IP to the TV: a random collection of thoughts

Its a very interesting time for the ole’ television.  For the majority of my life, and probably the lives of many older than me, TV has not changed much.  Sure, there was that big transition from black and white to color, but since then, TV has been largely the same.  In recent years, a big push of innovation has been directed towards the TV marketplace.  The advent of plasma and LCD has brought about flat panel TV’s, high definition clarity and broadcast, the decommission of analog signal, the introduction of LED for “green” sets, and now the push for IP delivery for shows and movies.  

Apple introduced its Apple TV in September of 2006 and has since labeled the device a “hobby,” since it has not been an overwhelming success.  Apple wanted to leverage its iTunes Store for delivering TV shows and movies and using the Apple TV to access and view that content on the wide screen.  Apple relied on its Mac OS X on a relatively weak Intel processor to deliver a rather elegant set top box, connected via HDMI (while it was a relatively new interface) or component video jacks.  It also offered surround sound connections and wifi connectivity to other iTunes libraries.  The device was fairly progressive, but limited to only Youtube for video content outside of iTunes (unless you hack it).

In my opinion, one reason that traction failed with this device is that most people didn’t want to buy TV shows to own, when they could watch them for free over the air.  Too, many people didn’t want to buy and wait for a movie to download to watch it.  I know there are relatively few movies that I buy to own, though I am more of an audiophile than videophile.

Even earlier, Microsoft developed an interface to Windows for its Media Center PC’s.  Those too failed to gain much traction in the market, and although it was a special version of Windows at its inception, it has been relegated to a feature in many version of Windows 7.   In the same concept as Apple, Microsoft sought to leverage the existing library of content in the media folders of Windows users.

All the while these TV-specific computers were being developed, NetFlix began launching immediate viewing capabilities for PC and Mac online in addition to their via-mail DVD subscription.  The streaming IP delivery of movies has garnered a lot of subscriptions and is a growing success for the company.  Add to that the launch of Hulu and many TV networks own video streaming services and there is a growing amount of content available, for free or as part of a subscription, to IP delivery.

Hulu, for its part, is now experimenting with a $9 subscription that allows high definition streaming for users who want that.  The programming retains its advertisements, but the quality of the video is much improved from reports that I have heard.  Hulu also created a desktop application – Hulu Desktop – which allows direct and full-screen access to hulu.com content from within a desktop application.

Attempting to grow on this success, Google has announced the Google TV, which is a custom Android based software to run on set-top boxes or embedded in TV sets.  It connects users to these IP media repositories, like Youtube and NetFlix and allows users to stream their content directly to the TV.

Netflix also partnered with Nintendo to bring streaming to their game console.  I have also seen a number of DVD players with embedded NetFlix software allowing for streaming.

I expect that Apple will make a similar announcement of a service and/or hardware offering similar to the Google TV.  In the meantime of a direct announcement, the latest version of the Mac Mini desktop offers an HDMI port, which now allows Netflix, Hulu Desktop and iTunes/Frontrow directly on the set top.

And, I think its an important point to make that none of these services are live streaming services.  They are libraries of video that can be accessed anytime and on your own schedule.  In the same way that the DVR has changed live satellite or cable TV service, these IP libraries are offering new flexibility to vast libraries of video.

Honestly, this is a scary proposition for me – because I see a lot of innovation and new competition for the company I work for.  HTC happens to also be a cable company.  What is good about all of this is that it will ride on IP connectivity.  So, hopefully this will allow my employer to sell nice, big Internet pipes to offset our losses in cable — hopefully, I say.

A couple weeks ago, a close friend of mine announced that he was disconnecting his cable and opting for the $9.99 Netflix subscription and video streaming from Disney.com and other websites for the TV shows that he and his family wanted to watch.   This reminds me a lot of the same mass exodus from land-line telephone that has been occurring for the past several years.  It will be interesting to watch how things continue to play out.

Required Disclosure:
The opinions expressed here are strictly personal opinions authored by Philip Sellers, an employee of HTC (Horry Telephone Cooperative, Inc.) and/or its subsidiaries.  Any reference to, discussion of, or content regarding HTC and/or its subsidiaries has not been reviewed, approved, or authorized by HTC and/or its subsidiaries before such content is posted and does not represent HTC and/or its subsidiaries or its views and opinions in any way.

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  1. » Followup on IPTV; plus I bought a Mac Mini Tech Talk - September 10, 2010

    [...] strike another thing off of my wishlist.  As a followup to my IPTV thoughts post, I have purchased one of the new Mac Mini’s with an HDMI port over the weekend.  I even got [...]

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