The Netflix Box and Distributed TV

Netflix wanted to start streaming movies and TV shows. According to Robert X Cringely, this was always Reed Hasting’s plan. So, the company started designing a set top box. But this was dropped on fears that a very jealous Apple would ban all Netflix apps from iOS if Netflix sold a box competing with the Apple TV. The box went on to be sold off and developed into the very popular Roku box.

So Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and others, are software only. This means that there is no local storage and the quality of the stream you see depends on how good your connection is, right now, to the internet. UHD 2160p is promised to be coming from Netflix, but how many people in the territories Netflix serves have the bandwidth (to say nothing of usage caps in monthly service) to support 2160p videos?

There is a better way and it involves a box and distributed TV.

This is how I imagine the box:

  • it has storage (or a connection a la USB to outboard storage)

  • it has a CPU, likely either an ARM or Intel Atom SoC

  • it runs a minimal OS, maybe embedded

  • on this OS it runs a sharing or peer to peer software

How would it work? Much like Netflix now

  • Online (and possibly through the box itself) you create and order a list of movies and TV episodes you want to watch

  • the top of your list is downloaded to your box

    • downloading takes place all the time, whenever you are connected, in the background

    • the files are encoded at h.265 or HEVC at very high bitrates, BluRay quality

  • when a movie is complete on your box, you can watch it

  • after you have watched a movie or TV episode, you can keep it on the box or delete it

    • delete a movie and it frees space to begin downloading the next item on your list

But how is this better than now?

  • The quality is higher

  • the video is not dependent on internet connection or quality once it has downloaded

More, the box OS and sharing software connects to all the other boxes in your network

  • that is, other subscribers who are also on your ISP

And the videos you have get passed along, all within your ISP’s network, to other subscribers who have those videos on their lists

Because the files are passed around in the background and at all times, the connections of the ISP are never choking on a big portion for this one application.

  • Currently in the US, Netflix takes up about 1/3 of all bandwidth in the evening “let’s watch something” hours

I imagine that ISPs would still want to block this or hold it up for ransom, so they would have to be made partners in the business.

Indeed, I have long believed that book publishers should offer all their books like subscription libraries and deal directly with readers; likewise movie distributors, producers, TV networks et al. should be doing this – big ISPs too. Get the ISP onboard with a taste of sugar (percentage of revenues) and they will devote more bandwidth to it.

The Netflix Box is another instance of decentralization. Decentralization is necessary for individual freedom. If the Netflix Box is combined with the Blogging Box, and if every user (client) is also a publisher (server) we will all be better off for it.

Last built: Mon, Feb 23, 2015 at 3:58 PM

By SWP Pond, Monday, March 10, 2014 at 7:24 AM. Ask not what the Internet can do for you...