Review: Intrepid newsletter writer attempts to watch NCAA on his computer

* Are you working or watching the NCAA?

March Madness is creating a unique opportunity for showcasing new technology and what might (or might not) be around the corner. In a move that is in parallel to IP TV, CBS is offering a version that we have to call TVoIP (television over IP). And the results are most interesting.

Dubbed "March Madness on Demand," this series of events is of special interest to us on this newsletter. As we write, Steve has one window open to Word, and another open playing his choice of up to four live first-round NCAA basketball games. This offering reflects a need for at least two communities - people who have real jobs and can't watch basketball in the middle of the afternoon, and people who happen to be in a part of the country where, when there are multiple games in progress, the local TV affiliate has chosen to show a game other than the one that features their favorite team.

This review of the IP-cast (as opposed to broadcast) is intended to showcase some of the great aspects, as well as some of the limitations, of where we might be going with converging TV with computing, as well as converging work with entertainment.

After registering for free, one is placed in a queue to get into line to watch the game(s). And, depending on the time of day, the queue can be quite long. On Steve's initial attempt to check out the action, he was placed in a "general admission" queue of over 115,000 users in line - at least according to the video window. But, as lunch hour ended and as people tired of waiting, the queue diminished quickly, and the wait was "only" about 30 minutes total. Later in the afternoon, the queue was at times as short as a few hundred, and access was granted in less than five minutes. Once admitted, though, one could watch and listen for as long as desired. Obviously, this was a good move on the part of CBS in terms of controlling server load.

Once connected, any judgment call concerning video quality would depend highly on what you're comparing it with. For those of us who remember when all teams had some shade of gray as their team color (translation for kids - that was before color TV), the quality is quite good. But it is not as good as HDTV, or even normal broadcast TV. However, compared with not being able to see your favorite team play, it's pretty darn good, and there's a full-screen option.

Overall, the experiment has to be called a success and a harbinger of things to come. And speaking of some of the things to come - and their related challenges - that discussion will come in the next newsletter.

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