internet they were talking about. Instead, it was televisionand specifically cable televisionthat they believed would change the way we lived and worked. There were visions of 500 TV channels, "interactive television," shopping from home, and customized news available whenever you wanted it. This information superhighway was going to hook us all together electronically so we could more easily communicate and get information, services, goods, and entertainment. It didn't pan out that way. Instead, the Internet has become an information superhighway that can do almost everything people imagined could be done by using cable TV.
But the Internet is no longer the sole driving force behind the information superhighway. Every day, TV and the Internet are drawing closer to each other. The Internet is gaining more TV-like qualities, such as playing videos and music, to broadcasting live video feeds. Television technology is starting to use the Internet to add interactivity to the television experience.
In fact, television and the Internet are already merging. Soon you'll be able to watch a sporting event and simultaneously chat with others while you're watchingall on the same screen. Furthermore, when a batter comes up to bat during a baseball game, you'll be able to use the Net to get detailed statistics about the batter, and even past videos and highlights of his career.
Television and the Internet have already begun to merge in very real ways, notably through cable modems, interactive TV (which uses the Internet to deliver information to people on their TV screens), and IPTV, which uses the Internet's underlying protocols to deliver TV signals to people's homes over telephone lines.
Cable modems offer extremely high-speed access to the Internet. They enable you to access the Net using the existing coaxial TV cable that comes into your house. Cable modems offer T1-like and faster speeds, but at a fraction of the cost of T1 lines. They can deliver these high speeds because they are sent through high-capacity cable lines. Because Internet data and the normal cable signal coexist on the same lines, you can access the Net and watch TV simultaneously.
A different technology enables you to browse the Web using your television set. A set-top box connects your TV to the Net via a modem, takes the signal from the modem, and sends it to the TV. A remote control-like device enables you to browse the Web while watching TV at the same time. Interactive TV goes a step further and uses a set-top box to enable interactivity with your PC, using Internet technologies. At this point, no single standard exists for how Internet-enhanced TV works, nor even an agreement on which features such a service should have. The illustration in this chapter shows some of the common ways that such a service will most likely work.
Finally, telephone companies are getting into the business of delivering TV signals into people's homes over fiber-optic lines. They do this using IPTV, which uses the Internet's underlying protocols to deliver TV.