Active-TV Technology for iPhone and iPod touch

Active-TV Technology for iPhone and iPod touch
Navigate YouTube

Navigate YouTube available at iTunes App Sore

An easy to use iPhone and iPod touch App that enables both new and advanced YouTube users to get the best from YouTube.

Browse video Standard Feeds, Categories, Channels and Playlists. Then organize new videos into your own favorites and playlists. Make playlists private or public. Subscribe to other user's playlists and video collections for future viewing. Subscribe to videos matching search-words.

Look at publicly viewable favorite videos, playlists and subscriptions based on your YouTube friends, family and contacts. Send and receive video links with YouTube contacts via YouTube video messages.

Search for new videos tagged for your language or geographical region, using local keyboard. Explore for new videos via easy switching of user ID to the owner of interesting videos - then explore their world.

All actions are kept in sync with PC, Mac or Apple-TV access to YouTube. Available at Apple App Store.

active-TV technology for PC

active-TV technology for PC
Windows PC based home network

Thursday, December 20, 2007

PC pulls back from living room TV integration

The Issue: The notion of selling a PC attached to the TV in the living room was stillborn in the market some time ago. Intel has just now announced its passing, little surprise to anyone familiar with how most consumers really use these products. Given Intel’s announcement, is it now safe for the cautious reporter to write about what was an inevitable demise?

Solutions: No sense throwing the baby out with the bath water. Enthusiasm for Internet-based video viewable on TVs throughout the home remains undiminished, regardless of whether Intel puts a halt to promoting the living room PC. The only way forward is in combining what is best about the PC with what is best about the TV: The PC should serve as the software work horse engine for the TV, as required, while the TV benefits from remote access to Web 2.0 technologies & features without having to manage any of the complexity or grapple with unforeseen future technical obsolescence.

Behind the scene: With delusions of grandeur, PC-industry executives' ambition lay somewhere between unreasonably optimism and wanton incompetence in believing that a PC running a Windows operating system could bring a cost-effective and stable ‘experience’ when integrated into the TV. Their failed efforts, moreover, set back needlessly the adoption of thin-client technology and opportunities to bring to the living room the immersive software and web experience of the PC which is still found lacking on the TV.

PC companies like Intel, Microsoft and AMD have for several years now sought to promote sales of PCs connected to the TV in the living room. Brands such as Intel Viiv, Windows Media Center Edition (MCE) and AMD LIVE! remain associated with these efforts. Despite the look of a sleek DVD player, or the feel of a high-end home theater console, these PCs never met much consumer enthusiasm. Facing the inevitable, news reports indicate that Intel has now decided to, “Scale Back on Viiv Digital Living Room Branding”.

Central to this failed endeavor was the notion that placing a PC in the “critical path” of the content flow [i.e. routing the TV signal first through the PC] would somehow be mutually beneficial to both PC vendor and ‘content’ owner alike; whereas in reality it simply increased the risks without bringing much benefit. First, Intel was forced to “work with content companies to certify that movies and other video fare delivered over the Internet worked well with a remote control and looked good on a TV screen,” an endless and needless effort. Second, contrary to conventional, if flawed, reasoning [and as I have been pointing out for several years now], a PC is not really required to access video over the Internet. There are other options, all of them less expensive, and all of them producing less heat, noise, or maintenance issues associated with using a Windows operating system. These facts did not stop management, however, from supporting overly ambitions objectives regardless of the evidence to the contrary.

Also of note, the brands listed above where not only primarily focused on PCs attached to the TV but also confusingly associated with extended-PC plans -- but without explaining how these two approaches were separate. In the case of Intel, the extended-PC approach required use of a Viiv client or an MCE Extender box at the TV location, rather than a Viiv PC connected to the TV.

Apple did not make this mistake with the Apple-TV, which is a client of an Extended-PC or Extended-MAC. Apple has clearly indicated that the Apple-TV is the device to connect to the living room TV.

No doubt the decision to promote the PC-in-living-room by PC industry players was the result of both little experience in marketing consumer appliances and a failure to produce client devices that function well. Those sold to date were Digital Media Adapters (DMA), a device category not readily understood by consumers. Their associated marketing campaigns are now severally criticized by the press and analysts. And yet, Microsoft, undaunted, is about to launch its second generation of Extenders, with a price tag of nearly $350 each, which likely makes these offerings dead on arrival (DoA).

The strategies employed by Intel and AMD, including “Viiv client” and “AMD LIVE! Ready” branding campaigns, have never gotten off the ground, since having failed to recruit to the cause significant numbers of established consumer appliance manufacturers (largely due to onerous branding requirements and meaningless technical specifications), and having championed broadcast reception in the PC (required to keep the PC in the critical path of content flow), these branding programs have inevitably come afoul of consumers. These consumers have no appetite for the cost, attendant technical issues, and networking complexities. As a consequence, broadcast reception technology was never integrated with thin-client technology; and so we find ourselves with DMA client boxes rather than TVs integrated with network and thin-client support.

Compounding these problems, the PC industry has tied Internet video support to premium PC operating systems, in insisting that Windows Media Center rather than basic Windows XP (with its massive installed base) be the requirement to run a Media Center Extender device.

Since progress is never linear when it comes to technology adoption, at this stage in the Internet video development game, there is a market for low-cost DMAs such as the D-Link DSM-520. It is used by early adopters and supports existing TVs which naturally do not have integrated network support. Of course, the DMS-520 works with all widely used PC platforms. Early adopters can use them today to watch lots of varied Internet-delivered video, currently without much advertising support or any expense for content access (no cable TV bill). With this increasingly compelling experience, greater numbers of consumers are eventually going to realize what they are missing. . .

To this end, the alternative active-TV technology approach relies on an Extended-PC only to assist the networked TV or networked STB, when it is needed. Whenever the TV or STB encounter software complexity or require other support (i.e. access to home photos or video stored on the PC, video reformatting, complex UI features and the like), it can call on the PC. Most importantly, the PC is not in the critical path of content flow: A TV or STB client performs traditional TV tasks entirely alone, without PC assistance; in other words regardless of whether or not the PC is turned on or off.

The “complex software” which even the next generation of TV chips cannot support includes advanced UI features and Web 2.0 technology (e.g. mash-ups, widgets, RSS feeds, etc.) – which continues to advance in ways unforeseen, and for which the PC is supremely able to keep in stride. How to help the TV in the living room gain access to ‘the Web 2.0 experience’ remains the central question and has always been the only real task for the PC. In short, it is accomplished via the home network and without a PC connected directly to the TV. It follows that active-TV technology was developed precisely to accomplish this task, and this is why it has gained acceptance among the more traditional TV developers.

While moving away from the living-room-PC, the rumor mill reports that Intel is working on an x86- based TV chip, codenamed Kenmore, of which we are likely to hear more about at CES 2008 (January). Prior attempts to integrate x86 technology into a TV system-on-chip (SOC) have not been successful – but, to be sure, the attempts have been many. Intel nevertheless has made acquisitions to gain access to the necessary technology. It is not clear if the ‘first generation’ will be a multi-chip module. The chip is unlikely to be used with Windows, but will better enable Intel customers to offer standalone support for Web 2.0 technology in a TV. It might even be used in a future Apple TV. Suppliers of non x86-based TV SOCs can still offer complete support for Web 2.0 via active-TV technology integrated directly with their displays and in combination with assistance from a networked PC or laptop.

