LAS VEGAS—The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is once again attempting to convince us that the humble television is part of the universal compute continuum marketeers so adore.
After all, in a world where devices are proliferating rather than consolidating, it would make sense for TVs to slot into the spectrum already created by smartphones and tablets, especially as cloud computing makes content sharing across devices easy.
While technology pundits forecast the possibilities of futuristic televisions, however, George Haber of silicon tuner vendor Cresta Tech believes TVs first have to overcome their regional limitations before becoming truly hi-tech.
Today, every TV on the market is region specific, meaning it would not work outside of a specified geographical area, something Haber decries as "madness" in this digital age.
Cresta Tech has introduced the concept of the global, universal TV, which would work anywhere, thanks to its smart tuner architecture, acquired recently from the purchase of Xceive, which makes multi-standard silicon RF tuners.
The firm is targeting TV makers as well as the notebook and all-in-one PC markets with its programmable software-based multi-standard demodulation capability and flexible front-end and interface, which allows for the reception and digitization of any TV signal anywhere in the world.
"Now is the time for TV manufacturers to think globally and provide a single design to all regions," said Haber recommending that TV OEMs opt for designs that include a media processing SoC, a TV partition with antenna in and LCD out, a webcam, sound, Wi-Fi and an SD memory device on a highly optimized, low cost PC board.
TVs in the past were developed with a fixed media SoC and static software, explained Haber, saying today the market was better equipped for a multi-core, programmable CPU/GPU/DSP and dynamic software model.
Single-function entertainment hardware, like broadcast TV, set top boxes, IPTVs, DVRs and PVRs, are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, according to Haber, who believes the TV design of the future needs to leverage the same SoC and operating system technology as other common smart devices on the market.
"TV is the big place to play apps," Haber said, adding that no one would need to Tivo a show if all content was stored in the cloud, too.
"It's so obvious," he said, musing that if Apple already used the same SoC in its phones, tablets and set top boxes, it would hardly be a stretch to imagine the firm using its chips in its rumored upcoming TV as well.
According to Haber, TVs need a tuner and an extra chip that acts as a universal demodulator.
"Today's TVs have one chip for the modem, another for the tuner, etc. But the future demands a cleaner, simpler TV, using the same processors that phones and tablets use, plus a modem. So the new partition will be a modem connected to an apps processor," he explained.
Haber claims Cresta Tech's tuners are a step in the right direction, sporting good RF performance, analog TV demodulation and digital TV reception.
The future of TVs, however, will depend on them switching over to ARM SoCs, Haber said. "we're betting our company on it," he added.
Cresta Tech (Santa Clara, Calif.) has already shipped more than 40 million "smart tuners" to top-tier OEMs including LG, Hitachi and Bang and Olufson, but the firm believes there's more TV tweaking to be done.
"If it can be done in software, it will," said Haber, repeating his mantra.
Haber said he believed that before long, televisions would even have Siri–like qualities allowing users to ask questions about content they were viewing, or control the set through voice or gestures.
TVs, he said, would also enable search monetization and sport cameras in order to monitor how certain content was being received.
"It will see what you smile and laugh at. That may sound creepy in a way, but that's the future," he predicted.
Until that day however, consumers will simply have to confine their viewing pleasure to the CES showroom floor.