Online streaming has a lot of perks. The episodes are on-demand, so you don't have to worry about missing your favorite show. You watch them while they download, so you don't have to wait an hour for the whole file to finish transferring.
But unlike shows downloaded from Apple's iTunes store, any hiccup in Internet service can leave characters hanging in mid-sentence – or drag action scenes to a crawl.
"This is an important time because it's just before video is about to become a big problem," says Roberts, who is now chairman and founder of Anagran in Redwood City, Calif. Last month, this Internet hardware firm unveiled a new "flow router" that he says can better manage today's Web traffic. Instead of treating every one and zero as the same, the Anagran router gives priority to important data – perhaps streaming video – over smaller, less-urgent files such as e-mail.
Searching for ways to work around today's Web, British technology company CacheLogic proposes a hybrid system that would allow videos to flow into your computer from different sources. First, a video distributor would store multiple copies of a file on computers around the world, so that wherever the viewer is, the video doesn't have to travel far. This practice is already well adopted by large distributors. But CacheLogic wants to supplement this method by drawing from computers that have already watched the video, adding a legal peer-to-peer file-sharing element to the mix.