- 12 Dec 08, 10:22 GMT
As a BBC veteran, I'm obviously not the best person to take a completely impartial view on the importance of Project Canvas.That's the plan outlined on Thursday by the BBC, ITV, and BT to co-operate on a common platform for IPTV - or, as an ITV statement put it rather more usefully, to "bring broadband and television together in one box". There are plenty of obstacles to be cleared - regulatory rows, technical teething troubles, standards snafus - before we start plugging a set-top box into our broadband and watching the iPlayer and other online video offerings on our televisions rather than on a computer.
But I think that this is an exciting development that could be an important step on the road to the connected home that technology gurus have been promising us for so long. Just one question - by the time the rough sketch of Canvas becomes the full picture, won't millions already be choosing different ways to pipe web content around their homes?
By chance, as Thursday's announcement was being made, I was in a house that is already wired for the future. We were filming at the home of Bill Thompson, top technology pundit and columnist on this site, as part of a report on the way we may all consume the media five years from now.
By linking together his various computers and a games console over his wireless network, Bill has got himself just the kind of arrangement that a Canvas box may deliver in 2010 - and quite a bit more. At the heart of the set-up is a Mac mini computer and an Xbox 360 linked to a projector. They are also linked wirelessly to his main desktop computer and a PC.
We watched as Bill and his 16-year-old son Max put the system through its paces - selecting iPlayer programmes to stream onto the wall, watching YouTube videos, and using the Xbox 360 - not just to play games, but to store and play video previously downloaded to Bill's desktop computer. With a 20Mbps broadband line, it all seemed to work pretty smoothly - a slower internet connection might have struggled.
The result was extremely impressive - and it was clear that the home's old cathode ray tube television sat in the corner and got little use. For those who've already got a computer or two and a games console, this kind of set-up would not be that expensive or difficult to imitate. So will Canvas look a little bit tired by the time it arrives in 2010 - and will customers who've already got a computer capable of delivering IPTV to their television really want to buy what is in effect just another one?
Well, I'm going to stick my neck out and say "no" and "probably" to those two questions. For one thing, Canvas, if the partners do their work properly, should deliver the kind of cross-platform internet television experience that we've struggled to get until now. For another, there are still millions of people who do want to use the iPlayer but don't want the "computer" experience - all that fiddling around with settings and menus that installing any network requires. Freeview shepherded the large slice of the population who are not early adopters into the digital TV age and, if Canvas turns out to be simple and elegant, it can take those same people into the era of broadband television.
By the way, apologies for the standard of the video interview with Bill Thompson. It was shot by a rank amateur, using a £120 camera. It just goes to show that however much technology changes television, there's still a place for professionalism.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites