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GoogleTV engineer: No cable-TV partner, no problem

Posted: 31 May 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:GoogleTV  3D  Web TV  processor 

A day after the launch of GoogleTV, EE Times spoke with Vincent Dureau, the engineer behind the project that aims to blend Web and TV experiences. Dureau talked about the genesis and outlook of the project, its technical specs and why he doesn't see it as a problem that GoogleTV does not have any cable-TV partners yet.

EE Times: What's your background?
Vincent Dureau: I started as a software engineer for Thompson CE and worked in early '90's on lots of the original MPEG video work. After that I helped launch the DirectTV network as part of the team building software for the first DTV STBs.

After that I helped start a spin off called OpenTV, and in 2006 I decided to join Google. I worked first on Google TV ads as an extension of Google Ad Sense, a service to purchase broadcast TV ad inventory that has been running for about 18 months.

How did GoogleTV get started?
In the back of my mind when I joined Google my primary motivation was to work on something like GoogleTV. So two and a half years ago I went through the regular Google process to start a new project and got 10 minutes of fame with top management and they gave me the green light.

We needed to build a Version One of the product that set the bar for what I think is a new product category of smart TVs, just like there are smart phones. So we went to a small group of partners who shared our vision, and we ended up with best of breed of partners.

How will this attempt to merge Web and TV do better than the many others that have largely failed?
It's a combination of timing and product definition. In the U.S. market, it's only now that the Web infrastructure is ready to stream high definition video over the open Internet. I would argue that was not the case even two years ago.

There is availability of [Web] content now. Programmers put premium shows on the Net at the same time as on the air. That was not the case even a year ago. And we have enough processing power in TVs and Blu-ray players to run a full browser.

Initially GoogleTV only runs on Intel's CE4100 processor and Sony TVs. What's the outlook for getting this on other processors and TVs?
It was important for us in version one to pick a partner that shares our vision, and Intel is a very good partner. But we've made sure there is nothing in the GoogleTV software stack that is CPU or hardware specific so we are very confident we can run on other CPUs.

MIPS and ARM come to mind. We will reach scale by open sourcing the stack. I am sure many chipset vendors are eager to get their hands on the stack and start the porting. It will be available as open source in 2011.

Our partners are early movers, and they get a strong advantage. [Sony CEO] Howard Stringer put it well. "From now on anyone who wants to build GoogleTV will have to copy Sony," he said on stage yesterday.

But we are creating a platform that is completely open. It runs in a Web browser so anyone can publish to it. Everything will be open source. That's how you reach scale. Any vendor can take the source code and make products.

What are the other hardware requirements?
We've set a minimum spec for first generation hardware that says systems must have Wi-Fi and Ethernet built in. They also must have USB for extensibility. In addition, all our devices must have HDMI for video in.

The vast majority of the population gets TV through a pay TV operator so interoperability with cable, satellite and telco boxes was important. We achieve that with HDMI in and an ability to control the pay TV box with an IR Blaster and a library of codes for all the pay TV boxes in the United States. On top of that we use an IP protocol to get tighter integration with the pay TV set top.

Right now you are working with Echostar's satellite TV service, but you have no cable-TV partners. How will that limit GoogleTV?
GoogleTV devices will work with your existing cable or satellite boxes because they come with an IR Blaster. Without needing to switch video inputs or anything else, you will have an integrated experience of Web and pay TV.

The IR Blaster is a one-way technology. If we have an agreement with the pay TV operator and they implement our IP protocol, which we will publish, we can get a one-click access to some features of their box.

So if you want to program a DVR recording you can do that with one click on the IR Blaster if the operator implements our protocol. If they don't you have to go through the menus of the pay TV box to schedule a recording.


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