In conclusion, to some the unassisted “TV goes it alone” approach may appear to have advantages over the “TV with remote PC assistance” one. However, looked at more closely the differences in network support are likely irrelevant as all of these systems are going to be networked regardless of where they are located in the home. Any user of these systems almost certainly already maintains a PC and keeps the web access technology or applications up-to-date (i.e. Flash updates, Java plug-ins, browser add-ons, virus scans, etc.). Relying on PC assistance, therefore, removes the added burden of keeping not just the PC but also the TV software up-to-date. The PC, with its much shorter refresh cycle (2 - 3 years vs. 6 - 10 years for the TV) can always be upgraded in the future and consequently it (or the TVs it supports) will not likely run out of processing power. Lastly, there are likely cost and TV-technology advantages to a TV supplier by continuing to use low-cost and established TV chip suppliers.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Clearing the Fuzzy picture for Apple TV

The Issue: Regarding Internet video distribution, some reporters and analyst seem to be lagging behind actual marketing and engineering developments. They continue to suggest that open Internet-delivery of video to the living room TV has not yet been achieved, and is beset by insurmountable barriers.

Solutions: Current solutions do exist and mostly make use of DMAs, but these will soon be accompanied by the necessary technology integrated directly into TVs and hybrid-STBs. These solutions are open; that is, they are not tied to any particular video portal service.

Behind the scene: Active-TV technology enables TV developers to offer consumers an option to enjoy TV-web ‘browsing’. Today, anyone is free to build a TV-web formatted website or channel. TV-browsing (of TV-web channels) is freely available and as open as PC-browsing (of PC-web sites).

CNET’s Tom Krazit sees a “Fuzzy picture for Apple TV”. This comes at a time when there has been much speculation about an Apple TV ver. 2.0. The issues regarding how the Apple TV might develop next have been covered previously in this blog. The constraints remain the same, the choices include:

  • Exploiting the benefits of a new and hopefully lower cost chip from Intel.
  • Hiding the high-end DMA cost ‘behind-the-glass’ by integrating Apple TV into a TV.
  • Morphing the Apple TV into a box that consumers already understand, such as a STB or DVD player
  • Opening up Apple TV for other developers and marketers to exploit.

Ross Rubin of NPD is quoted in the CNET article saying: “the [DMA] category of devices is so nonexistent”. What he is fundamentally overlooking is that Internet delivery to the living room TV does not have to be via DMA or via closed system. Instead, it can be via a TV with integrated network support and in a manner that is completely open to all video distributors. Compounding these misperceptions is the way in which Krazit describes delivery of Internet to the living room TV as “a question that has eluded the PC industry for years”. I disagree with this: there are systems available at retail today that proof Krazit wrong (see: Any failure may be in marketing the solution, not in making it technically feasible.

Responding to the CNET article, Steve O’Hear at the Last100 states “and yet it’s still difficult, if not impossible, to get content originating from most Internet TV services onto a television”. He goes on to say: “why has the AppleTV failed to ignite the market for PC to TV devices?” Two reasons are suggested: One is that Apple-TV uses PC-assistance to support its features. The second reason, which gets CNET support, is that Apple TV is a ‘closed system’, with its tight and exclusive ties to the pay-to-download iTunes Store.

Rather than being “impossible” to get Internet TV service to the living room TV, it is actually rather easy. Both Krazit and O’Hear are missing the important fact that DMAs and STB boxes are available today that support open distribution of video content. These are boxes supporting active-TV technology. Most of the Internet Video sites support an API or RSS video distribution. There is little engineering effort required to connect these to template TV-web channels. Future template developments will eliminate even these simple engineering steps. Active-TV technology is currently being integrated directly into TVs, which eliminates the little understood DMA.

Web pages formatted for the PC are not appropriate for living room viewing. This is because small text, pop-up menus and keyboard interactivity is unwanted in the living room. This does not create any great difficult for the web designer, they simply follow a new set of ‘guidelines’ which suit web pages built for the TV; Know as TV-web, interactivity is via the TV IR remote.

As Apple and others have discovered, there are overwhelming reasons why the TV is best not burdened with any direct integration of the technology required to support web 2.0. The optimal solution is networked PC assistance. After all, what web 2.0 user does not already have a networked PC?

Also missed by Krazit and O’Hear, is the ability of active-TV technology TVs to support ‘open browsing’ of TV-web formatted sites. There are a lot of interesting sites already available. Anyone is free to build a TV-web site -- there are even templates available. Moreover, active-TV technology enables all these sites to be delivered to the living room TV. Today, it is not difficult to build a TV-web version of any of the popular PC-web based Internet video sites. It is quite easy to connect their RSS feeds into available TV-web template pages.

Whatever so called “barriers” remain to Internet-delivery of video to the living room TV, they are not primarily technical, limited to exclusive content, or downright unavailable. Reporters should catch-up with this fact and better serve their readers.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Monday, November 12, 2007

Living room TV advertising support for TV-web channels

The Issue: The ease with which Internet-delivered video can now reach the living room TV is certain to lead to renewed interest in new forms of advertising, assuming they complement, rather than detract, from TV-web viewing.

Solutions: Since Active-TV technology supports Web 2.0 technology, this allows PC-web based advertising techniques to be reapplied to TV-web channels.

Behind the scene: Click-to-view video advertising for TV-web is demonstrated using a new TV-web channel for vintage jazz enthusiasts. Given that a TV-web channel can potentially provide hours and hours of uninterrupted viewing, viewers should not be burdened with excessive or distracting advertising. Click-to-view advertising will have to be appealing.

Assuming a healthy balance is struck between the desires of viewers and the needs of advertisers, I suspect there may be music labels interested in associating their jazz CDs with vintage jazz video clips.
Terry Teachout, drama critic of the Wall Street Journal, shares an ARTSJOURNAL weblog on the arts in New York City. With over 4,500 blog entries, it is a busy site. In addition to daily postings, the site also features a list of mostly vintage American Jazz video clips uploaded to YouTube.

Oddly, Terry does not maintain a YouTube playlist for these videos per se, but I have nevertheless made a playlist from the links on his 'About Last Night' web site. Rather than single play, it is more convenient to watch the videos as one long uninterrupted sequence on the living room TV, as a 'jazz documentary' if you will. To enable this I have added new features to the TV-web template channel available at, making it easier to create a “YouTube Jazz” channel with these features. (See the TV image below.)

Under the “settings” option on the top horizontal menu, a feature to 'auto-play' the list of video can be selected. Below is a typical in-between videos TV image. This is displayed for a few seconds after the completion of the current video and automatically replaced by the next video in the sequence when the latter starts to play.

Below is an image of the next video playing. In practice, videos are not typically watched in the menu-context window shown; they are more likely watched in full-screen mode. The in-between video information ‘page’ is still briefly presented while transitioning between videos in full-screen mode.

As well as adding the 'auto play' option under the settings page (shown below), there are also new options to change the background color shading and select permanent left or right positioning of the box where the video plays on the menu page (instead of auto swapping at regular intervals).

There have been inquiries from readers as to how advertising could be included in TV-web channels. Google offers video AdSense for this task. AdSense is normally used with PC-web pages. It works by examining the contents (HTML code) of the page and delivering ads that are relevant. A block of HTML code must be inserted into the PC-web page to make calls to an AdSense server, which then delivers the video and adverting information displayed on the web page.

