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What Smart TVs Need to Succeed

Intel's Wilfred Martis shares his thoughts on how the smart TV concept is going to work.

The Internet and TV are finally converging, in a way consumers seem to be responding to.

Wilfred Martis, Intel's GM of consumer electronics in the digital home group, says that while we've heard this before, it's different this time. We agree.

Intel is trying to brand smart TVs as something different from Internet-connected TVs - poised to be a hot item this holiday season - that have web-based features but fall short of being smart.

In Intel's world, Martis says, a smart TV must meet the following three pillars:

Unlimited Content Access: "To do that, you need a browser." This means a smart TV shouldn't be restricted by the apps available to run on it. It should be able to grab any content that lives on the web. The only product that really does that, at the moment, sort of, is Google TV (available on some Sony products and the Logitech Revue).

Google TV happens to use Intel's smart TV technology and Atom processor. Through the Chrome browser in Google TV, ideally, a user could get to anything - Hulu, NBC, ABC - but that isn't working out at the moment because all major broadcasters are blocking Google TV's access.

Extensive Use of Apps: Martis emphasized that the architecture should be easy for app developers to use so apps would be plentiful. Again, this plays into Intel's strengths since its basic architecture is widely used and would allow easy portability of apps from one platform to a smart TV platform. "Creative developers will enhance the way users experience television," he says.

Martis says an app store like Apple’s could be the key to the growth of smart TVs.

Immersive Experience: OK, this one's kind of obvious, but also one that's difficult to get right. Having used Google TV for a couple of weeks, I'm a little split on how immersive it is. But it is pretty good and the best method I've seen to integrate the web beyond the gated community of apps you will find on devices like a PS3, Roku or most Internet-connected TVs.

So why will smart TVs succeed when other Internet-enabled devices have failed? Broadband is the biggest reason. In years past, many of the devices were restricted to slower networks. With broadband penetration more widespread, devices can work up to their potential.

Martis also suggested that we're ready to consume Internet content on our TVs because most of us disassociated the Internet from the PC when we adopted smartphones. "We think a mental leap of taking certain Internet uses to a TV is a smaller leap," Martis says. "This thing [transition to TV screen] is going to happen faster than any Internet-connected screen in the past."

Perhaps more important is that the Internet content we expect to enjoy on our TVs isn't text-based web content. It's media (music and video) and social (sharing with communities). Earlier IPTV concepts included a lot of text-based content and commerce, two things that don't work well in a lean-back mode.

Robert Archer contributed to this report.

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Article Topics

News · Product News · Displays · TVs · Smart Tv · Intel · All topics

About the Author

Grant Clauser
Grant Clauser is a technology editor, covering home electronics for more than 10 years for such publications as Electronic House and Dealerscope. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had audio training from Home Acoustics Alliance and Sencore.

14 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Danny Noonan  on  12/07  at  07:30 PM

Grant - Interesting post. Could you clarify where the quotes from Wilfred Martis came from? Did you interview him directly or did these quotes come from somewhere else?  Just curious, as it wasn’t clear from the article. Thanks

Posted by Steve Crowe  on  12/07  at  08:04 PM

Danny, there was a conference call earlier this week with reporters and Martis. I took it out of the story, Grant didn’t omit it. Sorry for the confusion. Thanks for reading!

Posted by Manny Hernandez  on  12/08  at  01:20 PM

I agree that Smart TV’s are the future, but unless it is embraced by the Networks and MSO communities - I wouldn’t expect to see a large swell of shipments anytime soon. The consumer is willing and ready to make this kind of transition, but the Networks and MSO’s haven’t figured out how to monetize on this model, without abandoning their existing network assets. I guess you can say that IPTV and Smart TV concepts are the big elephants in the room. In the case of throwing resources at building the technology, I think they should help the big guys embrace the technology and start helping them (MSO/Networks) develop a business strategy.

