Traditional five channel analogue television is a bit like being stranded with eight favourite records, the bible and the works of William Shakespeare. Eventually the records are so familiar they all sound like ĎAgadooí, the Shakespeare has made you the worldís leading expert on regicide, and your fifth reading of the bible has created a yen for Zen.
At this point - depending on your prejudice - one craves rescue by the tramp steamer or the luxury liner that is multi channel television, but is it to via Freeview, Sky, or Cable?
I chose Sky. It wasnít a service issue, even through the process of cancelling my cable subscription involved advanced medical experiments in blood vaporisation. My friends at the Guardian think itís a hoot that as a former cable executive, I endured the same frustrations as many other cable customers, and appear to have made the ultimate structuralist statement about cable by choosing Sky, but it ainít quite like that, so why Sky?
A television set is merely a port, the living room version of Dover for TV channels, and the rule of ports is that they exist to maximise traffic. So if you want maximum TV traffic and choice, then at the moment it has to be satellite.
Sky has 268 channels, my local cable operator NTL provides 215, and Freeview 30. Cable, once they have finished switching their networks from analogue to digital, should match Sky in terms of quantity, and Cable makes up for losing on TV by being able to provide a superior broadband service for computer users.
Do you want all those extra channels? Probably not. But channel quantity was not the reason why I chose Sky.
For me, the killer Ďappí is Sky Plus. A personal video recorder, or PVR, that is essentially a computer hard drive built into the Sky Plus box that allows you to record 40 hours of TV, up to a week in advance, spin through the commercials, and pause or rewind the show you are watching. Its biggest advantage is that I donít need a captive teenager to operate it.
The trouble is it sounds like a VCR, which is why people arenít buying PVRs in droves, they already have a VCR, and PVRs are pricey, £250 plus £10 a month additional subscription. But the PVR means no tapes, and through a series link it automatically records a whole series of the Sopranos without having to be reminded. Itís an ease of use thing; to compare the VCR with a PVR is like comparing typewriting with word processing. Remember Tippex!
As a PVR user I cream off the best documentaries (or drama or comedy) from all the channels and store them on the hard disc. In the process I create my own channel that suits my tastes better than any broadcaster can, and there is always something to watch. Even the licence fee seems marginally better value, as I watch more BBC programmes.
This is first generation PVR. It will get better, and cheaper, and although it is currently and predominantly a Sky product, as other PVRs arrive on the market it will become increasingly available for Cable and Freeview.
As someone who has spent much of his life competing with Sky it is not easy being nice to them, but Sky Plus is a significant product that deserves success.
In television the 1990s were about the multi channel revolution, and you only have to see how the BBC has multiplied its services, to realise that multi channel TV has changed British television forever. The multi channel revolution is almost over, and the PVR one is about to start. It too over time will change the way we consume Television as profoundly as the arrival of digital satellite.
In a nutshell, modern digital storage technology, be it audio on MP3 or video on PVRs, means there is no excuse to be stranded with only 8 discs.
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