Even though the Consumer Electronics Show doesn't technically start until Thursday (or Tuesday or Wednesday depending on how you count), tradition has it that some of the big news comes out before the show. In the case of the Connected Home, one of the big news items will be a string of announcements by major players of TVs with built-in web capability.
For those of you who have been paying attention, this may sound shockingly like the past efforts (starting in the late '90s) to meld the PC and the TV. These efforts have picked up pace in recent years with Viiv from Intel, Apple TV, and various announcements from Netflix and its partners. So, what's the big deal?
Well, really there are one and a half big deals being announced this week. The half of a big deal is that Netflix (and perhaps others) will announce that their online service can now be accessed without a separate box on certain LG televisions. This gets around the hassle of adding a box, with another remote and another user interface. I would liken it to the difference between having XM satellite radio come with your car versus adding a little box later. This makes adoption easier for the consumer. All you have to do is look at the success of iTunes versus other music services to see that device-software-service integration can be critical. I think online movie access is the inevitable standard, but announcements like this are important steps toward that future.
LG's announcement is here:
The full-on big deal will be the announcement by Yahoo and Intel of support for a system that allows a wide variety of web content to be accessed using a widget on the TV screen and the TV remote (no keyboard and no separate Web TV, Game or PC box). If this system makes TV to Web switching and multi-tasking simple, and if the remote user interface is easy (think Wii), this could be the next phase of web encroachment on TV. The system was announced in August:
As we know from DVD battles, however, industry support is key and we should see that this week at CES.
All of this is enabled by two events, really. PC hardware is dirt cheap, so why not throw some in while consumers still think $1000 or $1500 is a reasonable price for a TV? The second factor is that TVs are now huge, with lots of resolution (more than enough for most purposes), so it makes sense to use some of that real estate for additional content windows (sports and new TV channels already do this with various tickers and split screen arrangements, but now you can control those other items).
Here is my report on the Intel web TV booth area at CES:
And here is my coverage of Samsung's demonstration:
If the Intel-Yahoo system is open enough, it or something like it, will be a game changer.