A Glimpse Into the Future of Television

If there’s one thing that struck me while I was researching an article on the future of television for Technology Review, it was all the fake living rooms. Google has one. So does Roku. So do LogitechSezmi, and Intel (which I believe has several in different states). I’m sure I missed a dozen more. It’s a sign of how important television, the star of living rooms real and faux, is to tech companies as they look to tap into the technology and media riches of the last great mass medium.

They’re all trying to figure out how to meld the medium they know–the Internet–with the one they hope to revolutionize: television. Yet with little native knowledge of television, Silicon Valley firms must troop consumer after consumer into these cozy little corners of their corporations and observe how people watch television and how they respond to their many efforts to bring the Web to the screen watched on average five hours a day. Even now, these companies are still struggling. Google, for instance, just told several consumer electronics manufacturers to hold off on planned launches of Google TV products at the Consumer Electronics Show in early January.

At the same time, the television industry has a lot to learn, too. Like the music industry, they’re in many cases fighting to keep too many people from watching television entertainment online, because that could damage their lucrative business models. But while they may have more leverage against the Internet hordes than the music industry had, thanks to both those business models and the durability of the TV experience for viewers, they don’t know any more about the Internet than the tech companies know about TV. Ultimately they will need to give viewers more flexible ways to view their content, or someone else will.

At this point, honestly, it’s tough to know how this volatile mix of TV and Net will shake out. I know, because I asked a whole lot of experts in both, and it was kind of amazing how uncertain nearly all of them are about what will happen even a couple of years from now. I hope to have provided some insight into how things could play out, but the uncertainty about what’s coming next in television is what I find most interesting: Whatever comes of this clash of two great mediums is going to surprise us all.

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Why Google TV Wasn’t a Hit–and Why It’s Too Early to Write It Off

After a spate of mostly poor-to-middling reviews, Google TV products due out at the important Consumer Electronics Show in early January have been delayed, according to the New York Times. Although Samsung and Vizio apparently will show new Google TV products–in Vizio’s case, privately–Toshiba, Sharp, and LG Electronics apparently have delayed plans to introduce Google TV products after the search giant asked them to hold off. To date, only Sony, with a line of Google TVs and Blu-ray player, and Logitech, with an add-on Google TV settop box, have had products with the software embedded in it. Google TV lets people reach Web sites on their TVs, even while regular TV is playing.

But while some reviews have praised Google TV’s ambition, most have said it falls too far short of what TV viewers want in their living rooms. And they’re mostly right today. The Logitech box, called the Revue, comes with a PC keyboard that some people may find awkward to use on the couch, and the user interface isn’t as clean as it should be. Worse, TV broadcasters, fearful that too many people might prefer to watch episodes on demand on their Websites instead of on their TVs where they’re exposed to much more lucrative advertising, have blocked Google TV users from viewing most of their Web videos. Add the relatively steep price for Google TV products, which starts at $300 for the Revue, and it’s tough to see how these products would fly off the retail shelves.

For all that, it’s way too early to count Google TV as another of Google’s many failed product experiments. Here’s why:

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The Long-Awaited Boxee Box Gets a Hollywood Preview

Few consumer electronics devices have been more widely anticipated, at least by the more geeky set, than Boxee‘s settop box for bringing Internet content to the TV–since Google TV debuted three weeks ago, anyway. The uniquely shaped Boxee Box will debut on Nov. 10 in New York, adding a potent new player to the rapidly expanding market for Internet-connected TVs and add-on devices.

Today, Boxee CEO Avner Ronen offered a preview at the Streaming Media West conference in Los Angeles, where such devices are viewed with much more wariness and even fear than in Silicon Valley. First, he offered his version of the landscape (paraphrased at times):

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Shakeout Coming in Internet TV Boxes

If consumers are likely confused by the raft of devices to bring the Internet and apps to the television, the TV industry isn’t so sure what they will mean for various players, from content providers to cable networks to cable and satellite TV providers. Folks attending the Streaming Media West conference in Los Angeles today got some answers from a panel of TV and device makers.

The gist: There’s a shakeout coming as more and more devices come to market this year and next. While the growth of interest in alternatives or supplements to cable TV may drive sales for the next year or so, the ones that don’t catch on quickly will start dropping like flies. And with Google and Apple putting bucketloads of bucks into their offerings, it seems likely there won’t be room for all the alternatives that already exist, let alone new ones still to come.

On the panel were moderator Andrew Wallenstein, senior editor at PaidContent.org; Dan Kelley, senior director of marketing for D-Link, which worked with Boxee on its over-the-top device to be released on Nov. 10; Jim Funk, VP of business development at Roku; John Griffin, director of connected electronics at Dolby; and John Koller, direct of hardware marketing for Sony Computer Entertainment America. Here in more detail is what they had to say. Continue reading

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