Getting Internet TV on the Right Track

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New research finds consumers are ready to merge the web and TV, but will manufacturers bring them the right content?


Jan. 02, 2009 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

With the unofficial start of the festivities of the Consumer Electronics Show only hours away, computer chip giant Intel, along with several TV makers, have finished separate studies that ask consumers world-wide: “What do you want your TV to be when it grows up?”

In fact, Intel will unveil its latest Internet TV technology in a few days, giving validation to a concept of PC-Internet content anywhere-anyplace that might be inevitable, no matter whose research you follow. With computer network giant Cisco making another stab at PC-TV, this show apparently is the stalking horse for the next generation of TVs.

Studies about this PC-TV technology have heated up lately. I recently participated in one such study. Here’s what I said:

  • I want cable or satellite access built-in to the TV
  • I want TiVo-like PVR functions to be available the minute I turn the set on….and the ability to legally burn the TV’s content on a DVD (like the old Humax PVR).
  • I want 7.1 channel audio formats to be available through speakers I can’t see and a subwoofer type base system without a giant box.
  • If I do have to connect my TV to a component audio system, I want to be able to do it wirelessly.
  • I do want some built-in Internet/PC content and I want an easy to use wireless or screen driven keyboard on a wireless remote.
  • I want IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base), the MLB official baseball encyclopedia, the Official Scrabble Dictionary, The Encyclopedia Britannica, the National Hockey League and the National Football League and NBA Encyclopedias to have their own special soft-keys or widgets for instant answers to my questions.
  • If I have any add-on accessory, whether it’s Internet Radio, Internet TV, mobile phone, home phone and/or security camera, it should also be connected wirelessly.
  • I want to be able to change the channel, answer the phone, change the Internet Channel and ask a trivia questions and get answers by just talking to the TV through voice recognition.
  • If there’s a problem with any add-on or built-in accessory or feature there should be an onboard “intelligent” help system that either calls technical support from the TV-PC maker, or fixes the problem when I am not home.

Intel’s study was conducted over the last three years or so. The TV makers, who have been increasingly adding extra features and Internet related content for the last two years, have actually been tooling around this arena for more than 10 years.

History of the TV-PC
A decade ago Philips tried to sell the DVX 8000 (see below), a multifunction box that, when combined with a 32 inch Magnavox TV, gave you a computer-TV combo. This unit also offered the first on-line bulletin board access on a TV, through a 14.4 speed modem. Later that year, Panasonic brought out a 27 inch TV with a built in 386 based PC and, not to be outdone, RCA-Thomson partnered with Compaq to have one of the first living room-based PCs.

One of the more unusual combo PC-TV-Online access units was the Gateway Destination where the venerable PC maker worked with Mitsubishi and Princeton Graphics on a high-end version of the TV-PC. in the middle 90s. This device made all the top magazines and TV shows of its time because of its elegant design and for its time better graphic delivery of both TV and PC and Online content.

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None of these combo players lasted more than 6 months on the market, not because these devices didn’t perform, but because they were too cumbersome, too complex, too expensive and people were not compelled to have PC or online content in the living room.

However, Princeton graphics continued to work on the visual side of this market, eventually helping develop one of the first flat screen monitors.

In the mid 90s, I was with IBM, hired to develop the first home networking system. We developed a Kitchen-Living Room PC, that had a terrific TV tuner built into a so-called Stealth PC that was cool looking and fast and even had Bose speakers to give home theater sound to the units. IBM junked that trial when it decided it didn’t want to be a consumer products company. The best-of-the-best scientists and other concept people wound up in Texas with Compaq and arch rival Dell.

Soon after the belated trials of PC-TVs, Microsoft purchased WEB-TV which actually sold a few units and eventually led to the first Media Center PCs and other Microsoft devices that did offer some Internet and computer content on a TV. But, alas, overall, the Media Center technology has been a big disappointment for the Redmond-based company.

Slowly but surely through Sony’s Bravia Internet dongle and Panasonic’s and Samsung’s nice-but-limited Internet enabled TVs, people are now starting to buy a device that offers some of the functions that I want.

The Future
Genevieve Bell, director of the user Experience Group within the Intel Digital Home Group, thinks that world-wide trends and those derived from her recent studies in North America point to the fact that a significant amount of people now know what they want their TV to be when it grows up and that the TV makers and Intel are “ready and now able to deliver that experience…albeit in incremental advances.”

Here are some of her team’s observations with input also provided by other studies:

TV is a ubiquitous domestic technology platform

  • 1.5 Billion households have TVs worldwide.
  • Delivers education, information and entertainment content to the home.
  • Increasingly the TV has a very different cultural and social history and meanings.

TV is part of the fabric of our lives

  • Americans spend 5.3 times more time watching TV than using the Internet. Globally, it is more like people are spending 25 times more time watching TV than using the Internet.
  • An average American spent 121 hours watching TV and 23.5 hours on the Internet viewing some form of video.
  • Americans watching entire TV shows online doubled in 2008 to 16 percent.
  • Despite the seemingly endless days, nights and weekends of sports on the tube aimed at mostly male audiences, women are driving online TV consumption.
  • Despite the Internet, we watch more TV now than we did 5 years ago.

“Consumers are interested in innovations for their TVs that let the sets contain a better look and feel. And despite 800 channels, consumers are looking for more content streams,” says Bell. “North America now mimics the rest of the world in that consumers see value in bringing the Internet into their TV world.”

Bell emphasizes that specific segments and key attributes of the Internet, including personalized data, real-time relevant information, connections to friends, family and like-minded communities can now be the focal point of TV watching. She attributes this to a TV watcher wanting more stories that touch them.

Bell’s research also says the traditional look and feel of the Internet is changing as it appears on new devices and platforms. “TiVo, VuDu, Apple TV and mobile Internet have made the consumer more comfortable with web-browsing anytime and anywhere, so consequently managing the Internet in meaningful pieces is important and TV can do that to some extent.”

The Widget Channel (launched with Yahoo! at the Intel Developer Form) will bring web applications to the TV through new TV Widgets and the power of a purpose-built Intel Media Processor CE 3100. These TV Widgets or application symbols will complement the TV and can be customized and or activated by the viewer.

Dr. Bell is looking forward to seeing and hearing the reaction of consumers and manufacturers when Yahoo and Intel expand the Widget Channel at upcoming CES with new online content and services providers and tout new connected-CE proof-of-concepts. “Widget Channel represents a powerful way of bringing the ‘Internet experience’ to television while respecting the consumer’s traditional TV experience,” Bell says.

While Intel and others are launching Widgets, I have been tooling around with this type of technology recently through some Samsung, Toshiba, LG and Panasonic higher-end TVs. At the bottom of the screen, and or discreetly placed (with customer permission) around the TV screen, these widgets provide everything from financial news to sports scores to movie times to Youtube and other relevant data that a consumer might be jumping to the Internet for.

The Intel/Yahoo deal supposedly builds on that type of TV application that might be the start of what some believe is TVs getting almost grown up. We’ll see and report back in a few days.



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