Posted by Clinton Gallagher virtualCable.TV  on  12/08  at  05:00 PM

“Martis says an app store like Appleā€™s could be the key to the growth of smart TVs.” and “easy portability of apps from one platform to a smart TV platform” but the facts are markets are crippled and many are prevented from doing business when they choose to support the walled gardens called an “app store” which are corrupt, proprietary and impose censorship.

This whole process of webifying TV devices is following the same process as the minicomputer and then the microcomputer markets which followed.

Intel knows the same can and will happen with HDTV too and are out fertilizing the marketplace with their particular brand of manure which at face value sounds good until you get to the part that they advocate the walled gardens and you come to understand their hidden agenda.

Posted by grant  on  12/09  at  08:05 AM

I’m not so sure about that since one of the main points Intel makes is the importance of a browser in any smart TV system—one that allows unlimited access to web content. On the app front, what Martis emphasized is that the platform needs to be easy for developers to work with so there’s an abundance of apps that can be integrated in the browser experience.

Posted by Clinton Gallagher virtualCable.TV  on  12/09  at  10:29 AM

@grant, I’m sure as I’m a developer and I’ve viewed the videos at the Intel Developer website when Eric Kim first announced what they were working on with Yahoo! who pioneered this phase of web-enabled TV with Intel and Adobe (who contributed source code for the Flash support in firmware).

In those early videos and those that followed Eric Kim said right out they had no intention to support a browser as their research indicated consumers “told them” to “keep it easy to use” which was translated into manure meaning “no browser” by Kim et al. but in reality is an insult to even presume for a moment that the typical person thinks it is too difficult to use a browser to access the www.

Kim et al. wanted to cripple web access from HDTV because they know this is going to emerge as a huge marketplace and disrupt a lot of old money and make it possible for new money to emerge and that is what is motivating their strategy and their tactics.

So don’t think they’ve got religion all of a sudden they are only buying time to reposition themselves in any way they can to obstruct and hinder the inevetible for as long as possible.

The same manure is used to try to rationalize the imagined need for private app markets.

As it pertains to the software ten what we are witnessing is companies stealing the work of many people and organizations that created open-source standardized programming languages and hijacking decades of work now being misused to create proprietary services called app markets.

I do not call that free market competition. I call that equatable to what cattle and sheep farmers went through when America’s frontier was being settled and if you’ve ever watched any old cowboy movies you know in the end the corrupt and evil sheriff and all of his gang gets shot in the stomach and left laying in the street to bleed to death because they were greedy evil pigs that killed the innocent little web developer just trying to work and have a job.

Posted by JDawspm  on  12/09  at  03:30 PM

As an early adopter the biggest issue I’ve found is it doesn’t work with Verizon Fios or Comcast (OR/WA). If you have an AVR attached to your Flat screen and then to the cable/Vios DVR—there is no sound or video. Logitech’s solution is to by-pass the AVR and connect directly to the Flat screen TV.  This is clearly a very poor solution and testing should have surface this flaw. BTW, the cable companies take no ownership, they blame Logitech.

Posted by Joey  on  12/09  at  04:24 PM

I agree with most of the comments from previous posters. Why don’t we go beyond culling multimedia browser content from the web to making the “Connected TV” a personal and open-ended experience. It’s not personalized enough. You are limited by content providers. Let them come to the people. We provide the platform for the people and the providers to meet in the middle.

Everyone always uses the Apple’s Appstore (notice the double meaning of App in regards to the company - clever!) as the poster child for the future of Smart Devices, but they relatively fail to mention the iOS upon which everything runs. The iPod/iPhone is not just about apps, but it has the photo browser, email client, “THE” Mp3 player, Google Maps (sort of an included app) and other features which really lend to putting the “i” in iPhone or iPod.

Nothing would work without the robust and flexible iOS upon which everything runs. Intel has MeeGo, which seems to be a good start towards making an Open Source OS which upon the total experience can be built.

If Intel is really serious, it needs to not only think outside the box, but blow it wide open. This is why I continue to favor the HTPC over something like Google TV. I say if MSFT put a browser on the Xbox that supported Flash and other add-ons, game over! It would win hands down.

