Obama inauguration: Who offered the best Web stream?

If you were stuck at the office during the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States yesterday, Internet TV streams had you covered. But which was best?

Ian Morris
3 min read

Yesterday the US swore in its 44th president to record crowds in Washington DC and rapturous excitement across the globe. Being stuck in the CBS office, we weren't able to watch TV at our desks, so instead we turned to some of the many streaming services that were offering footage online. It was a huge occasion for Web streaming, but who did the best job?

We started off with a look at BBC iPlayer, which, as usual, was streaming its channels live. The picture quality was pretty good and there weren't any congestion problems, and the feed never dropped out. It has to be said, we weren't that fussed about the Beeb's banal commentary.

CNET UK's sister site, TV.com, also covered the event with a feed from CBS -- CNET UK's parent company. This video stream was reasonably small, with rather disappointing quality. That said, the audio commentary was probably the best of all the channels we looked at and it was well put-together as a package.

As a special treat, Hulu, the US joint venture between US networks NBC and Fox, offered a stream to everyone, across the planet. Normally Hulu is for US citizens only, so we were thrilled to see what it had to offer. The feed itself was very good quality indeed, with a widescreen image that had a decent amount of detail. The stream was from Fox News, and like CBS, the commentary was top-notch.

We also checked out Zattoo, the service that allows you to watch certain UK TV channels online. Again, we were impressed by solid picture quality from a number of sources, including the BBC and France24. The advantage of Zattoo is it's not as susceptible to running out of bandwidth, or an over-busy server, as others. It's a shame that Zattoo shows you a long advert before the stream starts -- it makes channel hopping quite frustrating.

The winner though, has to be Sky News. It was offering an online HD video stream, which was an offshoot of its HD coverage of the big day on Sky Arts HD. While we dispute the term HD when applied to streaming online video, this was head-and-shoulders above the rest. There was an incredible amount of detail in the picture, which was especially noticeable on crowd shots, where individual people were visible, rather than blobs of muted colour.

Scaling the Sky feed to fullscreen on the PC was no problem at all -- the picture still looked awesome. One thing we would have liked to see improved was the time delay, which meant the Sky signal was around three minutes behind everyone else -- this did mean we could watch Mr Obama take his oath twice, though, the second time in lovely hi-res.

Our other bugbear was that a reporter claimed 'Marine One' would be taking George Bush to his Texas ranch. In fact, because Bush was no longer president of the United States, the helicopter was actually Executive One. A small flaw in some otherwise amazing Web streaming and a handy piece of trivia for you to take away with you.