Digital TV: set-top boxes vs wi-fi
Wow. A week away on holiday has opened up the floodgates, and the bleedin' obvious is flowing from my brain even quicker than normal.
On the way to Aikido this evening I popped into the office to pick up a PocketPC which arrived in my absence - we're working on a project at the moment which involves these beasts. I'm ashamed to say that prior to now we've done (almost) nothing on them. PDAs are just so niche compared to phones, we've done a fair few projects with them over the years but mobile phone services are our bread and butter
Anyhow, it's a rather nice Dell Axim (admittedly one of the cheapest they do - about 160 pounds I think) with integrated wi-fi and bluetooth. Getting it working with the airport at home was a snap, and whilst it's very early days (watch for a report here in time) the software doesn't seem too awful. Which made me think...
Look at interactive TV services today. I have NTL: their iTV offering is rubbish (well, IMHO anyway). It takes ages to start up and get using it, stops you (and everyone in the room) watching TV properly whilst you're using it (small windows don't cut it), is limited to a small menu of content... I mean, I'm in the industry and we have clients on that service, and I've hardly touched it.
Why is this? It seems like a big set of proprietary kit: OK, behind the scenes I believe that NTL use webby technologies and the Liberate browser embedded into the box, but it's sooo slow. Instead of bundling a browser, complex remote control etc. into those set-top boxes, just give them the basic DTB stuff (i.e. your channels and a simple EPG), embed a Wi-Fi hub, and bundle with a cheapo wi-fi PDA. Suddenly you have an iTV offering which:
- solves the lean-forward/lean-back dilemma (if you think it exists) by letting you watch TV on the big-screen whilst at the same time browsing content;
- lets you implement your iTV portal using really cheap'n'easy internet technologies, whilst letting your customers (perhaps those paying slightly more?) access the broader internet, if that's what they want;
- scales, letting your customers plug in other devices to the STB and potentially have >1 user of your iTV service at once - social interaction with TV content anyone? - whilst providing in-home internet connectivity to the whole house;
- uses kit you were probably going to put in there sooner or later anyway (i.e. wi-fi) which can be reused by lots of components (see above), and takes out the iTV-specific expensive stuff (microbrowsers) - fewer more standardised components means less of a maintenance/support headache;
- lets people interact with iTV in a much more friendly fashion - have you ever tried entering text onto an iTV service? Ow.
- lets them do it even when they're not in front of the TV - imagine recipe services which you can actually use in the kitchen; gardening content you can carry out into the garden;
- gives you a realistic chance of (re?)selling your customers more kit over time - more devices, larger-screen devices, and so on;
- positions the STB as the home digital hub thingy that Microsoft and Sony keep yapping on about, and starts you towards really interesting stuff: iTunes-integrated hi-fi kit?
Any knowledgeable DTV folks want to comment?