Posted by 39 Cent Stamp  on  12/10  at  03:29 PM

These features are worthless in a distributed A/V system. Hopefully the manufacturers don’t abandon black boxes like Roku or Blu-ray players that i can easily distribute.

For the average person this will be great but these days… even the average person is moving beyond the single TV room in their house. I guess it wont matter once content is all in the cloud. Hopefully my internet bill doesn’t increase smile.

Posted by lamapper  on  12/12  at  04:37 AM

Black boxes or any kind of boxes are useless!

All you need is a Linux PC (recommend ZaReason) + Enough RAM Memory (2Gb - 8Gb as Linux will run on 256Mb) + GPU (Nvidia or Intel, does not matter as long as it runs with hardware + Linux, which it will if you buy your PC from ZaReason) + FireFox Browser

And that is it.  Plug that very capable High Definition device (Linux PC above) into your 55 LED Monitor (note I did NOT say TV).  Add in one of the three/four open source projects that let you control which processor (multiple core) controls what on your Linux PC…no reason to let a stupid Flash site take over your PC, sandbox that out of date software and look for content providers that do not require Flash…HTML 5 might be a solution, however reality is High Definition open source codecs have been available for over 4 years already (its 2010 after all)

The only issue is Fiber To The Home (FTTH) so that you have synchronous internet.  The same upstream bandwidth as downstream that ONLY FTTH can give a residential consumer.  Here is a map that shows you where you can get FTTH today in America:

Would you pay $34.95 per month for 10Mb/10Mb (Wilson, NC); $28.95 per month for 10Mb/10Mb (Layfayette, LA) or how about $57.99 per month?  And that $57.99 per month gets you 30Mb/30Mb in Chattanooga, TN. 

All these companies are wasting their times trying to create an event via a set top box perpetuating an outdated business model.  The PCs are in the homes, they have browsers, Almost everyone has allot of memory and fast processors with GPUs thanks to Windows forcing 4GB or RAM or more to run decently…and as I said above, since Linux will run with 256 RAM memory, if you get a ZaReason Linux PC with 4GB of RAM, sandbox the Flash BS, than it will scream. 

Bandwidth is the only issue and that can be solved by moving to one of the almost 30 communities that have FTTH NOW! 

Many of us will never go back to the customer no service business models of the Telco ~ Cable Co ~ Cellular Oligopoly…been down that road for way too many years and have absolutely no incentive for going back. 

Thanks to synchronous, net neutral FTTH the future is indeed bright, finally.

Posted by 39 Cent Stamp  on  12/13  at  10:37 PM

LOL you say black boxes are useless and then suggest all we need is a Linux PC. Is yours gray or white? The Linux PC is the black box. A terrible one at that.

In your world you imagine that everyone wants to spend an hour downloading a bunch of applications and sit there with a keyboard in their lap. In the real world only a small percentage of the population wants to do this or even knows how.

I agree that these companies are wasting their time but its not because Linux PC’s are going to take over. It is because the service providers (cable/phone company) will rebadge a black box and put everyone else out of business. They did it to AOL and then Tivo and they will do it to the streaming services.

Posted by lamapper  on  12/15  at  02:58 PM

@39 Cent Stamp

I don’t care if the consumer uses Linux, Windows, Mac OSX or Unix on their PC or what color it is.  I only care what I use as they should care what they use and you should care what you use.  I believe it would be a problem if one Linux distro was dominant over the many others for the same reasons I mention below.

I do oppose needing an additional piece of hardware between my choice of operating system - PC combo and the Internet.  Especially when that piece of hardware (set top box) limits me in any way. 

The only hardware between you and the Internet should be a DD-WRT, OpenWRT or Tomato firmware enabled Firewall/Router so you can see your actual bandwidth in real time and see how badly throttled your service in reality really is.  The other residential firewall/routers do not give you the security, monitoring, logging and reporting capability reserved for $3000 firewall/routers for between $15 - $200 dollars that the firmware mentioned above do.  I have 5 and the most expensive one was $69, the cheapest was $15. All 5 have this advanced capability thanks to the open source firmware.

