For some TV watchers, deciding to keep cable instead of cutting the cord is as much about quality as content. Although streaming TV bundles such as Sling TV and PlayStation Vue offer many of the same channels as cable, often at lower prices, they also might not look and sound as good or be as reliable.

Frame rates are sometimes lower than what people expect for sports and news channels, surround sound support tends to be nonexistent, and the timing of the live stream often lags behind broadcast and cable TV. That’s assuming you can launch the live stream without any loading glitches, buffering issues, or authentication problems.

But at the Streaming Media East conference in New York in May, industry executives seemed optimistic about their ability to get over those hurdles; in fact, there was a feeling that the live streaming TV experience will even surpass broadcast and cable TV in the long run.

Bringing quality up to par

One of the biggest drawbacks with streaming TV, especially for sports, is the lag that occurs between the cable broadcast and the live stream. A 30-second delay might be okay if you’re watching TV in a vacuum, but it’s disruptive if you’re hearing cheers from the neighboring apartment after a big play, or looking at reactions on Twitter before anything’s even happened on your TV.

“We are acutely in touch with those users, and that is the number-one complaint, by far,”  said Fox Sports senior vice president Clark Pierce, who is in charge of Fox Sports Go apps. “I think that’s a big, big gap between the television experience and the streaming experience.”

The main reason for latency is that the live stream gets chopped up onto chunks–usually of around 10 seconds each–to be delivered over the internet. A streaming player such as Apple TV might require a few of those chunks to be lined up before it starts playing the video, launching viewers into a point that’s well behind the live broadcast.

The good news is that solutions are on the way. Akamai, which operates a content delivery network that brings information and media closer to end users, recently announced a plan to process smaller chunks of video more quickly, resulting in near-broadcast latency of around 10 seconds. An emerging video standard called WebRTC could also allow for lower latency as it becomes more widely adopted.

“Latency is that next frontier that I think we’ll get to shortly,” Pierce said.

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