While the blogosphere oohed and ahhed at Hulu’s beta launch this morning, another video portal quietly opened its doors. Akamai and Verizon showed off “The HD Web,” their vision of the future: hi-def movies streamed over the Internet. This concept makes sense: many Americans own HDTVs, it’s cheaper than ever to produce HD content, and most new computers have guts powerful enough to play HD video files.
The hurdle: the pipe. All Akamai’s site did was remind us that our lousy corporate connection isn’t fast enough to stream HD videos. The site suggests an Internet connection of 7.5 mbps (megabits per second) or greater for 720p video and 13.5 mbps or greater for 1080p video with surround sound.
The problem: according to the FCC’s most recent broadband report, about half of the 64.6 million high-speed Internet lines in service last summer topped out at 2.5 mbps or less. Only 3.5% had access faster than 10 mbps. The rest — almost half — had access between 2.5 mbps and 10 mbps, so many of those will be able to watch the lower tier of streaming HD video. This isn’t a problem for downloading HD video. But the streaming HD Web — for instant, I-want-to-watch-it-now gratification — isn’t much of a mainstream reality yet. Which means, for the foreseeable future, we’ll continue to watch the bulk of our HD video at our TV sets, delivered by our local cable company.
So why does the site exist?
Because both companies are betting big that some day, some sort of HD Web is a widespread reality. Verizon is hoping to sell more subscriptions to its “FiOS” fibre-optic residential Internet service, which is faster than most cable modem offerings and much faster than its DSL service. (Even fast enough, Andy Plesser says, to load the new Web site.) And by embracing Web video, Verizon also helps differentiate its FiOS TV service from the cable TV services it’s going up against.
And Akamai, a content delivery network, is eager to sell HD delivery services to its big-media customers. At 10-20 times the file size of standard Web video, Akamai stands to make a lot more money per movie pushing HD video over its network than today’s grainy, postage-stamp-sized clips.