2005 -- Year of IPTV
(sponsor: Lok Technology) The San Francisco Chronicle today headlined their technology section and their CES coverage with Benny Evangelista's article Video to go. Go where? Everywhere if companies like Orb, SBC Media Solutions, Sling Media, and Tivo deliver on the promises they are making at this year's consumer electronics show.
Whichever one of these approaches is ultimately successful, I predict that this is the year that our cultural addiction to television will finally merge with the IP networks, allowing television to invade our computer screens, our PDAs, and even our cell phones. Another market where the IP Inferno will burn down existing business models, transform industries, and create a bunch of new exciting markets.
The basic idea is simple -- TV is a content type, just like MP3s, JPEGs, and Word documents. The hard part has been in capturing that content type and moving it around. IPodding TV, if you will. This article will talk about the four appraoches that companies are pursuing to solve this user experience problem.
The PC is the Center of the Universe
For Orb Networks the starting point on the road to IPTV nirvana is your home PC. After all, this is the device that is already connected to a high speed network and you already store a lot of other content on this device (music, photos, etc) that you also want to access when you are away from home. Solution -- a TV Tuner card installed in your PC, or a Media Center PC, pre-configured with a tuner card and Orb's software that turns your home computer into a media server. Once installed and configured, your television, videos, music, and photos can be accesed via a web browser and media player software from ANY computer or device in the world -- as long as the person accessing your content has your username and password. Yes, this means you can now watch Desperate Housewives on your Real Player enabled cell phone. As long as no one else is trying to watch it at the same time. You can download the Beta from Orb today.
The DVR is the Center of the Universe
Tivo has done some terrific pre-CES publicity on their new "TivoToGo" concept and there will certainly be many loyal Tivo customers eager to get the new features. Already the new TiVo Desktop allows a user to transfer shows from a TiVo box to a PC and to publish music and photos to a TiVo box. In the future TiVo also promises a feature called Sonic MyDVD which will allow users to burn shows to DVD. But this model, unlike Orb, requires that the show is transferred, as a file, to the PC on which you wish to watch the show. While this is likely to provide higher quality, the Orb option allows for streaming of video to a variety of devices that are unlikely to be able to hold a full show (such as a PDA or cellphone) and allows the streaming of live content (as opposed to a pre-recorded show).
The Cable Box is the Center of the Universe
SBC Communications and 2Wire have announced a joint venture to deliver an integrated Media Server product called MediaPortal to SBC's 40 million customers by mid-2005. I spent some time on the phone today with Brian Sugar, 2Wire's vice president of marketing, and chief marketing officer of the newly announced joint venture, SBC Media Solutions. Brian claims that his car has a TiVo bumpersticker but he was quick to point out what he thinks is the biggest flaw in TiVo -- that the TiVo box and the cable box are two distinct devices requiring the signal to be decoded and re-encoded as it transfers from the cable providers network through the set top box and then into the TiVo. Brian claims that this significantly degrades the quality and that the dual-box setup limits some kinds of functionality (channel changing, etc) that must then rely on box-to-box communication. Instead SBC wants you to purchase a single integrated solution and the MediaPortal brings this altogether for you in what Brian claims is a "mom" friendly device. But strangely, the Digital Media Server that is included in the MediaPortal does not allow you to take your TV on the road... SBC claims that they have the technology and can turn it on at any time but that they are taking a "conservative approach" and will wait and see how Orb and Sling do...
The Sling is the Center of the Universe
What the heck is a Sling? Think of it as a THIRD box (remember, you've got the cable set top box and the TiVo) which Sling Media calls a "Personal Broadcaster." We haven't seen it yet but we'll look it up when we get to CES... from the hype bubble it sounds like Orb but only for TV and using hardware instead of software...
The big IP story in 2004 was VoIP, and while that isn't going away, expect the big story in 2005 to be IPTV.