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How Much Web Do You Want on Your TV?

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One of the big trends to emerge so far this year is the connected television set. Just about every big TV manufacturer is coming out with a set that plugs into the web to deliver news, social networks and even over-the-top video to the big screen. But while we’re getting drips and drabs of online capabilities by way of widgets and such, we don’t have full web browsing access on our TVs yet, and that’s on purpose.

The lack of full Internet functionality stems from a combination of factors, according to an excellent write-up in today’s New York Times on the state of the browsable television, among them price, the fear of your TV “crashing,” and whether or not people even want browse the web on their TVs. From the article:

“Sony’s stance is that consumers don’t want an Internet-like experience with their TVs, and we’re really not focused on bringing anything other than Internet video or widgets to our sets right now,” said Greg Belloni, a spokesman for Sony. Widgets is an industry term for narrow channels of Internet programming like YouTube.

However, not all share Sony’s view. A company called Personal Web Systems is shipping a $150 adapter this quarter that will make TV sets fully Internet-enabled.

Given that my laptop is never far from my reach, I don’t see myself using the TV set to browse the web anytime soon. Plus, when I’m on the couch, I just want to relax. But there is a whole generation that expects just about anything with a screen to be connected to the web — why should the TV be any different?

How much of the Internet do you want on your television? Is the full web on the TV the way of the future?

19 Responses to “How Much Web Do You Want on Your TV?”

  1. John Reuwer

    Many companies seem to confuse “internet” with “connectivity.” Sure, many might not want a web browser on their TV. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be able to have virtual “Lost Parties” or “Oscar Parties” via PicNPic with others around the world. It doesn’t mean they don’t want a REALTIME ticker on the bottom of their screen with their local weather, big news, stock symbols, etc. This doesn’t even include various mediums for content on demand, whether it be cloud-based, home server based or locally based.

  2. Let’s not lose sight of pragmatism. There’s a reason why personal media players have become so pervasive. The idea that you can have your own descrete media experience, and not have to run it through household system, is the whole point behind ipod proliferation.

    Now, I agree that visual content is more desirably consumed on a larger, more relaxed format, ie tv, but where is the line between a passive, more public media experience, and a more active, private one?

    I think the idea of the net on your TV sounds great on paper: all of your content blown up to near life-size scale; being able to share content with others in the room. However, keep in mind that your 60inch super-sweet plasma viewed from 8 feet away represents the same approximate field of view as sitting dead-center in your local movie megaplex, and as sitting 24inches from your 17 inch laptop screen or computer monitor. So, in reality, how much greater are you really making your experience? The issue then becomes how you’re truly interacting with your media.

    Another thing to consider: I’ve had a media PC hooked up to my 50 plasma for about 1 year. All I have to do is press one button on my Harmony remote to switch from TV to PC, so not too frumpy. I’ll admit, I have used my PC on TV a fair bit (I’m using it as I write this), but it is frankly downright uncomfortable. I like to have a lot of content on my desktop, and therefore usually use the highest resolution I can get away with in most cases. As I’m looking on my TV at these words, I can read them, but they’re not crystal clear (and I’ve got 20/20) simply because trying to focus on high detail at a fair distance is plain uncomfortable. It’s much more comfortable to read a book held 18-24 inches away than it is to read a book at 12 feet away, even if the scale is fairly similar. I find that after surfing for a while on my TV, visual fatigue begins to set in.

    And, this is all on top of the fact that for most households, the large media display is public domain (unless you live alone), and so you’re more likely to have to accomodate others in the room, rather than being able to have a personal media experience.

    Bottom line, it’s much more comfortable to do the bulk of my surfing on my desktop, then laptop, then finally the TV/PC, for all of the above reasons. I do some limited surfing on TV/PC, but have found that I primarily use if for media (music). It’s simply more convenient to have a separation between my active and passive media portals, and the two formats are fitting given the interaction I have with each. I like the ability to be able to distract myself from surfing on my laptop with a TV show, and vice versa. I should also mention that I don’t have true broadband speeds…

  3. Why connect the Internet to your TV?
    – rent movies online; no more trips to the store
    – watch hundreds of free international television channels from around the world
    – watch free TV shows and movies on demand from sites such as Hulu, Joost and Fancast

    Just use your PC, no expensive box required.

  4. Sure, having a “big screen” in the home that can function as a TV, PC and some hybrid of those experiences is where this is headed. But in the meantime, the best of online video is not just found on YouTube, which is typically the first source to be included in set top boxes and web-enabled TVs. There is plenty of quality niche content out there, but without full web-browsing, they will be left out of the mix for now.

  5. People want to easily and seamlessly move between different modes or experiences across a spectrum, from full Web browsing to a “video + widgets” experience to a traditional full-screen TV experience. If I am in “video + widgets” mode and I see something in a widget that I want to click on, I can click and enter full Web browsing mode. I can switch back with a single click.

