IP To TV: How?
All I want from CES or MacWorld is a solution to get my TV programmes from the web to my TV set: why is it still so difficult?
Bill Gates' keynote at this year's Vegas tech-fest, CES, spoke of the growing importance of in-home wireless connectivity, to ease moving your digital assets from device to device, room to room. Well, this is hardly new news. He's been saying pretty much the same for years.
The question that I have is: why it is still so hard to do, and so costly?
I've tried various solutions over the last few years to get content from my computer to my TV (first photos and music; more recently downloaded and streamed video). For a while, the media centre promised the answer.
But it's been an intensely frustrating piece of kit, with poorly executed and buggy software. And now, speculation is rife that the PC under your TV is not the solution to the "missing 10 yards of rail-road" between PC and TV, and is in fact fast approaching the end of the line (see active-tv blog for a good summary of the issues).
I thought last year that perhaps the solution lay in using a more inexpensive, simpler piece of kit (rather than a full blown PC) as a "media extender", a relatively simple box (with thin client) connected to my TV, that would pick up TV programmes from my server, wirelessly, and allow them to be watched on the TV.
Well, a year of frustration trying to use a couple of such solutions including an Xbox360 has proven that this doesn't currently work well either. At least, not well enough to be a mass market proposition.
The problem with the Apple solution is that it is geared around their business model of downloading and owning files via iTunes, not streaming A/V from a multitude of websites, or using other formats such as Divx, XviD, MPEG2, and WMV.
Going for the simplest possible solution, I have more recently tried connecting a VGA and audio cable from my laptop to my digital TV (how many TVs have VGA sockets though?), and simply hit Fn-F7; that worked until the laptop battery died and the screen saver kicked in. I know - both easily sorted - but still a hassle, and an untidy solution.
Of course, more and more laptops have decent High Definition screens now anyway, so perhaps some people might just decide to eschew their lounge plasma TV - but I enjoy the 40" screen, surround sound home cinema experience.
Mentioning this to a very tech savvy colleague this morning, he replied that he downloaded programmes through BBC iPlayer, stripped the DRM (hence his anonymity!), re-encoded the file, burned it to DVD from his PC, then took it to his DVD player connected to his TV in the lounge. Hardly a solution for my mum either.
The sorry truth is that all the solutions are currently suboptimal, to say the least. But I don't blame the manufacturers. I think the reason is that there's not been much demand from the audience for these gadgets, and hence the investment in R&D has not been worthwhile. And that's been because there's not been that much legit long-form television video content out there, easily, legally and cheaply available.
Well, there is now. Hundreds of hours a week in the UK. And I think consumer demand will rapidly drive solutions.
A simple, elegant, cheap, open standards box, that easily allows streamed or downloaded, free, rented, or bought programmes, direct from all vendor and other sites (from YouTube to iTunes to DailyMotion to BBC iPlayer) and from your hard drive, in all formats, is what the industry needs from either CES or MacWorld this month.
Can't wait to get my hands on one, and see whether it does the job.
Ashley Highfield is Director, BBC Future Media And Technology.