I was equally opposed to DVRs that had slower processors, slower network interface cards and smaller hard drives than what my desktop PC/laptop/netbook had on board already.  The fact that nothing was in reality stored on the DVR, but ONLY back at some central location was just another slap in the face.  Though it did explain why the company would erase 50 hours of saved content before I could view in spite of the fact that I had more than enough room available based on their own reports.  And they called that service, what a joke.  Even my PC can act as a DVR and I can link that to a home server with more hard disk space if I need too.  Check that map in my last post for locations that will let you run your own web server, cloud server, file server, mail server, etc at home.  Now that is service.

Anyone who disputes the above, DVR does not record locally, you can test this very easily, unplug your network from the Internet and attempt to watch your “stored” entertainment without being connected.  That you must connect first before watching is an excuse.  Just wait until you have a major storm power outage where your home power gets restored before the infrastructure connecting you to the Internet gets restored.  At least that is how I found this fact out.  We are all busy and being able to pick the time I catch up on a show must always be an option or there is no service.

My choice of Linux after many years in the Data Processing/Internet Technology field is simple. 

1) I do not agree with paying a royalty in order to develop products (software/hardware) for a platform.  That platform is enhanced through additional software developed for it.  They should pay the developers for building the platform.  And to add insult to injury that same company can open an App store, develop a competing product and put your App out of business by refusing to allow your App to be sold in their store, the only method of selling effectively to that market. 

2) I will not support any proprietary company that attempts to force me to upgrade and pay more for their product without providing additional value in their products offering.  Even worse when the forced update causes my operating system - hardware - application combination not to work any longer.  That is unacceptable by any definition.

You want my money, give me some incentive to purchase and provide some value.  If you can not, well that is not my problem.

So I choose Linux, you can choose something else.  But the reality is that both of us, regardless of our hardware + operating system choice can purchase a low priced base product with HDMI, GPUs, Gigabit Ethernet, Quad Core Processors, plenty of Memory for between $300 and $600 dollars.  These boxes will do what any of those set top boxes will do and if you purchased SMART (not vendor Locked in and Root/Admin Access to install you own software) the PC you bought will ALWAYS DO MORE!  Of course the caveat is you must purchase from a vendor who knows your preferred operating system.  For Linux your two best solutions are System 76 and ZaReason. 

Disclaimer I do not work for any hardware company and have been burned by proprietary hardware offerings that ONLY work for one company’s operating system multiple times.  This does not happen to me any more, ever!

Burned once shame on you, burned twice shame on me, your not going to get a third opportunity if I have options to prevent it.  So far we all do, thankfully.

I do not want Linux to take over the world as that would be bad for me.  You assumed too much.

Posted by 39 Cent Stamp  on  12/16  at  05:50 PM

I dont have any problems with Linux taking over the world.. or windows or android or whatever..  My comments are geared more towards the reality that most people CANT use linux. Most people CANT navigate facebook. Most people CANT (or more importantly shouldnt have to) deal with a keyboard and a remote.

I made no assumptions. I pointed out that you said “no black boxes” and then suggested we use a computer with LINUX which is basically a black box.. without the polished/device specific remote.

Black boxes of some sort will always be required. Call it a PC or a set top box and make it any color you want. Its a black box. My first post pointed out that in a distributed audio video scenario where you have a dozen TV’s and 20 audio video sources.. Having a TV with netflix built in is useless. It will work fine for most consumers but i cant use it for the systems i install.

Posted by fettman24  on  02/05  at  01:59 PM

The Logitech Revue is great, social networking or scrolling around on YouTube while I’m watching TV at the same time. Having it integrated with my DISH Network equipment so that my search results in Chrome Zone also show the program guide listings and DVR recordings. As an employee this is what I believe web TV is supposed to be.

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