Beyond the set-top box: what’s next on the horizon for TV over the web?

2 Apr 2009

TV is still tethered to the living room, but the nature of the web is a moveable beast.

In a recent episode of popular teen drama series Gossip Girl, one character worries if being grounded means no TV. Her brother quips back: “Who cares? Who actually watches TV on a television anymore?”

The YouTube generation is growing up and bringing the purchase power of its preference for consuming entertainment via the laptop with it — but what does this mean for the cable guys?

Apparently, they have already seen this coming and are readying themselves for the next generation. This doesn’t mean throwing out the television and internet-connected set-top box just yet — it involves catering for more than one market: the IPTV service to the living room TV; and the consumer on the move.

Mark Kellett, CEO of digital TV and broadband providers Magnet, says that on one hand the set-top box market is in great demand and evolving rapidly, while on the other broadband customers are beginning to look to their laptops for TV access.

“The IPTV landscape is diversifying, and our next-generation service with a brand-new set-top box is coming out this June,” says Kellett.

This will allow for high-definition, video-on-demand (VOD) and the ability to pause, rewind and record live TV (PVR or personal video recording).

This signals convergence — web presence via your television set, plus some more services associated with surfing the web from your PC.

“RSS feeds from the web will be available, so customers will be able to subscribe to and read live newsfeeds from various websites on their TV through the middleware on our set-top box.”

While this convergence will open up the TV set, what is really exciting is where the ‘TV over the laptop’ model is going.

Recently, Magnet extended its PCTV service: this allows customers to watch a range of television channels such as RTÉ, TV3 and MTV for free over Wi-Fi on their laptop or PC.

It is clear to see where this is going: as of this week students from Dublin Institute of Technology have reported a trial of campus-wide TV over the web.

The portion of the campus-dwelling student population taking part in the trial will have access to the free line-up of Magnet’s PCTV from anywhere

within the college’s Wi-Fi network.

This, folks, is where the future of television lies in years to come: anytime, anywhere access over the web with only a laptop and broadband connection needed. The set-top box will no longer be required.

This is the reckoning of Tom Higgins, chairman of While Digisoft’s product repertoire includes the software that goes into set-top boxes, Higgins says he has seen the future and the cable guys are worried.

Speaking from the IPTV World Forum 2009 in London, he says: “OTT (Over The Top) is the big talking point right now. This is the ability to watch TV channels over the internet without the need for the middleman or cable company.”

Providers are either getting very worried, or moving with the times, and are looking to offer the customer packages themselves, he adds.

“OTT will unleash a massive amount of content and will revolutionise the television experience by allowing the customer to build their own bouquet of TV channels.

“This is already happening today. Take a look at US sports channel ESPN: US customers don’t have to buy a cable or satellite package to watch their sports — they have the option of consuming it directly by watching it over the web — on their TV or PC,” explains Higgins.

Higgins’ outlook chimes with Kellett of Magnet: while he thinks the set-top box will eventually be done away with, he agrees that it will be due to convergence.

“The next-generation of television has internet capabilities embedded. This means news, weather and chat, all through the TV.

“There is a lot more focus on putting converged services on the TV, making it widget-enabled,” he explains.

“This is nothing new — widgets are simply a library of internet services or applications and builds these and supplies them to the industry.”

Higgins says convergence is pushing the boundaries and producing interesting results for entertainment and communications in the home.

“A customer asked us if we could develop a TV remote control that would double as a VoIP phone handset.”

What an interesting and futuristic concept. That would have been pretty wild, no? “Oh, we’ve already done it,” shrugs Higgins.

By Marie Boran