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Commentary: Internet, TV to tie the knot?

Posted: 28 Aug 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:TV  Internet  consumer electronics  Internet TV 

The marriage of TV and the Internet has created buzz in consumer electronics and computer companies for more than 15 years. The concept is intuitive, yet everyone's still waiting for the first Internet TV product or service to take the consumer market by storm.

As a reporter, I've felt the promise of Internet TV getting old. I could almost have recycled the stories I've written for the past 10 years every time somebody came up with another Internet TV idea.

But let me not turn too cynical too fast.

Last week, Intel Corp., all dressed up with its first x86-based SoC specifically designed for consumer electronics to enable Internet TV, proposed to Pandora—again.

While this is not the CPU giant's first attempt to open the box in the living room, Intel appears brimming with confidence this time around—again.

Computing editor Rick Merritt, covering the recent Intel Developer Forum, reported that Intel's new x86-based chip, called Canmore, "looked pretty darn good, and the next one could be hard to beat."

Merritt dissects the hardware—what's inside Canmore—and illustrates in detail the software stack and software framework Intel developed with a host of its partners. One of them—Yahoo!—plans to deliver Internet services on TV via software widgets.

In essence, Merritt was saying that Intel had done its homework. Again.

But having worked the consumer electronics beat for many years and being a bit sceptical by nature, I didn't get too optimistic too quickly.

I asked Merritt: Why should we believe Intel's Canmore is better positioned than others to solve the fundamental Internet TV problems the CE industry couldn't figure out for years? Is it because Canmore is x86-based? Or is it because of this Widget Channel thing?

I've always believed the fundamental problem with Internet TV was that the constantly evolving nature of Web applications and services makes it very difficult for TV (which, let's face it, consumers don't upgrade constantly) to keep pace with the progress of the Internet.

Merritt's answers shed some light, though.

Merritt quoted Eric Kim, general manager of Intel's digital home group. And Kim nailed it. One of the major problems with Internet TV, he said, is that it interrupted people's TV-watching experience by trying to place browsers on TV and to have viewers use keyboards or complex remotes to interact with it.

In contrast, the Widget Channel uses a thin bar along the bottom as a default. It's not about browsing—it's about pushing content.

Merritt also pointed out that x86 is not necessarily better or worse than any other CPU for Internet TV.

But, he said, Intel believes it helps, because x86 is a well-known host for software developers and there is already quite a lot of software available for it. Intel has done considerable work to pull together low-level software support for Canmore and the layers below the widget applications.

Even I have to recognise how the very concept and the purpose of Internet TV have evolved over time.

Back in the 1990s, Web TV was about bringing Web surfing to TV. In contrast, Widget Channel is designed to bring video content available on the Internet to TV on an additional channel.

Widgets, targeted applications designed to allow consumers to access Web services, have already seen success in PCs and mobile phones.

But again, widgets alone can't solve all the problems with Internet TV.

More than a year ago, in an EE Times article titled "Web video changing face of TV design," editors Merritt and Dylan McGrath wrote: "Systems makers need to drive three changes if they want to accelerate the coming [Internet TV] revolution: break down the walled gardens of content, suck up the clutter of adapter boxes, and lay down some Web video software standards."

This still holds true. Clearly, Intel's Canmore has shown us a new path.

Yet I can't help but wonder if there's a widget standards battle brewing. And more importantly, where on earth does Google stand on the matter? Does Google even care?

EE Times will surely pursue these and related questions in our future coverage.

- Junko Yoshida
EE Times

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