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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Wi-FiTV: A Smorgasbord of Worldwide Video Content

WiFiTV logoThe technology to effectively provide streaming video content over the Internet has come a long way since late 1990’s. That is when the barriers of having enough horsepower and bandwidth in home PCs to support acceptable streaming video were broken. Providing worthwhile and compelling content that consumers will routinely incorporate into their media diet is the next hurdle for streaming video. Wi-FiTV is a streaming video portal that has taken the challenge by offering over 200 channels (I counted 209) of TV and some Web-only content from over 50 different countries. It also streams 50 audio-only channels of news and various musical genres from around the world. The moniker, “Wi-FiTV” was chosen a few years ago in anticipation of streaming video content over widely available Wi-Fi Internet connections.

Wi-FiTV currently has a free 30-day trial that does not require a credit card. After your trial is over, prepaid yearly subscriptions are available for only 99 cents per month for a limited time. The first thing I noticed about the website was that the layout and the interface still seemed like it was in a quasi-fledgling stage of development. To view streaming video through the embedded player, you must have both Windows Media Player and Real Player installed, because all of the channels are not using one or the other. This may pose a slight inconvenience for some, but most Web-savvy viewers have both installed anyway. Next, I decided to do what came naturally. I started surfing WiFiTV screenshotthrough the channels to see what Wi-FiTV was all about. There were channels from Albania, Pakistan, Serbia, Vietnam, the U.S., and the United Kingdom to name a few. Wi-FiTV serves up a variety of programming ranging including webcams aimed at barroom patrons, live talk shows, and assorted music video channels. The quality of the content was inconsistent, which is to be expected to a certain degree, since Wi-FiTV is acting as a conduit to deliver content from wide range of sources from amateur, public access video to rebroadcast content from existing television stations. Some of the channels had all the clarity of a circa-1975 video of Super 8mm Bigfoot footage, while others were pretty clear. After sampling a couple dozen channels over the course of few weeks, I was able to find some gems in the bunch like:

Channel 25 - eaTV - (USA)- New music including a live broadcast.

Channel 95 Astro TV - Astrology (German) - Attractive Blond dealing Tarot cards for phone in callers. I don’t speak German, but I liked to watch her shuffle the cards.

Channel 134 - Cybertika (France)- Music Channel - Watched "LA WEB TV Musicale".

Channel 176 - Kulaks Woodshed (USA)- Live Acoustic Music Performance (Web TV only). – Performances included: John McEuen 2001 performance, Maia Sharp 2003 "A Home", Laurence Juber 2002 "In Your Arms", Annie Rapid "Tails of Spain".

Channel 177 - Mania TV (USA) - Pop culture, short films and Talk shows

Channel 183 UWTV (USA) - Education TV from the Univ. of Washington – I watched a lecture about the Surgical Treatment for Ankle Arthritis including PowerPoint slides of x-rays and photos. I felt like I was in Med school without all of the pressure.

Channel 215 - Music Plus TV (USA) - A Los Angeles-based live Internet TV station that promotes independent, undiscovered and unsigned artists.

The viewer interface gives you the option to go to full-screen, but in most cases this turns it into an “impressionist” video. Wi-FiTV also offers free PC to Phone calls (US Only), free PC to PC calls worldwide, and a videoconferencing application called “Wi-Fi TV Virtual Living Room”, which is free now while it’s in beta. Once you have all of your favorites, you will naturally want to schedule recordings and record programs for personal use. Wi-FiTV recommends a couple of third-party applications from Applian Technologies, the WM Recorder from Applian Technologies that will set you back $30 separately or $50 for the “Replay Video Suite”.

Overall, Wi-FiTV seems to be onto something very cool. It remains to be seen how many people will find the content sticky enough to subscribe and make it part of their media diet. Wi-FiTV is in a unique media space, in which it is not in direct competition with Cable or Satellite TV. It seems to have a symbiotic relationship with Cable and Satellite TV, while offering somewhat of a social network built around a video content portal. In my opinion, the strength of the Wi-FiTV’s social network will be the key to its success. Building Wi-FiTV as a MySpace, Orkut, or Friendster type of social network revolving around worldwide video content and “citizen TV” is the way to go.

Check it out at:

Bottom Line: Wi-FiTV is worth a try.

Matt "Video Globehopper" Largo


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