LAS VEGAS — The technology on display at the Consumer Electronics Show each year provides a glimpse, or at least a hint, of what’s headed to our living rooms. One underlying trend at this year’s show promised to hasten the end of “television” as we know it.
Capping an evolution underway over the last several years, technology introduced at the show by several companies now makes it possible to wholly eradicate the lines between what consumers once saw as separate media fiefdoms: broadcast television, cable channels, streaming media, and internet apps. They potentially becomes equal bedfellows on cable TV programming guides: “Downton Abbey,” Rachel Maddow, “Rocket Man 2,” Flipboard, Facebook, Pandora, and Netflix. The TV screen guides of the near future could well list all these possibilities equally.
This makes online media mainstream by putting them an equal footing with broadcast and cable channels via a common listing that makes no distinction between their source. We have no idea yet how if will affect our culture, but based on introduction of technology such as the remote control or cable’s leap into content creation, we can expect there will be change and lots of it.
The equipment is there — but some companies will need convincing to use its full capabilities.
At the Intel booth, Comcast demonstrated an integrated guide that has the ability to show all incoming media — be it from broadcast, cable or internet— plus the ability to push that guide wirelessly to mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, but its full capabilities were not on display. Missing from the guide was any Internet service, but according to a spokesman at the booth, the equipment can handle it with ease.
The technology was Intel-based, using a Comcast reference design, and delivered via an Arris XG-5 cable modem. Testing of the modem will start later this year, a Comcast executive said, and will first be available to Comcast “triple play” customers; e.g., customers who get bundled TV, Internet and phone service from the company.
The service will integrate with new “smart” HDTVs that already have Internet capabilities. Older sets will require a media box between the home cable modem/router and the TV to take advantage of the extended service.
On Monday at its press event, Intel indicated it would collaborate with Comcast on a so-called “home gateway” based on Atom chip technology that will allow live programming from Comcast to be seen on mobile media without being tied to a set-top box. This move extends the “cable everywhere” initiative that lets customers see HBO and other services on multiple devices.
There will be some some restrictions on Internet-based channels, the Wall Street Journal reported. While Comcast is currently testing a similar service in select markets including Boston, online video outlets (Netflix, etc.) are not included and there are no imminent plans to do so.
But a Comcast spokesperson at the Intel/Arris/Comcast demonstration left no doubt, that the equipment is capable of full integration with whatever incoming service is available.
Dish Network and the Cox satellite service introduced other initiatives in somewhat the same vein.
Other companies at the show are pushing the barriers of TV along more familiar lines. Several companies are showing sets with built-in Google TV: LG, for example, showed Google TV on 9 models, up from 2 in 2012. Haier showed TVs with an MHL slot that allowed a slim “stick” from Roku to integrate its over-300 Internet apps with a TV set without giving up an HDMI slot. (MHL, or “mobile high definition link,” is a derivative of HDMI and lets cell phones and other devices connect to HDTV sets.)
Dish Networks demonstrated its Hopper set top box with built-in Slingbox capabilities (Slingbox lets you receive your full cable service including DVR on mobile devices). And Panasonic showed enhanced capacity in its 2013 sets that will allow a broad range of apps, a full Internet browser, and custom “pages” from which multiple viewers in a single household can start up their set on their own home page.
Skip Ferderber is a Seattle-area journalist covering the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. He is a former Los Angeles Times staff writer, edited Millimeter Magazine in the motion picture and television technology industry, and contributes to Crosscut.com, Seattle Business Magazine, HD Video Pro Magazine and others.