Consumer Set-Top Boxes Are Just a Temporary Fix

Getting content from the web to your TV is driving the release of several new set-top boxes such as the Roku, Apple TV (s aapl) and ZeeVee. And yet one of the top chipmakers in the set-top box market doesn’t see those types of appliances winning out over the set-top boxes you get from video service providers (cable, telco, satellite, etc.) anytime soon.

There are currently too many different set-top box options out there sold directly to consumers through the retail channel, plus the service providers are not going to stand by and let their portal into a consumer’s home slip through their grasp, argues Christos Lagomichos, EVP and GM of NXP’s Home Business divsion. NXP makes semiconductors for a variety of devices, including TVs and set-top boxes.

He expects the coming year to be tough for the retail box makers, and expects any success to be temporary or confined to a few tech-savvy early adopters. There are other limits as well. “The way I see the opportunity here today is you have a lot of free content on the Internet, and a box like that could be a great web box, but delivering HD content to the TV over a PC will be a nightmare — there’s no good transport mechanism,” Lagomichos says.

He’s talking about the limits of getting HD content to a PC using current broadband. In order to stream HD, two things are needed: speeds of at least 6-8 Mbps and a bandwidth provider that won’t cap your service. Service providers can guarantee quality of service through the box over their connections and they won’t count their own services against the cap. This worldview is kind of surprising coming from a firm that benefits from having as many potential customers in the market as possible, but nonetheless does seem practical, especially given how poorly similar consumer web boxes have fared.