The same mechanism can be used with TV-web channels. To demonstrate this, I have added support code into the example TV-web channel. A small still-image appears in a box below the video viewport. When the advert-box is highlighted via screen navigation (as shown below), information provided by the advertiser is temporarily presented in the video-information area (below the video viewport).

If the user pushes ‘enter’ on the TV IR remote while the advert-image is highlighted then the associated ad video is played in the main viewport (a full-screen video-advert option is also supported). This is essentially “click-to-view” video advertising. If the user does not ‘click’ the ad image, they are not forced to watch the ad video and are only subjected to the still-image.

Naturally, the still-image, associated video, and text information are all supplied by an ad server such as AdSense. For the demo system, I just used YouTube video matching the search criteria “Trunk Monkey TV advert”. A new advert is requested from the server at frequent intervals such that the still image changes without any prompting from the user.

The word “advertisement” appearing below the advert-image is programmable by the HTML support code. In fact all advertising can be completely turned off (if so configured). The mechanism could likely be used for other purposes, such as distributing general announcements, displaying urgent news or maybe presenting an instant messaging session. These options will likely be explored here at a future date.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Friday, November 9, 2007

D-Link TV channel delivered to living room TV

The Issue: there is a lot interest in bringing TV channels to a TV audience without having to deal with the established TV networks or video broadcasters.

Solutions: Internet-delivered video provides a solution. It is now just as easy to build a TV-web channel as it is to create a blog or simple PC website. Adding network access to a TV enables it to ‘browse’ and view these TV-web channels.

Behind the scene: Use of active-TV technology makes it easy to build TV-web channels to very nearly replicate the traditional TV experience. These channels can support all manner of genres such as: shopping, education, product announcements, community information and no doubt a lot more.

D-Link maintains a PC-web based video service called D-LinkTV. They describe it as, “your online video source for networking know-how”. Using the D-Link DSM-520 box, it is now possible to bring the same video to the living room TV. The DSM-520 box connects a TV to the home network and to the Internet via active-TV technology. D-Link describes this as active-TV online.

The D-LinkTV PC-web page has been reformatted for TV-web viewing. This is shown below. The PC-web channel from D-Link is arranged into three groups: “home & office”, "business", and “questions & answers”. Videos are arranged under these headings. I will include the necessary support files at the web site for those who wish to add the D-LinkTV channel to their own TV-web channel line-up. In practice, any TV or STB using active-TV technology can access the D-LinkTV TV-web channel.
The DSM-520 is not just for D-LinkTV, it supports a great many other TV-web formatted channels as well. Like PC-web sites, new TV-web sites or channels are made every day, whether for leisure or commerce. Just like adding PC-web sites to a browser’s “favorites” list, new TV-web channels can be continually added to the list of ‘browsable’ TV-web channels.

In a recent Media Post article by Laurie Sullivan, she reports that, “many of the 10 million people who visit on Thanksgiving Day will end up in the store on Friday”. Clearly, PC-web site activity helps drive in-store business. How much more productive would this mechanism be if shoppers could view “new items” from the convenience of a living room TV rather than on a PC screen – via a Wal-Mart TV-web channel...?

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Friday, November 2, 2007

ROO Channels turned into living room TV-web

Active-TV Ecosystem Developers,

The Issue: YouTube is famous for video sharing, but often the video is criticized for being of amateur quality, whether due to the short duration of most clips or the poor resolution in which they are streamed. There are other internet-video distributors, however, such as ROO, who supply a great deal of professional quality video.

Solutions: Using active-TV technology, it is easy to bring this professional quality video to the living room TV in the form of TV-web channels.

Behind the scene: The amount of video information and entertainment available to a networked TV in the living room is now reaching impressive levels. There are literally hours and hours of entertainment viewable via a broadband connection – all without the need to attach any PC directly with a TV. The benefits include no monthly cable-TV fees or interruptions from familiar TV advertising. The endless supply of video is continually refreshed via RSS feeds.

ROO is a leading supplier of online video. They recently announced a partnership with GeoBeats, a premier video travel guide for international destinations. They also offer video RSS feeds that currently include about 170 video categories.

ROO support a diverse yet highly targeted audience. They currently stream millions of videos to approximately 880+ diverse web properties, including the, The Sun UK, and Times Online.

The ROO video channels are easily made viewable on a living room TV, or any networked TV around the house, for that matter. Below are TV-web images for just a few of the ROO video feeds. They are formatted for widescreen viewing (16x9) on an active-TV technology-enabled TV.

We have entered an Internet-based TV era, wherein the shift from ‘network TV’ to ‘networked TV’ will bring untold millions of video to the networked home. The tools are now readily at hand to organize streamed video into countless channels catering to all manner of tastes and hobbies, and all easily viewable on TVs throughout the home, thanks to active-TV technology.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Saturday, October 27, 2007

YouTube Channels turned into living room TV-web

Active-TV Ecosystem Developers,

The Issue: The path to bringing Internet-delivered video to the TV has been a long one, with lots of disappointments and delays.

Solutions: The barriers to adoption until now include overly-ambitions business models, inappropriate use of complex technology, high-priced solutions and poor communication with end-users. These have all contributed to delays in bringing Internet video to the TV. It is now possible, however, using active-TV technology, to demonstrate simple and practical, as well as reliable, solutions that overcome these barriers. These solutions are on sale today in many consumer electronics retail stores (see ).

Behind the scene: The ease with which it is now possible to construct TV-web sites, supported by active-TV technology, will quickly lead to a flood of TV-web channels for living room TVs.

Starting with the premise that YouTube members can select their own video favorites, create or use existing playlists, and even arrange videos into a “channel”, individuals as well as companies such as National Geographic, BBC, Sony and many others, actively use YouTube as a means of further distributing their video portfolio – they upload with great frequency a veritable treasure-trove of interesting video clips. For example, at last count the National Geographic YouTube ‘channel’ included 252 videos, and the CBS channel had 3711 videos.

YouTube provides an interface for requesting these videos over the Internet. They actually provide the cut-and-paste code enabling the video to be embedded into a blog or website. I have taken a different approach and effectively pasted them into a TV-web channel. The simple steps and tools for accomplishing this where recently described in a blog article.

To demonstrate how easy it is to build TV-web channels, I have quickly created the 9 examples below. I will supply the support code at the for anyone who wishes to add these channels to their active-TV technology-enabled TV or Set-Top Box. Additionally, D-Link is now supporting a free website for DSM-520 owners who want to add active-TV technology.

National Geographic TV-web image (based on National Geographic ‘channel’ on YouTube)

This BBC Top Gear channel looks interesting, but is not a success. Interestingly, anyone uploading video to YouTube can ‘mark’ the video, so limiting viewing options; in this case much of the video is marked “not to be embedded”. This means the video can only be views from the YouTube PC-web page. This is rarely a problem, but many of the very popular BBC Top Gear videos are ‘marked’ as such and cannot be viewed outside the YouTube PC-web page.

Warner Brothers music video TV-web image (based on Warner Brothers ‘channel’ on YouTube)

David Pogue is a New York Times technology columnist. He does not have a YouTube channel. But it is still possible to group relevant videos into a TV-web channel. Without the use of YouTube channel grouping, there is always a small chance that the video selection filter used to gather video clips may allow an inappropriate or unrelated video to be included in the ‘Pogue’ TV-web channel line-up.

