I was talking with Dave Feldman, VP of technology at Denver-based Charter Communications, a major North American MSO recently and we veered off onto the topic of set top boxes (STBs). Dave is charged with finding ways to integrate Internet and telephony features and applications onto the STB. I've been musing about the STB since 1995 when I realized that we were all going to have to learn how to work every TV set we came into contact with as more and more content became available.
More than a decade ago, I heard Dr. John McQuillan, now of McQuillan Ventures speculate that the TV set, telephone and computer would remain autonomous in the home for many years to come. A one size fits all box was not going to evolve into the mainstream any time soon.
I have to admit, the prospect of using my TV to answer the phone seems kind of silly with caller ID and cordless phones in hand. And everybody seems to answer their cell phone as soon as it rings, especially when I'm out with them. And has anyone actually ever had a seamless conversation with anyone on a cell phone lately? I can't remember the last time I had the complete attention of the other person on the end of the line for the entire conversationbut I digress.
What I've been thinking about since my talk with Dave Feldman is, what should the STB of the future do? What shouldn't it do? One thing I think it will have and should have is plenty of storage capacity. According to analyst Drew Lanza, general partner at Morganthaler Ventures storage, which is getting cheaper by the minute, will likely curb the need for on-demand very high-bandwidth fiber to the home networks and services. You could turn on a T1's worth of bandwidth for the day and download more content than you could ever hope to watch or use in the few hours of disposable time you have, he said at the recent Optical Fiber Conference/National Fiber Optic Engineers Conference. I have to admit that Drew is right. Something to think about when you next get all fired up about PON taking the world by storm.
Whatever it does, I told Dave that I hope the STB of the future isn't so smart that it outsmarts me. I'm sick to death of trying to get my video making software to work on my Sony Vaio. I don't think it's the Vaio's fault that my Pinnacle software has a rendering issue, but there's noone at this address who can help me figure out what's wrong. Dave said a day barely goes by when someone doesn't ask him to come help them with their wireless home networking hub or some such thing. Whoever thought that intelligence would be the enemy?
For the record, I'm delighted with my Dish Network STB, which records up to 100 hours of programming for me. I've yet to go over 50 hours. Grooming programs off the DVR is pretty easy too, as is scheduling shows. It gets a little frightful at times, but is less wacko than I remember VCRs being when they first came out. Navigating all the other features it avails me is not so bad, but I still feel like a caveman writing my diary with a stone tablet when using the clicker to get around the STB. The cool thing is that since the Dish and STB were installed, I rarely watch TV. I just curl up and enjoy whatever I have on the DVR, when I have the time, peace and quiet and inclination to watch TV. The cool thing is that, with my DVR, something good is always on and I know how to make it go.
The other great thing is the ability to go back while watching a show. I find myself trying to hit rewind whenever I'm watching TV at the hotel now. I'm totally surprised how much that instant replay gets used. I simply love it, even though I thought that was kind of lame when I first heard about it.