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What Makes an Event TV-Worthy or Web-Acceptable?

Decades ago, somebody buying a new album would have to decide: Is this good enough to get on CD, or will I not feel like I'm missing anything if I only get it on tape. Eventually, music fans could replace "on tape" with "as a digital download."

Lately, viewers as well as listeners have had to face their own version of this: When some significant event, game or program airs, do you watch it on TV or on the Web?

I'm not talking about incidental snippets of video or everyday shows, but the sort of things labeled "appointment viewing" -- what you don't want to wait to watch, lest friends spoil it for you by telling you all about it.

Two recent examples of that: Olympic competitions and the headline speeches at the Democratic and Republican political conventions. Both can be watched online or over the air at the same time, which isn't always the case with popular programming.

By many measures, Web video can't hope to compare with TV. High-definition coverage is common on the tube (as an aside, "on the tube" seems likely to become one of those functionally obsolete expressions that refuses to die, like the idea of "dialing" a phone number) but rare on the Web and impractical for many people of limited bandwidth. Good old television also provides far better audio than most computer feeds. And you don't have to fuss with installing any new video plug-ins, either.

And yet... the Web has far more room to carry what you want to watch than any channel. You can watch on any computer anywhere with an Internet connection, not just on whatever TV is connected to an antenna or cable or satellite box. (One of the first political speeches I viewed online instead of on TV was a State of the Union speech that, owing to my getting a late start on cooking dinner and my then-home's kitchen being on the wrong side of a wall from the TV, I had to watch on my laptop.) And if somebody else has monopolized the TV for other purposes, you may not have any alternative but to watch online.

So: During the Olympics, were there any events you only wanted to watch on TV? Or did you make the decision based on what screen was in front of you at the time? What about the conventions: Will you gather in front of the TV for Barack Obama and/or John McCain's acceptance speeches, or will the nearest laptop suffice?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 26, 2008; 10:36 AM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , The Web , Video  
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I definitely would have liked to see more Olympics but pretty much stuck to the primetime broadcasts. I have low-rent DSL (768k) so watching on the PC is not a satisfying experience. After 10 minutes online I was fully appreciating the magnificence of plain old broadcast analog TV.

Posted by: Josey23 | August 26, 2008 12:08 PM | Report abuse

I like this article it poses a good question. I usually am on my laptop at the same time as I am watching the tv. It seems like the two compliment each other. The amount of Info I can get and the way I get it is amazing compared to people just 20yrs ago. I can focus in on things in the news that I like and within 10 minutes reasearch any issue that I like. you can also get news that the media for what ever reason isnt covering. Like the Bush / McCane Dui. the news isnt covering this, probably because it isnt news worthy, but I find it interesting. Or like just how angry are Huckabee supporters with the GOP>? You cant find this any where except on the blog o sphere. Where I also found a website dedicated to trying to get Huckabee to leave the GOP> The news doesnt report this stuff. But it is out there.

Posted by: John | August 26, 2008 12:29 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Josey23, above. I thought I'd watch a bunch of stuff online, but it turned out the online offerings were not all that interesting. Add slow downloads, mediocre quality, and a clunky interface on top of that, and you get me, wishing I'd just turned the TV on.

Posted by: Tony | August 26, 2008 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm, 19" CRT or 57" HD RPTV? Office chair or recliner?

It's almost enough to make me try out WebTV, despite its almost exclusive use by technophobes. At least then I could watch streaming web videos in comfort.

(Yeah, I know about MythTV and MyHTPC. I'm working my way in that direction, but it's neither cheap nor easy.)

Posted by: The Cosmic Avenger | August 26, 2008 1:23 PM | Report abuse

I tried to watch olympic events online with a 3MBps DSL connection but mostly gave up because the quality was poor and playback was full of bugs. Amount of content offered was a big step forward - too bad the quality went 5 years backward. NBC and other networks do a much better job with other programs offered online, so why couldn't they come close with the olympics? Even the archived clips wouldn't play back evenly.

Posted by: Ann Anemas | August 26, 2008 8:11 PM | Report abuse

The office I work in has a separate, fire walled wireless network with open access. I watched the Olympic soccer games on it quite successfully, using my personal laptop and setting it off to the side. I was pleased to have the option. The quality was great on a speedy network.

International soccer fans have become used to watching streaming events that are not covered in the US.

Posted by: JkR | August 27, 2008 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I am just sad that all these higher def streaming videos are using Microsoft Silverlight which doesn't work on my computer. I can't watch any of it. So I had lots of time to watch Olympics and no way to watch online.

Posted by: Jason S | August 27, 2008 8:45 PM | Report abuse

This raises a question I've been meaning to ask you... What do I need to do to be able to access TV om my Acer Aspire laptop? I get emails offering to download programs that allow me to watch TV on my computer, but I am VERY leery to go to these websites. Are there programs available thru Big Box store or a secure, dependable, TRUSTWORTHY web site?


Posted by: | August 27, 2008 9:16 PM | Report abuse

I am running 3 mbps AT&T DSL (into a wireless LapTop) and find that all of the major TV programming (like or works fine in HD. There is the occasional stall, but as long as I am not downloading at 100 mbps, or archiving to a DVD, then the HD is quite good, and the HQ is very nice.

Posted by: wmartin46 | August 28, 2008 10:52 AM | Report abuse

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