TV and the Internet
David M. Schwartz, CEO, ImaginOn, Inc. 18 October
people who own both a personal computer and a TV,
PCs and television are mutually exclusive. Time
spent working with, or playing on a computer is time
not spent on other activities, including TV viewing.
Consequently, PC usage is eroding TV viewership more
and more every year. The Internet has exacerbated
this trend by adding two new "killer apps" to PCs:
Web browsing and email. And increasingly, Web
pages include video clips or live video windows.
TV broadcasters and cable TV operators have responded
to this challenge with more variety of content, an
increase in the number of TV channels, and by
offering Internet access via cable modems. Two
of the possible outcomes of this competition are:
TV goes digital and interactive to deliver the Internet,
or Internet Web sites deliver television programming.
Either way, the functionality of both the Internet
and television will be unified in one box in the foreseeable
parallel with this unification trend between the Internet
and TV, a number of other features traditionally associated
with personal computers are moving into the living
room, and traditional functions of living room electronics
are moving into the PC. For example, until recently,
hard disk data storage was something found only in
computers. Now, with hard disk based home video
recorders, they're invading the living room.
Videogames are now just as popular on PCs as they
are on videogame consoles. Your living room
may have a DVD player for watching movies, though
the DVD drive in any PC will play them, and audio
makers have made several attempts to unify home electronics
into their all-in-one machines that sport huge video
monitors, wireless keyboards, built-in TV tuners,
hi-fi audio speakers, and so on. Those hybrids
have not met with much success. Partly for cost
reasons, and partly because there always seems to
be some part missing from either the PC perspective
or the home electronics viewpoint. Could be
the audio tape deck missing in one implementation,
or the limited video screen resolution in another.
Into the Future
Let's imagine what functions a fully integrated
future home entertainment/information system will
contain five years from now:
10,000 channels of digital TV and 10,000 channels
of digital radio
While 10,000 or more channels of digital TV and
digital radio may seem excessive, it will occur naturally
as the direct outcome of the declining cost of content
(TV and radio programs) production coupled with the
ever increasing fragmentation of audience interests.
You may not want to watch the Marlin Fishing Channel,
but somebody else does. Nineteenth Century Five
String Banjo music may not be your favorite, but maybe
you love four string banjo music, and so on.
At some point, infrastructure and bandwidth costs
will become low enough that any website owner who
wants to provide a video stream on a topic, no matter
how obscure, will do so.
the air broadcast analog TV
Consider these channels a legacy of the past that
will gradually morph into an all-digital system.
On the way there, we are likely to see digital TV
sharing this bandwidth. Eventually, owners of
analog-only TVs will need converter boxes if they
want to keep using their old TV sets.
61 Cable TV channels (possibly among the 10,000 digital
No existing channels will be lost as we transition
into the all-digital era. As with analog
broadcast TV, it is likely that future digital cable
boxes will continue to support old analog TVs.
and wide screen HDTV/XVGA resolution
Big pictures are here to stay. Flat screens,
projection devices and vacuum tubes will all have
their place in the market. Manufacturers will
resolve the "pixel geometry problem" with auto-sensing
circuits, so it won't matter if the source is rectangular
pixels, like today's TV, or square pixels, like today's
PCs. HDTV resolution, at a minimum of 640 by
384 pixels is already supported by some TVs shipping
today. True XVGA resolution at 1024 by 768 is
supported by some multi-function TV/PC displays and
many PC wall projections systems.
Voice command interface
Continuous natural speech can now be correctly
recognized 99.9% of the time by PC software, after
a few training sessions. This will improve,
as will the ability of these systems to filter out
ambient noise. Voice command for simple tasks
like selecting channels on TV or programming a VCR
is already a reality. Keyboards won't be needed
for word processing, soon. Voice-driven spreadsheets
will follow a few years later.
Video on demand, where you pick your TV show and
see it now, is on the horizon. Today, this feature
is available in some cable TV systems on a pay per
view basis, with multiple starting times per program,
and no "pause" button. Within a year, it is
likely that true random access to programs, with pause
capability, will be offered in some markets by cable
Digital video recording
The demise of tape has been predicted repeatedly
over the past 15 years, and hasn't happened, yet.
Tape has gone digital, is smaller than ever, and its
cost per gigabyte of storage or hour of TV keeps going
lower. On the other hand, people have been spoiled
by the fast random access of DVD, CD and PC hard drives,
which are also plummeting in price. The real
tape-killer for video storage is probably re-writable
DVD, which is already working in electronics labs.
Look for it in the consumer marketplace in 5 years.
Meanwhile, hard drives in combination with digital
tape will fill the need for instant access storage
and camcorder compatibility.
audio recording and playback
Five-speaker surround sound systems are quickly
becoming the standard for high fidelity home audio.
Top of the line PCs from the major manufacturers are
shipped with surround sound or other 3-D sound decoding
in software, along with three speakers to deliver
it. Most audio recordings made on both PCs and
home recording decks are stereo, but on home systems
the audio is generally on cassette tape, while on
PCs the recording is to hard disk. Most CD recording
decks are disk drives mounted in PCs, not stand alone
home recorders. As surround sound and other
multi-channel techniques become "standard", the software
that synthesizes multi-channel from stereo will be
added to home systems. Likewise, the software
needed to decode MP3 compressed digital audio files
will be needed in the home system. The most
practical way to deliver this sort of recording processing
power and multi-format capability is to integrate
it into a computer-like disk-based device.