Sony Pictures UK TV-web image (based on Sony’s ‘channel’ on YouTube)



Rudy Giuliani

Hillary Clinton

There was a bug in the TV-web Flash support code released previously at . The bug was introduced by a software protection tool. It is now fixed and the blogspot download software has been updated. I was not able to devote the time to clearing this problem up sooner. The bug caused a problem with left-right swapping used to protect Plasma TVs. All should be resolved now.

So far I have made examples in 4x3 TV format, but will start adding widescreen or 16x9 format, as there have been several requests for this.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Internet video development tools ensure "no TV left behind"

Active-TV Ecosystem Developers,

The Issue: Lack of low-cost and easy-to-use technology-in-a-box for Internet-based video has kept it from reaching a living room audience.

Solutions: Established companies (with only mixed success so-far at resolving both business and technical issues…) appear stalled due to conflicting business agendas.

Behind the scene: A new Web 2.0 ‘mash-up’ site for TV-web content makes it easy to build customized TV channels for delivery right to the living room TV. You no longer have to wait for established companies to make great strides in enabling a path to the living room TV.

In a recent Knowledge@Wharton article, Wharton Business School marketing professor, Peter Fader, argues that “by adopting so-called web 2.0 techniques -- such as consumer rating systems and new combinations of content – [TV] networks could create a sense of community, much like that found at social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook”. He is referring to the broad adoption of Internet-based video streaming directly to the TV.

Key to Fader’s argument is not “to resist the urge to protect content but instead to focus on giving users a good experience.” Also, that “the goal is creating connections and a trail to eventually buy a DVD. Doing that would create revenue and a deeper relationship [with consumers]."

To this end, the PC industry has done a poor job of delivering on its promise of elegant yet cheap technical solutions that deliver Internet video to the living room TV. This is clearly pointed out by Matte Richtel in a New York Times article: so far, “here’s the reality: laboriously hook your computer to your TV; watch low-definition photos of the family vacation. At no risk of hyperbole, the promise of the digital home has fallen desperately short”.

Richtel goes on to describe a “new crop” of boxes which take a “more modest” approach to satisfying the needs of consumers who want to watch YouTube on the TV. Given this new potential, and the perhaps little understood but far-reaching consequences of a power shift in the TV industry, he speculates that “television makers could demand a share of advertising or subscription revenue from content partners who are given access to the viewers of their TVs”. Hence, content owners and TV builders would effectively side-step or supplant the current business model led by dominant service providers and relatively subservient set-top-box providers. It is a scenario most suited to the US market.

What is more likely to drive market development is extending the reach of PC-web-based social networking and video sharing sites to the ‘big TV’ via TV-web supported devices that use active-TV technology. To show how easily this can be done, a ‘mash-up’ of Web 2.0 components are available at With the availability of active-TV technology-enabled boxes such as the recently upgraded D-Link DSM-520, it is quite easy to bring Internet-delivered video to any TV. What is next is a mash-up combining or merging Web 2.0 content for both PC-web and TV-web. At that point it will be easier to build your own TV-web channels than building a blog.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome.. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Joost on a Set-Top Box within 18 months !

Active-TV Ecosystem Developers,

The Issue: Joost and other PC-based P2P software users want to deliver video to the living room TV.

Solutions: A standalone solution (i.e. direct access to Internet video by the TV, without PC involvement) involves managing complex technical problems, including integration of P2P sharing software into a very low-cost TV chip and related system components. Joost estimate this project may take 18 months.

Behind the scene: An immediate and more powerful solution is available using active-TV technology (which uses the PC to format and deliver TV-web to the TV). This approach favors the existing long replacement cycles expected from a TV. As well as ensuring, unlike a PC, zero TV maintenance and upgrading. And also an easy path for integrating new features, with lower incremental TV hardware cost. Active-TV technology requires PC-assistance from a networked always-ready PC, to be sure, but what potential Joost user doesn’t already own a networked PC?

Steve O’Hear asks in a Last100 blog entry, “how long before we see Internet TV service, Joost, running on some kind of a set-top-box” (STB)?” He provides Joost CEO Mike Volpi’s response: [within] “the next 18 months”. Volpi goes on to say, “Over the long term I think we kind of expect that… we have to have to other platforms that attach to the television set because we are delivering a high quality viewing experience”.

Like BitTorrent, or similar video-sharing PC-web sites using peer-to-peer (P2P) technology, Joost may be trying to integrate P2P firmware directly into TVs or STBs. This is very difficult to achieve and maintain. It also offers a path to fewer useful features, not to mention problems dealing with the fact that buyers do not like to replace their TVs or (in the U.S. at least…) STBs very often.

In contrast, it is actually very easy to put Joost video on a TV or STB, using the active-TV technology approach. This requires networked-PC assistance. But to the critics who keep asking, “Why can’t the TV process TV-web video without the assistance of a networked PC?” the answer is simple: The chip inside a TV costs $15 or less. It is hard to get this chip to perform many of the same functions that a PC does, which costs closer to $400 or maybe more; if it did, you can be certain there would be initiatives under way to build a PC from a TV chip!

Using active-TV technology, P2P software continues to run on the PC. Just the Joost video and the TV user interface (UI) is sent over the network to the TV or STB. Last100 also questions whether or not Joost will build an “open” internet service or a “closed” IPTV portal service like Apple TV. Is Joost’s development delay due to the construction of a closed system?

I hear TV-web template software will shortly be freely available. The example code I have seen includes support for YouTube video and some other sources. However, it appears very easy to change the XML parser to feed on a Joost library-API, rather than, say, the YouTube API. In fact, the TV-web example (below) could be easily modified to use any of the video sharing services with freely available library-APIs.

(Picture below: TV-web for active-TV technology TVs or ‘MCE-conformant’ platforms. The example uses a 4x3 TV format, but 16x9 is also available.)

As a result, for those TVs or STBs using active-TV technology (such as the recently upgraded D-Link DSM-520) it’s quite possible that Joost video might appear on the TV very soon. For Joost enthusiast there is certainly no reason to wait 18 moths to get video on a TV or STB.

The TV-web template software available soon may look different from that shown above. I believe the code is now at a design firm for a style “make over”.

Regarding competitors to Joost, Apple TV also offers an attractive TV UI. But it is not an open system and consequently I have not heard of any TV-web template software available for constructing a TV-web channel living room viewing.

(Picture below: Apple TV using a 16x9 TV format)

It remains to be seen how both proprietary and open approaches to bringing internet video to the TV evolve. As simple and cost-effective hardware devices from D-Link and others proliferate in the market, it will be increasingly incumbent on PC-web video portals and aggregators to develop a viable TV-web strategy; their approach must take into consideration the economic realities of TV design and engineering and the familiarity and practicalities of PC ownership. In doing so, they can bring new and compelling services & features to consumers, eager to bridge the gap between what they currently view on their PC and what they would like to view on their TV. Active-TV technology offers such a path.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Arrival of more boxes supporting internet video for the TV

Active-TV Ecosystem Developers,

The Issue: more boxes are arriving to support internet-video viewing in the living room TV.

Solutions: For cost and technical reasons, most of these boxes require the support of a networked PC.

Behind the scene: Web pages formatted for the TV are known as TV-web. Interaction with these pages is via an IR remote, not a keyboard or mouse. To ensure a box can display the greatest number of TV-web pages or ‘channels’, and also ensure a TV-web channel can reach the greatest number of TVs, they should both support HTML, JavaScript and Flash, building blocks of Web 2.0 technology.

