TECH 05

Tech #5
6/5/97

Hey what ever happened to video-on-demand? Unlike pay-per-view, video on demand lets you select from hundreds of films and classic television shows. You get to choose any time of the day to watch, and have virtual VCR-like controls including pause and rewind. The system actually does work, but you won’t see it in Hampton roads anytime soon.

In this region, video on demand was put to trial by Bell Atlantic in Fairfax county. Back in April of 1993 computers were moving at a comparative snail’s pace. Bell had to work out problems with automated ordering, and delivering huge streams of digital video. Beside needing fiber optic cable to carry the sheer volume of data, the files had to be compressed.

That’s an interesting topic by it self. Larry Plumb, director of communications in Bell Atlantic’s business unit explained. “In each second of video there are thirty frames. But from frame to frame what really changes? Usually it’s limited to a small area, like the mouth of an actor speaking. So we tell the computer to simply repeat static parts of the scene. That takes up a lot less computer space than re-creating each frame from scratch.”

From marketing to billing, it all clicked. Now Plumb says all we need is an upgrade of the local phone network. In Hampton Roads, it’s a work in progress. Bell Atlantic will finish first in Philadelphia. Plumb estimates that date to be 18 to 24 months away. Hampton Roads will be finished “Some time after that.” Is it worth the wait? Well, Plumb was quick to point out that video on demand is just a bonus in the package. “We’re also going to be able to keep up with an exploding demand for all those extra phone lines folks keep ordering to get on-line.” For the duration I’ll be staying on good terms with my buds in the local video store. Cool or not, this may take a while.