Fi audio amplifier and speakers
Most home entertainment systems have at least
100 Watts of audio amplification and two speakers.
Within a few years, driven by the spread of "home
theaters", multi-channel audio systems with 3 or more
speakers will become the de facto standard.
Most U.S. households with a personal computer
now have two CD players: the CD ROM drive in their
PC, and the CD deck on the audio system. DVD
playback decks are still relatively rare. In
2000, as DVD ROM replaces CD ROM as the standard "ROM"
drive in PCs, DVD movie playback capability will arrive
in homes via the PC, not the living room entertainment
center. Then, in 2001 with next generation videogame
consoles based on DVD, the DVD enters the living room
inside yet another package.
The U.S. market for videogames is split between
games that run on PCs and games that run on dedicated
consoles. In many cases, the same game is available
both ways. Given that the videogame industry
now rivals the movie industry in annual revenues,
it is safe to assume that videogames are here to stay.
Movies that the viewer controls in terms of action
sequence and outcome have generally done poorly in
the marketplace. Nonetheless, both videogame
and movie companies continue to roll out new ones
at the rate of about two per year. With PC performance
rising, and CD/DVD production costs falling, this
genre may yet prove to be a winner, at least in some
niche markets like adult content.
World Wide Web
The Web is already in about 30 million U.S. homes,
and growing rapidly. Within five years, virtually
every U.S. home that has TV will also have Web access.
Agent (knowledge finder/manager)
With hundreds of millions of Web pages on the
Internet, and over 30,000 new pages being added every
day, finding the best pages for a given topic is a
major task. Intelligent agent software that
can search, download, format and catalog Web page
data without user supervision will be as indispensable
as word processing software.
The software almost everybody uses at the office;
word processing, email, spreadsheets, and calendar,
will become totally interwoven with the home entertainment
and information center. Voice recognition will
make the keyboard optional for most casual tasks.
That old chestnut, the videophone, finally dropped
into the office PC. As long as there is a digital
TV connection with an "upstream", or sending capability
of at least 128 kbps, the home videophone becomes
a software feature of the system; just add a camcorder.
Or, if there is no camcorder handy, a $50 USB port
video camera will do.
Some cable TV operators are already offering telephone
service. On PCs, Internet telephony sounds terrible
today, but it does work. There is no practical
reason why telephony can't be a basic function of
the system via either a cable TV service, or the Internet
connection. Some may remember the TVs in the
1980s that had a speakerphone built in and a telephone
button on the remote control. In the next
incarnation, you may just have to say, "answer the
phone" to the TV.
Now, how close are we to building the system described
above, even if cost was not a barrier? In analyzing
this problem, it is useful to factor out all the functions
that can be handled today in a very well equipped
leaves us with the following pieces missing from the
200 channels of digital TV (low resolution, via
300 channels of digital radio (low fidelity, via
the air broadcast analog TV (via bus card add-in)
video recording (using a Firewire or USB interface
to a camera)
audio recording and playback (disk and solid state)
command interface (voice recognition - no typing)
World Wide Web (via LAN, or dial-up modem)
Agent (knowledge finder/ manager)
software (word processing, email, spreadsheets,
(Internet protocol, or voice over modem technology)
9000 channels of high resolution digital TV
9000 channels of high fidelity digital radio
Cable TV channels
and wide screen HDTV resolution
Fi audio amplifier and speakers
living rooms already have:
Cable TV channels
and wide screen TV
Fi audio amplifier and speakers
the parts already in the living room can be added
one way or another to the PC, above, there remain
four key elements completely missing from our hypothetical
9000 channels of high resolution digital TV
Over 9000 channels of high fidelity digital radio
four of these items are well within a three-year horizon
in major markets. If the HDTV format gains popularity,
and XVGA conversion/compatibility is built in, that
"wide TV" could potentially solve the display problem.
Today's XVGA PC projection systems already have the
resolution for HDTV, but lack the tuner, or an input
from one. The HDTV feature could be provided
from either the TV hardware or the PC hardware side
of the industry.
the advent of Internet TV, any Web page anywhere can
become a kind of TV station. With a digital
video camera on a Firewire or USB cable, or a microphone
connected to an audio card, anybody can create website
media content in a matter of minutes. Quality
will certainly vary widely, but quantity of content
will cease to be an issue. The 10,000 channels
number used above as part of our system requirements
is highly arbitrary. We may well see 20,000
or 100,000 media channels popping up in the next few
years, if the bandwidth becomes available on the Internet
to support them. Internet video broadcasts in
the past year that required a 34 kbps channel to the
viewer were limited to fewer than 150,000 viewers,
due to gridlock-like network conditions. Assuming
384 kbps as the minimum data rate for a commercial
quality Internet television channel, the problem will
get even worse.
for interactive programming allowing you to pick your
show anytime, that is pretty much the way the Internet
works already, if you can find the Web page with the
content you want. Web pages that act purely
as directories of Web sites providing media content
are already springing up to alleviate this problem.
A single home system that fully merges television
programming, home theater, games, telephony, productivity
software and the Internet is on the horizon.
Most of the bits and pieces needed on the hardware
side are done. Better high bandwidth connectivity
is being installed at a rapid rate, and the software
needed to glue it all together is available, though
just barely, in PC operating systems. Anyone
with some technical savvy, a high speed Internet connection
and about $12,000 in components can build their own
unified system today. In just a few years,
your new home theater system or PC will probably have
it all, for less than $2,000.