New boxes supporting access to internet-delivered video are arriving in the market from a variety of prominent and lesser-known vendors. The most important criteria by which to measure potential success are box cost and quantity of video sources. Which TV-web device is likely to be offered at a price acceptable to a wide range of users? Previous DMA-styled devices have been priced too high for rapid market adoption, and remained esoteric gadgets

It was recently reported that “Microsoft is going in a hyper-announcement mode: it is announcing its plans to help launch a new line of media extenders”. The report indicates Linksys will introduce a $300 DMA2100 and also a $350 DMA2200 with integrated DVD player. This latter might be better described as a networked DVD player.

A Microsoft press release states “Microsoft Shatters the PC-to-Television Barrier, Releases First Details on Extenders for Windows Media Center”. Microsoft’s general manager for eHome, Dave Alles, states, “the new Extenders for Windows Media Center make it easy to get a wide range of personal and Internet content not only on someone’s main TV but on all the TVs in the house”.

There is also an article in Forbes titled “The iFlop”, which discusses the weakness of Apple-TV. This is also mentioned in paidContent., which states “Apple struggled. It wanted to keep the price low at $300”. The Apple TV is a sort of Microsoft Extender or Digital Media Adapter (DMA). But it has more standalone capability than an Extender, sometimes functioning without the assistance of a networked PC.

There has also been a lot of reporting on the new Vudu box. Much of this reporting is of an optimistic, yet likely misplaced, nature given the $399 price tag. Fortunately, Erica Ogg of CNET remembers prior attempts to build similar boxes. Her report brings a more cautious view, reporting the Yankee Group’s Josh Martin analysis, that, "the biggest strategic misstep by all of these companies is their inability to lease the box and charge for content, or give the box away for free and charge more for content”. He also states, "we're dominated by service providers that subsidize equipment" and "Users get used to that." This is very true for the US market.

The ATSC Set-Top Box (STB) does not have the consumer-acceptance of the European equivalent DVB-T STB. This is why there is more US interest in the DMA-styled box, rather than a networked DVB-t STB.
A D-Link press release, indicates that the DSM-520 DMA “adds more than 200 channels of internet video on your TV” – these are MCE-conformant TV-web channels. This is accomplished using active-TV technology. The D-Link DSM-520 has two advantages over the boxes listed above; I have seen it for sale at a street-price of $150, therefore at approximately half the price of Microsoft Extenders, and it supports more TV-web channels (or sites) than any other box. This is enhanced by active-TV technology’s support for the Flash video format. It is also easy to add more TV-web channels as they become available. This is because active-TV technology supports legacy HTML formatted TV-web. See the chart below.

Media Center Edition (MCE) formatting was initially proposed for TV-web development. It continuous to be most widely used, and is supported by prior and existing display platforms, as indicated in the table above. With the new crop of recently announced Microsoft Extenders (MCX v2), a new TV-web format has been added, which unfortunately is not supported by the legacy of existing platforms.

For those who keep asking, “why can’t the TV process TV-web without the assistance of a networked PC?” the answer is simple. The chip inside a TV costs $15 or less. It is hard to get this chip to perform much the same function as a PC costing $100s. With the PC and TV working together there is also the option of combing PC-web with TV-web operation, with Web 2.0 mash-ups that have not yet been widely demonstrated, but likely offer significant opportunity for enterprising Web 2.0 developers.

This is why it is important that TV-side technology be very low cost to implement – such as active-TV technology. There is also an unwillingness to put complex PC operating systems, such as Windows, inside a TV.

Microsoft’s first round of Extender products had little success in the market. It is difficult to sell such boxes when they cost as much or more than an Xbox 360 or Sony Playstation (now at about $138). These game platforms can also play DVDs and function as DMAs or Extenders. The most compelling scenario involves integrating active-TV technology directly into the TV, thereby eliminating the need for a DMA or Extender, unless it is needed to support the installed base of pre-networked TVs.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Friday, September 7, 2007

How TV-web gets to the TV

Active-TV Ecosystem Developers,

The Issue: Brining internet video to the TV is relatively easy compared to supporting the related TV UI and its associated application software.

Solutions: Other than Apple TV, all the entertainment ecosystem proponents are evolving to support Web 2.0 applications at the TV.

Behind the scene: For TV-web developers, understanding the competing technologies is essential in order to quickly reach a large living room TV audience. Active-TV technology continues to involve the simplest and most open path amid complex options.

Adoption of home networking is enabling the ecosystem approach to digital convergence to gain market share. The ecosystem enables internet video to be delivered to the TV, and also for the TV to gain access to PC-stored libraries of photos, video or music. The ecosystem is formed by networking a PC or notebook computer with Set-Top Boxes (STBs) Digital Media Adapters (DMAs) and networked TVs. The approach appeals to TV manufactures as it adds little complexity or cost to the TV, but provides access to PC-browser-based software applications.

Web 2.0
Reported in the NY Times is Microsoft’s introduction of Window Live. This is a package of browser based software applications, often referred to as Web 2.0 applications. According to the article: “Hundreds of companies in Silicon Valley are offering every imaginable service, from writing tools to elaborate dating and social networking systems, all of which require only a Web browser and each potentially undermining Microsoft’s desktop monopoly”.

The TV’s use of a networked PC as a remote computation engine enables Web 2.0 applications to appear as if they are ‘running’ on the TV. When web 2.0 applications are built for PC use, they rely on the keyboard and mouse for user inputs. When Web 2.0 applications are built for TV viewing, they make use of the TV’s IR remote to receive user inputs. Additionally, TV-web formatting does not use pop-up menus and small text or other formatting options unsuitable for TV viewing.

The list of those developing a browser-assisted approach to TV convergence includes: active-TV technology, DivX Connected and Microsoft Extender technology. I leave out Intel ViiV as it is not clear if they are still pursuing the approach or relying on one of the other suppliers. Apple TV is a partial ecosystem approach, as the Apple TV has more stand-alone capability. This is achieved at great cost and complexity for the Apple TV platform.

Inside a TV chip
To understand some of the technical difference between these approaches we have to take a quick look inside a TV SOC chip (TV System-on-a-chip). There are two ways they can present video and graphic images on the TV screen: One is via the built-in video decode engine; the other is via the small built-in 2D/3D graphics engine. Traditionally, a TV chip would receive a digital broadcast stream and send the video stream to the decode engine for TV display. TV schedule information, or Electronic Program Guide (EPG) data, is sent to the graphics engine for rendering into a TV image. TV chips have a means of combining the video and graphics images into a single TV-ready output. With the introduction of TV chips that support networking, video and graphics information can be sent to the TV via the home network in addition to broadcast reception.

Normally, Web applications run in the PC’s browser and the image is sent to the PC’s graphics engine for rendering and ultimately display on the PC monitor. With TV-web ecosystem support, the TV-web applications still run on the PC browser, but the image is sent over the network for display by the TV SOC. There are two ways to send the browser image over the network: one is to the TV SOC’s graphics engine, and the second is to the TV SOC’s video engine. Existing active-TV technology implementations and Microsoft Extender technology use the graphics engine approach. DivX Connected uses the video engine approach.

