Intel has a vision for the future of the television–it will have an Intel processor inside. Like it or not, the television world is now subject to Moore’s Law. Expect processing power to increase accordingly, doubling every two years, as the television becomes more like a computer. At their annual developer forum, senior Intel executives talked about the convergence of the internet with broadcast networks and how to make the television experience more personal, more social and more interactive.
“By the year 2015, you can expect 12 billion consumer devices capable of delivering television content with 500 billion hours of video content in the cloud,” predicted Justin Rattner, the chief technology officer of Intel, in a keynote presentation: Convergence is So Yesterday: The Future of Television.
“TV isn’t TV anymore. It’s out of the box. It’s off the wall and it’s not going back anytime soon,” he said. “We are talking about more than one TV-capable device for every man and woman on the planet. People are going to feel connected to the screen in ways they haven’t in the past.”
Among the technologies described was Light Peak, a high-speed fibre-optic connector designed for mainstream electronic devices, delivering 10Gbps of bandwidth today–enough to deliver uncompressed high-definition video, or move a Blu-ray movie in 30 seconds–expected to reach speeds of 100Gbps in the future.
“The old TV world is fading fast and the future is here,” according to the chief technology officer of Intel, which seems intent on finding ways for television to use more powerful processors.
Time and again we have heard technologists predicting the future of interactive television, but little has come to pass. Now, perhaps, there will be powerful enough processors to deliver the level of interaction that people have become accustomed to on personal computers.
Eric Kim, who heads the Digital Home Group at Intel, presented their latest system-on-chip processor, the 1.2GHz Atom CE4100. Among other things, it will run a full version of Adobe Flash Player 10, support OpenGL 3D graphics, and decode up to two 1080p video streams at the same time.
“Traditional broadcast networks are quickly shifting from a linear model to a multi-stream, internet-optimized model to offer consumers digital entertainment that complements the television, such as social networking, 3D gaming and streaming video,” he said.
Malachy Moynihan, who heads video product strategy at Cisco, was among the invited speakers at the developer conference. “We don’t think exclusively of the TV any longer, but, also, the PC and the mobile phone,” he said. “Consumers really value a unified experience. That was the original promise that we saw on TV. They want that ubiquitous access to their content, the ability to move seamlessly from the TV to the PC, to their mobile phone, in the future.” As a result, “we’re going to have to see clients that really blend that existing broadcast video network and these new IP content networks together.”
“Don’t make my TV act like a PC,” is a message that Intel has consistently heard from consumers, said Eric Kim. “Putting PC internet directly on TV does not work. We know. We tried it. But, increasingly, people want rich, immersive and social experiences on their television.”
Last year, Intel launched its Widget application platform with Yahoo!. “Now it is clear that what’s needed is a full, unconstrained internet application development framework targeted for television,” he said, proposing Adobe Flash as the solution.
David Wadhwani, heading the platform business at Adobe, spoke of the Open Screen Project to provide a consistent runtime environment across many different devices. Adobe has published the Flash file format and removed licence fees associated with distributing Flash players. He demonstrated, for the first time in public, a full version of Flash 10 running on a CE3100 Intel processor.
“We hope is that the millions of content creators and publishers will be able to reach the billions of consumers, and that the billions of consumers can access their favourite content, regardless of what device they happen to be using,” he said. “We think this will fundamentally change the way people consume content in the living room.”
“The future of TV experience goes well beyond just simply accessing the Web. It’s about immersive TV interfaces.” He suggested it will “reshape the way people interact with their televisions”.
George Schweitzer is responsible for marketing at CBS and describes his main job as “to get people to watch television”. He said the experience of television has evolved from watching in a scheduled linear world to “managing video in a world where the consumer is always in control.” That sounds great in theory “but in reality, people are totally overwhelmed by the sheer range of choice.”
In his version of special relativity, “MC squared equals MC squared: more content, more choice equals more chaos and more confusion.” He said: “consumers find themselves engaged in a game of what we call high-tech hide-and-seek. The shows are out there, but we need to make it simpler and easier to find them.”
He presented a new CBS Widget which is about to go live. “It will give the viewer easy access to our schedule, to our shows, and to all kinds of related information,” he said. “It makes navigating easy.” Providing, we assume, you stay within the world of CBS.
This was followed by a video of Erik Huggers of the BBC talking about the BBC iPlayer, which Intel introduced by saying: “It was so popular that literally on the first day it brought down the entire broadband backbone of the UK”. That is not entirely true, of course. In fact, it delivered 3.5 million streams in the first two weeks of launch. Significant, but not extraordinary.
The BBC has become increasingly close to the vendors like Intel, Cisco and Adobe, attracting criticism from some other consumer electronics companies. Some have argued that broadcasters should stick to making programmes and leave it to others to design televisions.
With its system-on-chip media processors, Intel hopes to extend its dominance of the desktop and laptop computer to the television display. This presents opportunities to make the television experience more engaging, more immersive, more interactive.
What still seems to be lacking from the technologists, despite their claims to the contrary, is an understanding of why and how people watch television in the first place. It’s the programmes, and the people that make them, that make television special, not the technology of delivery or presentation. Nonetheless, that technology has the potential to revolutionise the way we view television.
According to Intel, “The future of home entertainment is on Moore’s Law’s now”.