Can Internet TV Succeed?
TV manufacturers are finally embracing the Internet with a renewed vigor. But can they successfully merge the Web's vast content with our big screens?
Sony KDL-46V3000 TV
Sony’s Video Link module on its Bravia TVs, like the KDL-46V3000 46-inch LCD, lets viewers navigate web content from AOL, Yahoo and Grouper through a convenient onscreen menu.
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March 14, 2008 by Rebecca Day

This year, Video Link customers will have access to full-length content from Fearnet and CBS Interactive. If you missed last night’s episode of CSI, Waynick says, don’t sweat it. Tune in the next day, and watch it on demand. Waynick sees on-demand, web-based video replacing the need for the DVR. “You look at the success of TiVo, and it’s because of the convenience of recording a program and watching it later,” he says. “Now you don’t even have to go through that step. All of the material is going to be out there on the Internet published by the content providers, and you just go and pick it whenever you want.”

Hot Button Feeds
Just how much the Internet and the TV should merge is a topic of debate in the industry. While Samsung takes the position that the marriage of the Internet and the TV is the way of the future, company research and focus groups indicate that the mainstream consumer wants a measured fusion. “We’ve seen some resistance to the two technologies merging, says Dan Schinasi, senior manager of product planning for HDTV at Samsung. “Microsoft has been working on it for 10 years—and it will happen—but we believe it’s going to take a little time for people to get accustomed to the merger. Right now, people see what they do on the PC as an individual activity, and watching TV as a much more communal experience.”

It’s with that in mind that Samsung has rolled out InfoLink, an RSS feed service with content supplied by USA Today. Available on the Series 6 and 7 flat-panel TVs, InfoLink comes into the TV via an Ethernet jack on the back of the set. Users tap into the information via a “hot button” on the TV’s remote control and navigate through the categories using the standard up, down, left, and right buttons. They can opt out of the service if they choose.

Some of the InfoLink content is personalized, according to Schinasi. Users can enter stock symbols for securities they’re following, and the information is stored for easy access the next time the user taps that section. Entering a zip code under the weather section tailors forecasts to their particular area. But the experience is meant to provide short bites of information rather than the more detailed chunks of data found on the web. You won’t, for example, be able to find record-breaking temperatures for your location or plug in the number of shares you own in a stock to view the value of your portfolio. “This isn’t a service for day traders,” Schinasi says.

Feeds are selectable and include breaking news, money, life, politics, technology, and travel. Data is automatically updated every 10 to 20 minutes, or consumers can hit the button for an immediate update. Schinasi calls the InfoLink offerings “a baby step in the merger of the PC and the web delivering content to the TV viewing experience.” Baby steps could transition quickly to a full run by next year, though. With Sony having taken a big leap from limited feeds to full-length movies in a year, “we will not fall behind,” Schinasi says.

But current TVs won’t be able to access future services, Schinasi notes. “This experience is closed,” he says of the current crop of web-enabled TVs, acknowledging that services and features could even be dropped in coming years depending on market acceptance. The TVs wouldn’t be obsolete in that case, he says, but they may require an outboard box to access future services.

Extending Your PC Media
You don’t need to buy a Series 6 or 7 TV to access web-enabled features. Samsung is also introducing this spring a Digital Media Adapter ($199 for the kit, which includes an adapter box, HDMI cable, remote control and Ethernet jack) that will enable virtually all Samsung TVs to access Microsoft’s Media Center Experience (MCX) content. The device becomes a virtual Media Center Extender for PCs with Vista Home Premium or Ultimate operating systems.

In addition to culling photos and nonencrypted music and video files from a user’s PC, the Digital Media Adapter taps into Internet content from free and premium services including MSNBC, TV.com, Vongo and others.

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