The graphics engine approach requires the TV SOC to have a larger than ‘normal’ graphics engine. This is likely why Microsoft chose the ATI Xilleon chip for use in its first Extender. But this was many years ago and there are now more TV SOC options with robust graphics engines. At the time, the Xilleon video engine only supported MPEG2 video decode. Now, however, there is a wide selection of chips which include support for MPEG4, WMV and H.264 video decode.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. The video engine approach probably places more of a burden on the PC, particularly in terms of reducing the latency in TV UI response. Demands are also likely placed on the PC’s graphics card, which is likely used to assist with the video encode process. The burden also grows as the TV resolution improves, requiring high-def DivX video streams to be encoded and sent from the PC. However, the approach is possibly lighter-weight on the TV-SOC side, placing lesser demands on the graphics engine, integrated CPU or system memory. This may help reduce costs or ensure operation with lower-cost and less capable TV SOC options.

The video engine approach also makes it somewhat more difficult to support video ‘playing’ in a small window within a TV-web layout. (Microsoft calls this a video viewport). The problem can be solved by decoding the video then re-encoding into a single TV-UI DivX stream. Alternatively, the video viewport could be sent to the TV SOC as a separate video stream and then reassembled using Picture-In-Picture (PIP) technology. These complexities are likely the reason the DivX Stage6 TV-web UI does not currently support embedded video.

The graphics engine approach has the advantage of optionally combining video streams (decoded by the video engine) with TV-web images rendered by the graphics engine. This is particularly useful when supporting new forms of TV advertising via overlay TV web. The approach is under evaluation by several active-TV technology developers. Red Bee Media (formerly BBC Broadcasting) developed a prototype for IBC (Amsterdam) last year. The reduced PC-side burden may make the approach better able to simultaneously support multiple TVs in a single home network.

Some TV web pages (or channels) make calls on library support routines. With the introduction of the Media Center Edition (MCE) PC, Microsoft provided an API specification for these routines. The actual support code was included with a MCE PC purchase. The support code was not made available to Windows XP users. This may have encouraged purchases of new MCE PCs. TV-web channels, called Spotlights by Microsoft at the time, where written in HTML, formatted for TV viewing, and called on the API helper-routines.

An active-TV technology collaborator, MediaMall, built a version of the helper routines conforming to the same API. With the corresponding support code available to Windows XP users, TV-web sites can be viewed and more importantly sent over the home network to active-TV enabled TVs and Set-Top Boxes (STBs). There is no requirement to use an MCE PC or an Extender which relies on Microsoft’s Extender Technology – an alternative to active-TV technology.

The Xilleon TV SOC used in the original Extender only supported MPEG2 native video. Microsoft added support for WMV video by incorporating an ADI Blackfin co-processor to assist the Xilleon TV SOC. This enabled TV-web sites to utilize WMV video.

Active-TV collaborators have added PC-side transcode support for more video formats, including Adobe Flash (FLV) and DivX. This enables TVs using active-TV technology to display a wider range of video formats.

DivX has introduced its first DivX Connected DMA – The D-Link DSM-330. It is not clear if this is initially only for the European market. There is only support for DivX encoded video. The DSM-330 is based on a Sigma Designs chip. There has been criticism (1, 2) from possibly Microsoft-leaning reviewers on the limited video codec support. But there is no inherent limitation as to what video formats can be supported. Maybe the Extender did not include DivX support because Microsoft did not want to pay royalties to DivX. There may be some similar licensing rather than technology explanation for DivX’s decision. Few DivX enthusiasts will complain about the lack of WMV support.

This brings up a good point: all the available ecosystem technologies, active-TV, Extender and DivX Connected, can utilize the same TV SOC. This gives them equal access to native video codec support. They are all able to implement PC-side transcode. However, as seen with the latest active-TV platforms, the need for DivX transcode is eliminated when the TV SOC has native support. It will become increasingly difficult to differentiate ecosystem technology on the basis of native video codec support.

With the introduction of Microsoft’s next generation Extender technology, MCX v2, code named Pika, Microsoft is adding support for TV-web formatted with MCML (Media Center Mark-up Language). This will be supported by Vista Premium and Vista Ultimate PC platforms. Consequently, TV-web channels formatted using MCML will only be viewable to a portion of Vista PC owners; and since few of these are attached to a TV, the real audience is only Extenders supporting MCX v2 technology like the Xbox 360. Given the unattractiveness of this proposition, compounded by the continued sales of Windows XP and Vista Home, further reducing the number of new and existing PCs capable of supporting TV-web channels formatted using MCML, it is likely that TV-web developers will continue to use HTML formatting.

DivX Connected also uses HTML formatting, but rather than using the MCE API, a new set of helper widgets has been defined. These make calls on OpenGL support routines. This means that a TV-web channel formatted for DivX Connected may not work with the Microsoft’s MCX v2 ecosystem. However, given that TV-web channels used by active-TV technology and DivX Connected, both use HTML formatting, it can be possible for a single TV-web channel to selectively call the DivX support routines or alternatively the MCE support routines depending on the underlying ecosystem. Additionally, the use of these support routines can be greatly diminished by avoiding certain features, such as the use of video viewports.

DivX will provide a TV-web SDK (software development kit) for those building their own TV-web channel. Given that existing HTML-formatted TV-web channels can make MCE API calls which are not resolved by the DivX Connected run-time environment, it is difficult to support all of the existing TV-web channels using DivX Connected platforms. Fortunately, some of the MCE applications (such as those from Scendix) make little or no use of MCE API, so in this case the HTML formatting can be compatible with DivX Connected.

It will be difficult to get a large number of TV-web developers to switch to exclusive use of DivX formatted TV-web, unless there is a large number of DivX Connected platforms already sold. DivX’s primary TV-web channel is their own Stage6 portal. They will have to drive demand for their platforms via exceptional interest in Stage6. Simple support for TV access to PC-stored DivX video will not be enough to drive demand since it is likely that every TV-based ecosystem device (at least the active-TV ones) will already offer support for DivX video viewing.

In conclusion, like PC-web developers, TV-web developers can make use of Web 2.0 technology. Only HTML formatted TV-web ensures reaching the maximum TV audience. Adobe Flash combined with HTML and JavaScript is the ideal choice for TV-web development. While promoting the adoption of MCML and Silverlight, Microsoft must also continue to support original MCE and HTML technology with MCX v2, if it is to support its legacy of spotlight-formatted TV-web channels plus future HTML users. This reduces the key formats to HTML-MCE/active-TV and HTML-DivX Connected. The differences are diminished by avoiding unique ActiveX and MCE API features.

A single TV-web site could be compatible with both underlying technologies, although it may have to make selective calls depending on the browser user-agent. This is very much like the days when Netscape and Internet Explorer were in development and competing with new features. In the long run, however, devices and TV-web channels will likely coalesce around the most pervasive and familiar of formats, namely HTML with Flash, thereby spawning wide adoption of Web 2.0 applications from the TV.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A TV channel for '08 elections news

Active-TV Ecosystem Developers

The Issue: Reaching a living room TV audience has never been as easy as reaching PC-web users.

Solutions: Internet connectivity is reaching the living room TV and enabling developers to offer their own TV-web channel to anyone interested.

Behind the scene: Active-TV technology now makes it relatively easy for someone with HTML and Java Script skills to construct a TV channel. It is not any more difficult than constructing a PC-web page.

The popularity of YouTube and other video sharing websites makes it easy to share video with other PC users. Now, with active-TV technology reaching TVs and networked Set-Top Boxes (STB) in the living room, and utilizing the YouTube API interface, it is easy to build a TV-formatted video-channel for living room viewing. Let’s see how this is accomplished.

