Until now, watching TV on a PC hasn’t been an attractive proposition...
Go back 10 years and it meant installing a TV tuner card just for the convenience of viewing programmes in a small window on a similarly diminutive CRT monitor. In later years, despite Microsoft’s grand claims about Windows Media Center and the PC’s destiny as the centre of the home-entertainment setup, few people saw the advantages of connecting a computer to their living-room TV. Watching television on a PC, therefore, meant sitting in the study, hunched over a desktop.
Even now, with a plethora of online TV and video services available, the PC monitor is far from the primary screen for watching television programmes – and you have to wonder whether it ever will be. But services such as the BBC’s iPlayer are bringing a new convenience to entertainment that allows us to use a PC or laptop to supplement the schedules and watch shows when and where we want.
iPlayer, which launched at the end of 2007, is at the heart of the BBC’s push to embrace on-demand television. It was an instant hit among technology fans, and it wasn’t long before the service began to appeal to a wider audience, and it was all thanks to Sir Alan Sugar.
‘The Apprentice’ is one of the BBC’s most popular programmes, but even the former Amstrad head honcho couldn’t compete with the Champions League final when it comes to ratings. So when Sugar’s show came up against the biggest match of the season at the end of May, thousands of football fans weren’t able to watch it during its traditional Wednesday-night slot. Many believe the scheduling clash was responsible for a surge in iPlayer traffic, with Apprentice fans going online to catch up with that week’s instalment. ISP Plusnet claims 50 percent of the streaming traffic on its network was accounted for by iPlayer over that period.
iPlayer was suddenly making the headlines, and more and more non-techies were forced to try the service for the first time in order to hear the latest news from the boardroom. It’s fast becoming a key component of the BBC’s package of broadcast services.
But iPlayer isn’t the only way to enjoy TV on your PC. While it’s the most high-profile example of the new generation of on-demand services, all of the BBC’s competitors have been busy in this field, with mixed results. You can watch ITV, Channel 4, Five and Sky content on your computer, and the added flexibility of wireless means you’re no longer restricted to the study. Plus, while services such as iTunes are slightly different in that they require you to download paid-for content, they still encourage people to watch shows away from the living room.
So while TV on your PC is far from the home entertainment dream, it has brought a significant change in the way hundreds of thousands of people consume broadcast content. Read our feature to find out how to get the most from the 11 best services in the UK.
Goodbye Bill Gates
We couldn’t let this issue pass without saying farewell to Bill Gates. The Microsoft founder has retired from his full-time position at the head of the world’s largest software firm to devote more time to his philanthropic efforts.
Love him or hate him, Gates has been a driving force behind the development of the PC industry, and this month we look back at his 33 years in charge of Microsoft. To read our selection of his most memorable moments, purchase a copy of our September issue - on sale now.