Napster is disappearing in our rear-view mirrors, but during its rise and fall, it ignited a fire that cannot be extinguished. Napster popularized a "peer-to-peer" system for people to share audio files over the Internet. Now it appears that peer-to-peer video sharing may soon become a reality. Will it suffer the same fate as Napster? If it survives, it may become the dominant means by which we share the videos we make with the world.
Distributing and sharing video via the Internet is not new. Although it has been exciting to consider sharing video quickly and inexpensively, many TV viewers don’t consider anything less than VHS quality worthy of the phrase "Living Room Quality Video" (LRQV). The reason Internet video has looked so bad is that videographers and Web masters have been compressing it for delivery through low bandwidth connections. To make video "stream" at 56kbps or slower, or even to allow it to download reasonably quickly at these speeds, we have had to compress it greatly. Doing so has seriously compromised its quality.
We can now, however, offer less-compressed versions of our videos on the ‘Net. Whether using the current proprietary streaming video codecs or the industry standard MPEG-4, we now have the ability to deliver LRQV to our broadband audience.
This is a powerful combination: low compression, peer-to-peer networking and broadband Internet access.
Sharing video via the Internet is also extremely inexpensive. Compared with physically mailing a VHS copy ($2 for the tape plus postage), plus time spent packaging it, Internet delivery of video is essentially free of charge. In addition, mailing a VHS copy requires that you know the viewer’s street address. Making your video available via the Internet allows you to share your video with viewers whom you know nothing about, protecting their privacy.
Replay TV has announced that Replay TV personal video recorders (PVRs) ready for broadband Internet access will soon enter the market. Users will be able to exchange their video files with one another, in peer-to-peer fashion. These hard disk-based PVRs are easy to use and do not require the creator to engage in complicated capture and encoding routines. Recording your movies into one of these PVRs should be as easy as recording from any other source; just plug in the RCA video or S-video (Y/C) and audio out from your camcorder or VCR into the PVR. When these machines are networked together, the recipient of a PVR-shared video will not even have to own a computer. Better still, you’ll get LRQV from the comfort of your couch in the living room. PVRs may offer the best of all worlds: high-quality viewing in a relaxed environment with all the benefits of Internet distribution.