Web-enabled TVs should stick to entertaining

Companies looking to bring Web to TVs should look specifically at entertainment-focused Net interactivity, rather than make them over into Web-browsing devices, says industry watcher.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

Transposing the Web as we know it, from computer to television screen, has been done before. So far, consumer demand for such converged devices has been low, an industry watcher observed.

Chris Perrine, COO and EVP of sales and marketing at Springboard Research, said companies such as Google, Intel and Sony, which were reported by the New York Times (NYT) to have struck up a partnership to develop a "Google TV" platform, should instead focus on bringing in elements of the Web "specific to how people view entertainment".

"If someone wants to get on the Web, they are going to get on their PC--it is a better tool for accessing the Internet," he told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail response.

"But the Web modified for TVs can bring some unique benefits such as the ability to download the song that was playing during a specific part of a TV program. Additionally, [such devices could have] collaborative aspects to help people pick shows to watch, reviews by users and other features that are more tied to what a TV actually does--deliver entertainment."

The NYT report earlier stated that Google, together with Intel and Sony, view the Google TV platform as a means to "make it as easy for TV users to navigate Web applications--like the Twitter social network and Picasa photo site--as it is to change the channel". They plan to bring the Internet to the TV through the television console itself and through set-top boxes, the article added, citing people with knowledge of the project.

The report also mentioned Google's intention to open its TV platform to software developers as this is based on the Android smartphone operating system (OS).

Perrine did note that with "brand names" such as the three companies mentioned in the Google TV project, "this will definitely promote the vision of the Web on TVs" and get others thinking about this market and how they can innovate, thereby increasing the support ecosystem.

A consumer ZDNet Asia interviewed, graphic designer Malcolm Lu, agreed with Perrine. He said he "tends to have more trust in a product" if any of the three companies mentioned above were involved in integrating the Internet with the TV. Lu pointed out Sony as one which has "always been very innovative with [its] product line".

However, the graphic designer did have his reservations over a Web-enabled TV and felt it would be a "redundant product" as not many people will want to "surf the Internet while they watch TV".

When queried on the project, Intel responded with its spokesperson, Elvin Ong, saying: "Intel has been talking openly about plans to extend our popular Intel Atom chip family beyond netbooks and smartphones into a variety of intelligent devices, including connected TVs, set-top boxes and other consumer electronic (CE) devices."

He added in his e-mail that central to these plans will be Intel's new Atom CE4100 media processor which would "offer a compelling solution for our customers, providing the processing power, advanced graphics and audio/video decoding necessary to bring the fullness of Internet capabilities to the TV".

Ong also cited Intel's ongoing collaboration with Yahoo to bring the Web to the TV through the Widget Channel implementation. He pointed out that Yahoo is "taking the lead role" in further expanding the Widget ecosystem even while both companies continue to work with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and TV service providers to help bring Widget Channel-enabled products to market.

According to Yahoo's August 2008 press release, the Widget Channel is a "TV application framework optimized for TV and related CE devices", which will allow consumers to enjoy small Internet applications, or widgets, while watching TV programs.

Both Google and Sony declined to comment on the NYT report.

Stalked by Apple's specter
Meanwhile, Springboard's Perrine thinks that while there may be other benefits to be had out of the Google TV project, such as market potential and connecting disparate devices, the main driving force behind the three companies' collaboration is "Apple envy or fear".

He said that even though the Cupertino company has been the key innovator in media devices and services such as its App Store, TV is the one area the U.S. giant is not "playing strongly in", pointing out that Apple TV "has not been flying off the shelves" since its introduction.

"Getting the jump ahead of Apple in this space is one of the key drivers--even if it is not stated," Perrine added.

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