  6. Immersive Tv is the next step. My only concern with mixing internet with tv is the likelihood of bad ad experiences. Generally they see that as being not an ad targeted towards you, but if they sart killing out features to make ads more prominent or adding things to make ads more prominent, this could be a potential problem.

    Flash gets a lot of negativity due to how some ad creative deliver their message within their ad campaign, but this is how the platform was used, not the problem with the platform itself.

    I have basic RSS on my Samsung 750, cool feature but useless. Now let me add my own feeds, then we are on to something. As tech gets better, improvements in bandwidth, these experience will only continue to evolve into something that will be useful of varying levels to the end user. In that we all will have our own way of choosing to what degree we wish to use these features, they should not be forced upon us. But i think that will depend on the network and there methods to reach their audience in the most effective manner.

  7. Neno Brown

    Nice post Chris,

    How much of the Internet do you want on your television?

    All the net would be good, you then get the choice to view layed back style or if feeling active, go into deep surfing.

    Is the full web on the TV the way of the future?

    I think so, the immersive visual power of TV is enhanced, when you have full couch potato control.

    • Chris Albrecht

      You know — I’m not sure how much web I want. I actually don’t mind the idea of widgets, and the thought of social features like Facebook integration really intrigues me. But I think for pure web surfing, I’d much rather use my laptop (while watching TV).

  8. I truly want 100% web access on my TV. Problem is, I think it’s going to be a big fight to get there (without a set top box). Sony’s line about consumers not wanting Internet on their TVs is a bunch of hooey. Sure, there’s a whole swath of the population that right now can’t think of what they’d do with Internet on their TV, but that’s the case with any technology transition. The real issue is that Sony is also a content company, and those in control of today’s high-dollar content distribution are all in fear of 1) losing control and 2) the Internet means “digital pennies.” Those people are going to do everything in their power to stall moving the full Internet experience to TV.

  9. I’ve been preparing for LUS Fiber here in Lafayette and I think you really ought to try using your HD TV as a computer screen. I didn’t think I’d like it much but on my 52 inch full HD TV you can read the screen and navigate via a bluetooth keyboard from your couch. It opens up whole new social ways of viewing the web–videos of friend’s children, nifty TED talks, or how-to podcasts are best as communal experiences and look great. Some TV shows, like Fox’s new Dollhouse, are only available online via their browser interface. Since local showtime conflicts with my TiVo’s subscription to Battlestar, well, that’s useful.

    But beyond the web-on-community screen aspect there’s computer-mediated web-based TV stuff like Boxee with a reasonable remote-based interface which really works to aggregate online TV show & movie sources (Netflix, Hulu, and more) and Miro which transforms podcasts into faux channels.

    Bandwidth though, is crucial. Streaming can be dicey. Even on my pretty-good Cox system. But by the end of the month I’ll have a 50 meg symmetric stream to work with. At that point having the dedicated computer will allow ichat conferencing and Skype video calls to Afghanistan to use the Sony camera perched on top of the screen….a comfortable way to have group calls for Valentine’s instead of peering into a laptop.

    Once people get real net access and enough bandwidth to really show up well on large HDTVs I think the days of cablecos will number less than a decade…

  10. The important point is not whether you want to browse the whole web from your TV couch. The key is getting closer to zero friction between publishers and consumers.

    Clearly you need a different UI for the TV couch, but that doesn’t necessarily mean filtering the content.

    Manufacturers want to filter the content for business reasons more than anything. The usability argument is just convenient.

  11. Just like how DSL ushered in the era of online video, so to will web enabled TV usher in an era of web based TV programming. Goodbye cable providers?

    Also, companies who lacked awareness of user generated content will start putting advertising dollars behind web generated video because it is an inescapable aspect of daily life… think about it… web video at the dinner table. It’s the monetization that user generated video has been looking for because the audience is now — everyone.

    I’m excited to see how the web enabled TV revolution will pan out.

  12. I think anyone who has ever had the Internet in their living room HDTV knows the answer to this question.

    I’ve been using Tivo to receive YouTube on my big screen for a few months now and am totally hooked. Yes, YouTube. There’s so much content out there. It’s short. You can share it with your entire family in the living room.

    But it’s not enough. I want full Internet on my TV.

    You should link to the company you’re talking about: Personal Web Systems. Care to give them a shout out?

    I just had a briefing with a company called ZeeVee, which lets you use your PC from your TV. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s a different way of doing things.

    Jose Alvear

  13. alinde Omalley

    As an expat living in Mexico, I would LOVE to have web-tv. Sure, I’m trying to learn Spanish, but when exhausted, I still prefer TV in English. So watching what I can find on line is great. I’ll be one of the first in line for the promised adaptor. And I will not buy a large screen TV until I can at least use it with my computer.