Thursday, July 31, 2008

PC-TV Connectivity Is a Moving Target

Written by Aditya Kishore

Monday, July 28. 2008 at 10:30 AM EDT Post a comment
Internet video must get to the TV -- it's been predicted as the key requirement for the successful adoption of Internet video almost from the day video began to be distributed online.
The vast majority of consumers view video on the TV, and for Internet video to target traditional pay and broadcast TV revenue, it must be able to get there.
One could argue that Internet video is growing dramatically even without the TV. YouTube Inc. streams and page views are growing steadily and there has been an explosion of video distribution sites.
In addition, 20-inch PC monitors are common now, and that used to be a TV-sized screen for those of us who grew up before 60-inch plasmas took over living rooms. So the viewing experience isn't being compromised by screen size, and what is a TV but a monitor?
However, revenues have proven hard to find, with Google finding it difficult to monetize YouTube's massive traffic. In order to drive significant advertising or pay revenue, online video must either change consumer behavior dramatically or cater to it.
The former is certainly possible, but risky, difficult, and slow. Consumers like the lean-back TV viewing experience. Plus, TV viewing is still largely a communal/social experience, though it is becoming less so. For now, however, getting to the TV is an important requirement to drive mass market revenues, if not mass market adoption.
A couple of announcements last week demonstrated progress in that direction, but also presented new, emerging challenges for PC-TV connectivity. The first came from a newly formed CE manufacturers consortium consisting of Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE), Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Sharp Electronics Corp. , and Hitachi Ltd. (NYSE: HIT; Paris: PHA), which was created to develop an industry standard called WHDI, for Wireless Home Digital Interface. The standard will be based on technology from Israel-based Amimon Ltd.
Using this technology, any TV in the home will be able to access any video source in the home, including set-top boxes, gaming consoles, and DVD players, from anywhere in the home. TVs with Amimon's chips are expected to cost $100 more than equivalent, non-wireless TVs, and should reach the market next year. While the company is more focused on linking set tops to TVs without cables, this technology could have its greatest impact on PC-TV connectivity -- and as a result, on Internet video.
WHDI is not by any means the first technology to address this need. In fact, it's not even the first wireless approach. There are a number of others using various flavors of WiFi and ultra-wideband wireless in the home. However, none of them have as yet been sufficiently easy to set up, inexpensive, while offering a high-quality viewing experience. Still, this is a step to make high-definition video deliverable to the TV in a widely available, relatively inexpensive manner.
Unfortunately, video technology refuses to stand still in the meantime. Just as HD raised the bar for video quality and created a whole new set of bandwidth requirements, there appears to be another step up in video experiences coming down the pipe.
There are predictions that 3D video will become a mass market phenomenon within the next few years. Movie theaters, looking for a way to differentiate their experience from home theaters, have been exploring 3D movies actively for the last few years, and initial 3D releases have performed well. The 3-D Home Display Formats Task Force of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) is already developing standards for 3D video transmission across video distribution channels like cable, broadcast, DVDs, and the Internet. Some TV manufacturers have 3D TVs in the market today, and it might be only a matter of time before 3D becomes the next HD.
If it is successful on the TV, online video providers will also have to offer 3D video eventually. It's not clear what kind of bandwidth challenges and other quality of service (QOS) requirements will result from 3D video transmission, but it's likely that it will reset the bar for service providers, online video distributors, and home networking technologies all over again.

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