TV-formatted web, or TV-web, is much like PC-web, except interaction is via an Infra-Red (IR) remote and not a keyboard and mouse. A TV UI is also much simpler, making use of larger clearer images and not making much use of text. Microsoft provides suggested guidelines and example TV-web layouts. Microsoft also provides tool plug-ins for FrontPage (its webpage development tool) which simplifies development of TV-web. There is also an updated Microsoft Vista-compatible version of the development tools, which includes support for MCML as well as HTML formatting; but use of MCML will limit the number of TVs which can view the TV-web channel.

There are no strict requirements to use the Microsoft tools or even follow its guidelines. Other HTML development tools can be used. With the availability of active-TV technology, there are few restrictions regarding what Windows operating systems is used: a Media Center Edition (MCE) PC, a Windows XP PC, or a Windows Vista PC, will all do. Note that during the introduction of the MCE PC, Microsoft used the term “MCE Application” for HTML formatted TV-web.

There is also more information about building TV-web at the Microsoft supported Sandbox blog, or at the The Green Button information-share site. MediaMall has also provided the HTML source file for its YouTube TV-web channel, which enables access to YouTube, with alternative support for Veoh and Vmix favorites. The MediaMall example does not rely on HMTL alone, but also uses Adobe Flash to deal with the TV UI layout. Active-TV platforms support the use of Adobe Flash.

One of the simplest ways to build a TV-web channel is to utilize YouTube for video distribution. Video can first be uploaded to YouTube and then retrieved by embedding the associated video tag, or embedded URL, into the TV-web Page. In leveraging YouTube in this way, only the TV-web pages need be provided by some 3rd-party server which is also accessible via the internet.

Without going through the process of first up-loading video to a server, let’s look at building a TV-web channel relating to the 2008 US Presidential Election. Relevant YouTube video can be found by entering appropriate search-words at the YouTube PC-web UI. However, YouTube also offers a search service via a REST request; know as the YouTube developer API. This consists of sending a URL-string to a YouTube HTTP server. The URL-string contains the search-tags used to match video held in the database. The request takes the form shown below.

YouTube offers several ways to format a request for a search of its video library. The above example uses the “category method”, where category parameter 25 identifies “News & Politics”. With a successful REST request, YouTube returns a file in XML format. Below is an example.

- <ut_response status="ok">
- <video_list>
- <video>
<title>Vote Different</title>
<description>Make up your own mind. Decide for yourself who should be our next president. NOTE: This is a mashup of the famous Apple 1984 Super Bowl ad. Search for the original on YouTube.</description>
<tags>Hillary Clinton Barack Obama 1984 Apple Macintosh Ingsoc</tags>
- <video>
<title>Hillary Clinton Sopranos Parody</title>
<description>Hillary, Bill, and Chelsea's car are "The Clintons"</description>
<tags>Hillary Clinton Pres' 08</tags>
- <video>
. . .

Typically, a TV-web page uses Java script to construct the URL-string for the REST-formatted search. Then the TV-web page uses more Java script to parse the returned XML file in search of interesting videos. Data such as the <title> or <thumbnail_url> image are extracted from the XML file and positioned on the TV screen layout, as shown below. The URL address for the video which is to appear on the TV must be passed to the TV-client. Remember to use the MediaCenter.PlayMedia(mediaType, mediaURL) method for this task. The steps used to add a new TV-web channel to the channel listings has been covered in prior blog entries.

The above example was selected for illustration purposes only. A developer can easily make changes to construct their own TV-web channel on some other topic. The availability of active-TV enabled boxes such as the recently upgraded D-Link DSM-520, and others entering the market shortly, make it increasingly easy to reach a living room TV audience.

In short, it is relatively easy for someone with HTML and Java Script skills to construct a TV channel. It is not any more difficult than constructing a PC-web page. At one time building a blog required HTML authoring skills, but this has been eliminated with the introduction of pre-formatted bloging tools – such as Blogger. In time, TV-web layout productivity tools will make the process of formatting a TV-web channel as easy as building a blog.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The PC industry shift from PC sale to ecosystem sale

Active-TV Ecosystem Developers,

The Issue: Until recently the PC has been mostly a standalone device, albeit with internet access. Falling PC and CPU prices are demanding new application for the PC which can reverse the relentless price fall.

Solutions: Support for a networked ecosystem of appliances based throughout the home is establishing a new PC platform standard, which can lead to higher valuations for PC and their component suppliers.

Behind the scene: There are several ecosystem technologies being proposed. Active-TV technology has the advantage of light-weight operation, ease of implementation and openness of accessibility.

The chart below indicates that the Intel and AMD stock price has not grown since about year 2000. Since then it has generally been declining or appears flat. This is partly caused by what is sometimes referred to as the maturing of the PC industry. Intel and AMD are the major suppliers of the CPUs used in PCs and laptop computers. In prior years, improvements in CPU performance, architecture, system integration and fabrication technology, led to improved company fortunes. But with the maturing of the industry, a shift in the use of the PC is required to maintain growth.

With falling PC prices, or Average Selling Prices (ASP), retailers responded by offering more PC add-ons or extra devices which support PC operation. This has traditionally meant printers, extra storage or disc writers. The important shift occurring now is to sell an ecosystem of devices which interoperate in useful ways. PC industry ambitions to sell a PC attached to the living room TV have now faded. Positioning the PC as the ‘center’ of a network of home appliances has also met with very mixed success. Now the PC is being positioned by some as an equal partner in an ecosystem of mostly special-purpose appliances, such as networked Set-Top Boxes (STB), networked TVs or networked audio players.

The leaders in the PC industry know they must shift from promoting a stand-alone PC. Consequently, they are developing ecosystem solutions. The intention is to raise CPU and PC ASPs by having the PC valued in terms of its contribution to the ecosystem. Via the home network, the PC supports the operation of devices in each room of the house. Such as streaming audio to an Apple Airport Express, or even recharging the music in an iPod for use away from home.

At one time the PC industry wanted to put a PC in every home. Then Microsoft had ambitions to promote Windows in every room. But most people don’t need a PC in every room. They also don’t want the cost or maintenance of owning multiple PCs. In the US, most people who want a PC have already bought one. They may look to replace the PC if it is old or can better support an ecosystem of home appliances.

CPU manufacturers are also developing dual- and quad-core CPUs. However, the industry has never found the “killer application” that would justify the use of such impressive performance by the majority of home PC users. Yet these CPUs are expensive to make and may struggle to be sold in a way that improves the PC ASP. The solution is to apply the extra cores to support ecosystem operation. The new “killer application” turns out to be: support for ecosystem operation. A multi-core PC has plenty of performance to support traditional PC operation and assisting the operation of, say, a networked TV elsewhere in the home network.

The Intel chart below shows the relentless decline in price for Performance and Value-Segment PC markets. If PC buyers appreciate the value of higher performance, via whole-home ecosystem support, then the problem of declining ASP can be successfully dealt with.

Microsoft’s latest ecosystem approach is known as HME – Home Media Ecosystem. It first appeared with Windows Media Player 11, but it is also part of Vista. It enables a PC to serve streaming media to a network of embedded client devices. The use of HME enables Microsoft’s Windows Media Player to be a “core” software tool for managing media throughout the ecosystem.

