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Sky Player Finally Arrives Where It Belongs, But Work Still to be Done

by David Mercer | 11月 02, 2009

Things certainly didn't run according to the slick rollout plan Sky and Microsoft had promised us. In the grand scheme of things that is unlikely to have any major impact on tomorrow's world of connected TV. But the fact that two well financed global players can stumble so badly at the first hurdle demonstrates the severity of the challenges that lie ahead in the race to bring online TV to the big screen. The day after the official service launch Xbox posted the following message: “due to the unprecedented levels of simultaneous demand, we did not have the capacity to satisfy all service requests”. Xbox indicates that “many tens of thousands” of users tried to use the service. We, on the other hand, are surprised that this level of demand was not predicted in advance for such a high profile launch. The service will certainly have to cope with much higher volumes if Sky’s expectations are realised. The current status as far as we can tell (neither Sky nor Xbox have admitted to a more detailed analysis of the problems so far) is that some Xbox owners are successfully using Sky Player, some have downloaded it and been unable to use it, and others have yet to be offered the service. After the furore of the first day, when the application was withdrawn within hours of its launch, Xbox admitted that there were issues with some servers and that the service would instead be rolled out gradually to ensure that quality was not compromised. My own experience has veered from the excellent to the frustrating. I can say that we have managed to watch an on-demand streamed movie from beginning to end without a single glitch, and the video quality was quite acceptable. By contrast an on-demand sports game yesterday refused to play for more than a few minutes without buffering. I am currently still encoutering many buffering problems and Sky Player disconnections. I have also noted a few minor niggles with the user experience. The Xbox controller switches itself off after a few minutes of non-use, which is inevitable during the viewing of any TV show or movie. So live pause or any other functions cannot be selected until the controller has connected with the console, a process which usually takes 10 seconds or so. The aspect ratio on a number of shows, notably in Sky World News, are incorrectly set, so that tops of heads and captions are chopped off. News tickers are affected by jerky motion. The release dates of some programmes are not indicated in the programme description, which can be especially frustrating in the news genre. Most of these issues will surely be resolved over time. Both Sky and Xbox may be surprised (although they really have no excuses) at the initial demands put on their software and network systems and have to make further investments in order to maintain quality levels. One further point to note is that fast forward during advertisements during on demand shows has been disabled, which should certainly please advertisers. Assumign that these early problems can be solved quickly, it is clear, as we indicated before, that Sky on Xbox has the potential to shake up the UK's online TV market just as the BBC's iPlayer did two years ago. When it works, Sky on Xbox offers an entirely new way of selecting and watching TV on the big screen. The Sky Movies channel experience alone is transformed by the ability to choose instant start from a selection of hundreds of films. On-demand movies in our view will be one of the most used services, at least until Sky and its broadcast partners populate the libraries of television shows, which currently are somewhat restricted. We remain to be convinced that the streaming platform is yet sufficiently robust to support the expectations of subscribers who choose to get Sky for the first time using the Xbox platform. Given the monthly premium of up to £41 which Sky on Xbox customers will be paying there will be no room for the quality problems which are apparent at this early stage. We are also doubtful that many existing Sky customers will opt to pay an additional £9.75 a month to use the Xbox for live television on an additional TV set. The appeal of on-demand TV is immediately apparent, however, and we expect this to be a key selling point. It could be enough to tempt existing Sky customers to buy an Xbox 360. Xbox had better make the most of this window of opportunity: the rumours are already circulating that the PS3 will also offer Sky Player before too long. Twitter: twitter.com/DavidMercer_SA Client Reading: Online Video: YouTube vs. Hulu - Let the Battle Commence! Add to Technorati Favorites
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