More customized services and better remotes
At a time when users are getting more choice than ever in video content the challenge to developers is to make their services and systems easier to use and customize.
"We have to change the data model for user experiences," said Grubb of Motorola's set-top group. "Everything about TV navigation is designed for one-way broadcast networks--even someone who hates sports when they hit the on-demand button sees sports, but there's no reason everyone needs to see the same experience," he said.
That will open up a "huge opportunity" for recommendation engines and social-networking tools, Grubb said.
On Wednesday (Sept. 1), Apple added to its iTunes service a new social networking site for music called Ping. However, it did not provide any information about a similar service for video.
The founder of Pandora, a speaker at the Samsung event, said he has no plans to provide a version of his music recommendation engine for video. "We have our hands full working with music," said Tim Westergren.
However, Samsung did show social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter running on its large-screen TVs at its developer conference.
Two open questions loom in the Web-a-vision era: What happens to the remote control device and the set-top box?
As a remote control, "the traditional Windows PC keyboard won't cut it," said Yang of GoogleTV. "We have talked to some companies that are coming up with very innovative ideas," he said, declining to give specifics.
"You have to be able to drive with your thumb, and anyone who tells you differently doesn't watch much TV," said Motorola's Grubb.
"There are a lot of different strategies with tablets, mobile phones and dedicated remotes," said Marty Roberts, vice president of sales and marketing for The Platform, a software subsidiary of Comcast, speaking on a panel.
"There's a broad recognition among pay TV operators they don’t know [what the navigation device should be] but they know they need a Web service front end to enable Web query calls over their services," Roberts said. "It's not a closed [cable-TV] eco-system anymore and that's a real challenge for them, but everyone is investing in that control layer so it’s a standard Web call," he said.
Samsung showed dedicated remotes and an Android handset app for controlling its TVs. Grubb agreed there will be a diversity of remote control devices.
"The design of the remote is one of the hardest questions and needs to be tackled in concert with the user experience," he said.
As for the set-top box, Yang said GoogleTV will generally require a gigahertz-class processor and about a gigabyte of memory—as much as twice the memory in many of today's set-tops. Roberts said set-top designs are bifurcating, some becoming "like mini PCs" supporting browsers and Adobe Flash and others more like thin clients with video rendering done in the cable-TV head-end network.
Vivek Khemka, vice president of customer technology at Dish Network, said operators like having set-tops they can use for as long as a decade. That will drive a continuation of simple, low-cost designs, he said.
However pay-TV operators also feel the competition from high end boxes such as Microsoft's Xbox 360 which is increasingly used to access the Web and video services. "We need to try to get consumers to see set-tops as cool, something they want to pay for like an Xbox," he said.
"The more you can pull together in one box, the better the service provider will be," said Grubb.
That trend is driving great complexity in set-top designs that have to support an increasingly wide range of formats, security codes, codecs and transport mechanisms, he said.