Microsoft has tried before to build a PC-supported ecosystem using Windows Media Connect (WMC - their version of UPnP) and Extender technology (MCX), but with little success. The latest HME strategy is likely two-tier, with WMC used for lesser functionality and the Extender technology replacement, Pika (MCX v2), used for higher levels of operation. Ecosystem appliances connected via WMC support a local standalone User Interface (UI). Ecosystem members connected via Pika technology support a PC-assisted UI; This means a TV-web -like UI, formatted and distributed over the network by the PC.

Apple is building what might me described as an iTunes-based ecosystem. Networked appliances, such as Airport Express or Apple TV all connect with a PC or Mac via iTunes operation. In the case of Apple TV, some amount of standalone operation is supported, such as simple access to YouTube video. However, the more an ecosystem member is equipped to support standalone operation the more complex and costly it becomes. If an ecosystem member relies on assistance via networked support, then the cost and complexity of the ecosystem member is reduced.

Intel has been developing its ViiV ecosystem. By not being dependant on Microsoft ecosystem development plans, Intel has an opportunity to find its own solution to the complex technical and business issues relating to ecosystem adoption. Additionally, by having an ecosystem in which they retain some Intellectual Property (IP) rights may enable them to differentiate their ecosystem from another supported by AMD, assuming that any Microsoft ecosystem is made equally available to Intel and AMD.

Intel’s promotion of the home ViiV PC in support of growing amounts of digital photos, video and music, was intended to significantly contribute to addressing the decline in PC ASPs. It continues to be widely agreed that the PC’s support for consuming digital-content at the TV locations (the living room) is key to ‘growing’ the use of the PC, and possibly sparking a replacement cycle for higher-level performance and higher ASP processors. However, the ViiV TV clients still have not appeared. This has caused many to say “where is the ViiV Extended-PC ecosystem?” Without an ecosystem, ViiV is just another MCE PC. After years of development, Intel has been forced to depend on the limited functionality of the Microsoft ecosystem clients – primarily the Xbox.

ViiV ecosystem technology is much like the Microsoft ecosystem approach: They both depend on PC-assistance for delivering a TV-web -like UI. They have both shown a more PC-centric approach than the alternative active-TV technology, in that they suggest broadcast TV reception should be accomplished at the PC, rather than the networked-TV approach promoted by active-TV technology. This has technical and business-development disadvantages, which may have led to lack of ViiV ecosystem acceptance.

It will be interesting to see if Intel will revive the ViiV ecosystem or replace it. They could fall back on relying on Microsoft’s HME with MCX v2 technology. This positions the Windows Media Player (WMP) as key ecosystem application software. Alternatively, they could make more use of the Apple ecosystem and use of iTunes as a key ecosystem application.

DivX Networks has recently introduced is DivX Connected technology for ecosystem interconnect. Again, this is a PC-assisted approach. DivX is working to get its thin-client support firmware embedded into networked TVs. Of course, this is very much the strategy of the other ecosystem developers. Via DivX Connected, a networked TV can access TV-web-like formatted internet-video channels.

Except for Apple, the competing ecosystem developers make use of a common base-level of technology, such as UPnP and DLNA. Apple may have determined that consumers have generally no understanding of these technical-oriented ‘standards’; and hence promote higher-level features such as access to YouTube video. The difference between DivX Connected and the other advanced ecosystem technologies is primarily how they support advanced TV UI features via PC-assistance.

TVersity offers ecosystem-like interconnect of devices without requiring all devices be part of a homogeneous ecosystem. Because of this pragmatic approach, TVersity is not proposing a specific ecosystem technology. But, it very much adds to improved PC valuation via its ability to combine the operation of several devices – such as the Sony PSP, Xbox, networked STB and even iPhone – so as to better utilise and appreciate the new supporting role of the ecosystem-PC.

TVersity can support a PC-assisted TV UI via active-TV technology. However, the UI is by and large generated locally via micro-browser or UPnP support. A local UI usually offers less UI features or UI polish, but it works using the basic ecosystem client’s capabilities. Easy to use buttons are starting to appear in video sites, such as G4TV, making it simple to connect a home-networked media player with available video.

AMD has posted losses for three consecutive quarters. In the fourth quarter of last year it lost US$573.8 million. In the first quarter, it was in the red US$611 million. AMD expects its quad-core processors, due out in August, to drive revenue in the second half of 2007. For this to happen it has to improve the ASP of these processors.

AMD has gained some market share from Intel, but as reported: “its average selling price fell to $75 at the end of the year from $99 at the beginning. Intel’s average selling price fell, but at a far lower rate, to $130 from $137”. Like Intel, AMD will use Extended-PC ecosystem development to address the problem. AMD’s choice has been active-TV technology, although they typically brand this as AMD LIVE! Ready.

Active-TV technology is not owned by any one company, but AMD has been a noticeable user of the technology. AMD and its collaborators have worked closely with MediaMall, a significant supplier of active-TV technology. Using its internet browser, a PC assists video-sharing sites to reach the TV in the living room. In short, all video sharing and distribution sites can be accessed via a PC. Active-TV technology extends this by delivering a TV-formatted web-accessed UI (known as TV-web) to any networked TV in the ecosystem. The PC and its browser ‘engine’ remain the standard universal platform for formatting a TV UI.

AMD used to be a second source for CPUs which were pin-compatible with Intel PC products. With the transition to its own x86 architecture a new non-compatible mother board infrastructure was required. AMD had to work closely with collaborators during this transition. Now, with the PC maturing, new industry trends and business pressures, a transition is required to a PC-platform which is the ecosystem’s engine for running web-based application. This PC-engine supports simpler ecosystem members having the benefit of web-based software.

In alignment with this new AMD and PC industry direction, BroadQ is developing is Qtv ecosystem application software. Initially intended to support BroadQ’s active-TV technology for the Sony Playstation2, this web-based application can support any active-TV enabled networked TV or Set-Top Box. From the TV UI, Qtv enables network access to photos, music and video; but it also supports access to internet-delivered videos. These different ecosystem-supporting applications, such as Qtv, iTunes, WMP and more, make use of different underlying technologies; but they are likely to see similar developments such as: support for playlist sharing, social networking, and advertising delivery.

More than any other advanced ecosystem technology, active-TV technology supports the objectives and constraints of the networked appliance developer. It is light-weight in terms of resources required or consumed, easy to embed and its openness enables access to a great deal of internet video. As much as the PC industry needs ecosystem technology to improve business, the consumer appliance industry also requires advanced support for network operation to improve its own products. Any reluctance to engage in ecosystem development will enable Apple, and the like, to attempt to fill the market holes with more offerings to follow on the success of Apple TV.

Summary: Technology companies are giving priority to supporting consumer demand for improved features offered by networked ecosystem operation. At its best, ecosystem operation can combine the best of the PC industry with the best of the entertainment appliance industry. The striving to gain a key role in any widely adopted ecosystem has led to business models and technology proposals which contain elements of exclusivity. Consequently, cross-ecosystem incompatibility is a concern for developers and consumers alike.

For a long time, the Win32 API was the standard for developing PC application software. More recently, Google and others have developed applications which don’t use the Win32 API standard but execute on-top of the popular PC browser. These web-based applications, sometimes called Web 2.0 technology, are evolving a new standard. Active-TV technology enables web-based applications to support ecosystem operation. For example, an Extended-PC assists the operation of a networked TV and enables interaction with the web-based application software at the TV UI.

Feedback, corrections and comments welcome. Contact me for more information or support with active-TV technology development.
Daniel Mann