A quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows that the company has limits on "streaming video services that include video segments longer than ten minutes in duration."
@Home executives said the limits apply only to broadcast-quality video segments that carry images at a speed of 30 frames per second--a technology that few, if any, Internet companies are currently delivering. Most streaming video over the Net occurs at 15 frames per second.
Cable systems are divided into several 6 MHz channels. For example, a system with 750 MHz of bandwidth has the capacity to deliver up to 125 channels.
@Home's high-speed network occupies the same space on its cable operator partners' systems as a standard television program, one 6 MHz channel. So there is currently no way for @Home to deliver TV-quality video--plus data services and Internet access--in that same space.
"There's no technically feasible way to do it on any network," said @Home spokesman Matt Wolfrom. "If every user wanted to suck in TV-quality video it would bring down any network."
The ten-minute time limit serves as a reminder that, despite the industry's efforts, broadcast-quality video on demand, full half-hour newscasts, or downloadable movies are still far from being a reality.
@Home believes the ability of "multiple users to access video on demand at TV quality over a single channel is nowhere near reality in the next five years," according to a statement from the firm.
But some say cable data services such as @Home and Road Runner are perfect for video on demand, but any limit will not go over well with consumers.
"With video, you're asking for dedicated bandwidth, so that will definitely start to affect performance if 10, 20, 100 people in the same area all simultaneously want the same video," said Patti Reali, a cable industry analyst with Dataquest.
"Ideally, if the Web is going toward true convergence, then there should really be no limits, but there are other issues such as compression and capacity," she added.
Wolfrom said the company imposed the limit as a practical matter. However, @Home does not limit the length of time on any Internet-quality video clip, he added.