Do you need a set top to navigate web videos on TV?

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Do you need a set top box to navigate and view web videos on your TV? I am not convinced. I am a little skeptical of the success of an additional set top box (Logitech Revu, Boxee Box, Roku) in our crowded living rooms especially when there may be alternatives in the very near future. You could argue that eventually the set top box functionality will be incorporated into the television. I am skeptical about the success of that too.

I think we need to just look at the television as a large screen. The engines that deliver content need not be part of this set up. For example a tablet or phone with WiDi capability could well be that engine. The large screen will just give you a larger (and better) visual experience. Video content delivery & the video browse capability can be driven thru a device you already own & are familiar with. These are devices you carry with you and hence more likely to collect and discover video on. Since you already use this device for your on-the-go video consumption it is only technology that limits you from using this on your TV. And that tech is already available (thru WiDi and its variants), albeit in its crude form. Refine this and you eliminate the need for an additional set top.

The video browse and discovery experience is then all software that runs on one of these devices (tablet/phone). The reason I don’t include the PC as an alternative is that it is rather cumbersome to have a laptop with you when you want to sit back and navigate a TV screen. A dedicated PC with a HDMI cable connected to the TV is as inconvenient & expensive as a set top box so I won’t cover that. A phone (or tablet) is much more convenient. A less appealing alternative is to use the PC (with a wireless connection to the TV) but with a remote. The PC itself takes a while to boot and is much more clunky than a phone. The instant-on capabilities of a phone or tablet is much more conducive to impulsive web video viewing.

I would relegate TVs to the same class of devices as speakers (& amplifiers). With speakers, the focus is on delivering better sound. The source for this sound is still the cd/dvd player. With music shifting online, you see more and more people connecting their iPods (touch & wifi enabled) to their music systems.
Similarly for TVs I see more and more people connecting their iPads to their TVs. TV manufacturers will probably be better off spending time working on ways to display better quality video, larger, lighter, brighter screens, better wireless connectivity etc.

I think with the right software running on these handheld devices one can cross that chasm of navigating web video on TVs much faster. Not to mention that you save anywhere from &100-$300 by not buying a set top box.

That being said, I still think there is going to be a cable TV box connected to your TV. This cable box is going to deliver popular hi-def content in the most efficient way to TV screens. These will have internet connectivity and will eventually have web video capability. However, I still think that while these hybrid set tops will be popular, it might still be more convenient for a user to set up, organize, collect & discover video thru a personal device such as the tablet or PC. Not to mention the plethora of options that the open web brings with it. Navigation will probably be thru the phone or tablet (and not the PC).

The odd thing with this convergence is that while people are used to web video on their PCs they want similar choices on their TV screens. This breaks business models as I have mentioned in the past. Hence the “non availability” of web video content on TVs is a turn-off. Additionally people have got used to using TVs in a certain way and their PCs in a certain way. Bridging this gap is a challenge. The PC is a lean forward experience and the TV is a lean-back experience. The tablet on the other hand is a good mix of both. Ask anyone and they will tell you how cool it is to consume video on a tablet. Unfortunately you can’t magnify the tablet screen to be the size of a TV…so the next best thing is to beam the video to the TV screen wirelessly and then use the tablet experience to navigate and the large TV screen to view the video.

Another technology has the potential to change this “TV experience” and that is the ability to project video from a phone/tablet to a large screen. This could technically eliminate the need for a TV screen…but if you ask me the TV screen as of now has a better display quality than a projector.

Rollable displays is a another technology that will help you carry a big screen in your pocket/bag….though given the state of this technology today (yields for one), it might be more apt for a phone to use this tech to convert to a tablet. It is unlikely a tablet will be able to convert to a TV screen with this tech in the near future.

CES 2011 will highlight a few devices with these capabilities I am sure.

Stay tuned…


One Comment to “Do you need a set top to navigate web videos on TV?”

  1. Useful article, though I am practical enough to realize that it will be a while before power-efficient wireless screen porting technology will be in place, for it to be useful for battery driven handhelds to go mainstream with it. There is a space for Apple-TV, Roku and such boxes, as they bring internet (and internet video) to increasingly large and HD monitor quality TV panels in every household. By the next upgrade cycle, IP connectivity will have been integrated.
    Meanwhile, it will be useful to have an “iPad” or an “iPod” app running on these IP boxes, so that they can smart port the iPad/iPod screen on to the TV and provide access to the media in there, using regular WiFi links. The iPad/iPod will need to continue to act as the touch-screen hosts for this “screen-shifting” application.

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