IPTV: killer apps and dead horses
Proceed with caution...
Writing email through your TV
Email as a whole was never intended for TV as it's too text-intensive, whereas other types of messaging, particularly multimedia-based communication such as voicemail or MMS, are very much more adaptable. Yahoo and BT used to offer their email service through Sky Active, but nobody ever used it and it never made any money for anyone that justified keeping it alive. Yet again, the issue is assuming something that works on a PC will work on a TV, and that TV is a personal medium when it is usually watching by more than one person at a time. It starts out as a great idea but goes rapidly downhill in the practical stakes - the initial stumbling block is setting up the details of your mailbox, for example, your POP3 server (if of course you don't use Exchange or IMAP), and then keeping your information private from anyone else who might also use the TV, for which you will need to enter a password or pin. Assuming you are happy to scroll through your emails in their unfriendly formatting and not worry about being unable to view attachments, you may still have to brave replying. That entails having a keyboard. To cut it short, it only works if you do it BlackBerry-style.
What man creates, man can destroy. What is true of lock-picking is true of any computer system. Although this isn't such a problem in embedded environments like that of a set-top box (many of which run one of several different flavours of Linux), it is still a prominent and important principle as the Windows security nightmare can easily come true elsewhere with even the slightest lapse. Nothing accessed from an external network such as the internet should ever be executable on the device. There are many operators today whose EPG and security systems are based on downloading a zip file which is decompressed on the fly to provide personalised menu information. Only certain key systems components need to download program updates to execute with full permissions on the box - core device firmware, software-based conditional access clients and middleware upgrades. Viruses, worms and/or malware on a commercial TV platform are the stuff nightmares are made of.
Homechoice has this ability, and on the surface it looks like a really great and innovative idea. Mum, dad and the kids all like different things and want to do things differently - parents can set parental restrictions, flatmates can organise their services according to their individual tastes and you can separate weekday from weekend viewing. But the trouble is that in reality, nobody can be bothered to do the setting up or switching - or rather, 95 per cent of people can't be bothered. It's like gardening with napalm - overkill for the environment. When presented with two options, without fail human nature chooses the easier one. In this case, the easier option is just use the one profile in the same way you would with any other TV system that doesn't have the ability in the first place. Nice try, but no cigar.
It's very easy to forget how different a TV and a PC are when both are using the same technologies and can integrate easily. The fact you can repurpose web-based content for IPTV needs to be heavily tempered by considered judgement in discerning whether the application and/or content is itself even applicable to TV in the first place, As always, common sense applies - no essays, blogs or child porn, and plenty of padding, simple interfaces that save time and judicious use of screen space.
And don't listen to naysayers who claim IPTV doesn't offer enough to differentiate itself from the existing platforms or it is over-hyped and won't happen. The world will always be flat to some, and the key question is not whether IPTV is some panacea arriving next month to uproot everything you've ever known, it's a question of what the dominant mechanism for TV will be in 20 years time. Sometimes you just need to come down from the tech-high and take a look at what people are buying in high-street stores and what your grandmother does. We still have to deal with black and white diehard viewers and people who end up turning off their TV when told they should "press red for more".
Digital TX Limited is a London-based provider of technology and consultancy solutions for interactive digital television and broadband media. Alexander Cameron can be reached at email@example.com.
Alex will soon be offering a one-day workshop course on IPTV and Video-On-Demand (VoD) specifically for web professionals. It can help you get up to speed on the latest technologies, content deals, operators and applications across the world, and identify new opportunities and threats for your business and personal career. Call Alex on 07986 373177 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers who quote this publication as their source will receive a 10 per cent discount on the course fees.