Manufacturers will soon grasp they can prosper selling integrated TV-computers to a huge generation of new shoppers who want the Web's power embedded in TVs.
For the last ten years broadcast technology has been dismissed as obsolete, a clumsy analog vestige of a bygone technological era. Now, however, the key elements required to propel the old idiot-box world of analog broadcasting into the digital age are falling into place. Digital telephony was the wireless story of the 1990s; digital broadcasting will be the wireless story of the 2000s.
Digital broadcast satellite got off to an uncertain start a decade ago, but has since emerged as a very serious competitor to cable. Digital radio services from both satellite and terrestrial transmitters are now emerging. Congress has directed the Federal Communications Commission to choreograph television's transition to dig-ital by the end of 2006. Digital receivers are now powerful--and cheap enough for Wal-Mart.
The personal computer has been cozying up to the television for at least five years. Nintendo's GameCube and Microsoft's Xbox already feed their content into analog televisions. DVDs provide compact, interactive, all-digital storage media. TiVo and ReplayTV--powerful, full-fledged computers masquerading as really smart VCRs--already surf the analog airwaves to capture and cache broadcast content. And last August the FCC directed manufacturers to add digital reception capabilities to their larger TV sets by mid-2005, and to all the rest by 2007. The computer-to-television cozying up, in short, will culminate in complete integration in the next five years.
Digital broadcasting has been hyped for so long, and has delivered so little, that the FCC's directive was met with a yawn. As the commission's many critics pointed out, only 15% of households still rely on radio tuners and rabbit-ear antennas for their reception; satellite dish households already have their digital receivers, and cable companies can orchestrate a transition to digital on their own schedule.
Far more significant, however, is that only about 11% of American households are currently hooked up to a high-speed digital channel via a cable modem or a phone company's DSL service, and those services typically deliver data at well under 1 megabit per second. Using the same digital compression schemes already used for DVD and some satellite television services, a digital TV transmitter can dispatch almost 20 megabits per second. With 20 or so TV stations, and as many radio transmitters broadcasting in a metropolitan area, there will be a huge stream of bits that can be selectively picked up and cached by the integrated TV-PCs. It certainly won't be just Oprah and Rush, either--the digital broadcasters will soon end up free to push any kind of Web content, too. Thus, over the course of the next decade the transition to digital television will bring very-high-speed digital connections into every home that buys a new television.
Broadcasting provides only one-way traffic, but most stock quotes, headline news, pictures and entertainment that we seek are sought by our neighbors, too. You need an uplink to dispatch e-mail, buy books online and pick and choose the information you want to receive, but this uplink can run at a low bit rate. Satellite broadcasters already provide high-speed Internet downloads with the help of dial-up phone lines for the uplink. And when manufacturers begin to build digital tuners into televisions, they can readily add wireless uplinks, too, capable of signing on to services offered by the paging, cell phone and other narrowband wireless services, like Blackberry's. Caching can substitute for a lot of two-way interaction as well. Pay-per-view movies, for example, can be encrypted and then transmitted indiscriminately to digital VCRs, with the ultimate sale being completed by way of a simple phone call that provides a code to unlock the content.
Current grumbling notwithstanding, equipment manufacturers will soon grasp that they can prosper by selling integrated TV-computers to a huge generation of new shoppers, who still love television but also want the full power of the Web embedded in it. The stealth transformation of the television into a personal computer and the radio into a mobile digital receiver, both linked to high-speed digital wireless networks, will have enormous consequences--much larger, in fact, than the less stealthy rise of digital wireless telephony. The Web got to where it is now on the strength of $1,000-plus personal computers, dial-up phone lines and $40-per-month cable modems and DSL service. It will go a whole lot further when its front end has all the look and feel of a television set, with a price to match, and with digital broadcasts providing torrents of content around the clock.
Original Source: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2002/1014/089.html