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Talking to your television
By Carol Wilson

Jun 18, 2008 12:00 AM

IPTV brings the TV set into the home network and gets it communicating

Geoff Burke, director of field marketing for Calix, has been talking about IPTV for a long time because his company makes the network equipment that can help providers deliver this new service into the home. But now when he talks about IPTV, it’s rather personal — he’s an AT&T U-verse subscriber.

“Linear broadcast in my life is dead because I’m watching the [digital video recorder]” Burke said with enthusiasm. “This service can provide the linear pieces of information I want to know — like the score of the game — but I don’t have to sit and watch what the network wants me to watch.”

To find content, Burke now uses U-verse’s search capabilities. “I find they are extremely helpful, especially as a means of going out and finding programming I am interested in watching and looking for programming across platforms — broadcast, on demand and recorded,” he said. “And the [AT&T U-bar] framing features allow you to set up your own personalized information frame around the program you are watching. During the NBA playoffs, I’ll watch one game and keep an eye on what is going on in other games.”

In short, IPTV provides the personalized TV experience for which Burke was looking. And now, the steady pace at which IPTV is rolling out in major telecom service provider networks globally is giving rise to some of the interactive and convergent services long-promised as part of IPTV, while providing even more glimpses as to how a truly IP-enabled house might look.

U-bar, which allows U-verse customers to frame their video screens with personally relevant information such as news, sports, stock quotes, weather or traffic information, is proving a popular service, said Jeff Weber, vice president of IP product and strategy for AT&T.

“Click-to-call from the TV is another service we have today that people really like,” Weber said. “When we roll out U-verse Voice, you can call up your call logs using the remote control, see that Mom called you and click to call her back using the remote. The service dials your home phone and dials Mom, all using the remote. That’s a good service that is out there today that customers seem to like.”

U-verse Voice is most often offered to those who are initiating service with AT&T or moving to new areas, Weber said.

On the immediate road map is whole-home DVR, which allows shows to be recorded and then viewed from any TV set hooked up to U-verse, Weber said.

AT&T is not reselling Microsoft Xbox 360 game systems, which can function as IPTV set-top boxes, but other Microsoft Mediaroom IPTV providers are offering that option to their customers and seeing its appeal, said Christine Heckart, general manager of marketing for Microsoft’s TV business. She sees IPTV as at the beginning stages of what real in-home connections can do.

“We believe the TV today is the PC of the ’80s,” Heckart said. “In the ’80s, you had a PC and it had value, even though it wasn’t connected to a network. If you had that today, the fact that it isn’t connected to any other device except a printer would make the PC fundamentally less valuable to you because a high percentage of its value comes from the ability to share and connect. That has been completely missing from the TV, and it is the only major electronic device that doesn’t connect to the rest of the world.”

IPTV gets the TV onto a two-way network, Heckart said, adding that “we are only at the very beginning to taking advantage of that. Now we can start to look at how we can transform the experience — that is where the magic of software comes in.”

Each of Microsoft’s IPTV service provider customers has multiple applications now running, in addition to delivering TV, and “they have a long list of things under development,” Heckart said. “These are not applications that Microsoft has developed; they were developed using our third-party toolkit on our platform.”

In May, Microsoft announced the beta version of its Microsoft Mediaroom Presentation Framework, essentially providing a new toolkit for application developers to enable them to pull content directly into IPTV applications from Web services.

This is the same toolkit used, in an earlier version, to enable NASCAR fans to simultaneously view a race and get information about specific drivers or even select a driver and bring up a picture-in-picture feed of that driver’s car-cam. “You can see in real time what they are doing and hear the audio with the pit crew,” Heckart said.

Verizon doesn’t call its FiOS TV offering IPTV, but many of the advanced features fall into that category, including Verizon’s efforts to link the TV and PC within the home.

“We already have a media manager in FiOS that can move pictures and music from the PC to the set-top box/TV, but what we would like to be able to do is take the broadband home router and use it not just for brokering communications, but for participating in the process as something like a network-attached store — what would be a repository for both the TV and PC to tap as a resource,” said Mark Wegleitner, senior vice president of technology for Verizon. “With a few other capabilities and perhaps some key partnership, we could do things like home monitoring and security, or we could drive appliances.”

For example, Verizon has demonstrated a digital picture frame that is connected to the broadband router and a picture repository instead of using a card or memory stick device to deliver digital pictures.

“You would drop the picture onto the network-attached store, and it would be forwarded to your picture frame,” Wegleitner said. “What makes the service even better is if the network could drive the picture frame at Grandma’s house, wherever she lives.”

Cisco Systems, which through its Scientific Atlanta acquisition has become a major part of the IPTV firmament, will focus on what it calls the “connected home” or the empowered consumer at NXTcomm08, said Pankaj Gupta, senior manager of broadband and IPTV/video marketing in the service provider marketing group for Cisco.

“We are focused more on showing how all these pieces fit together — how people can see the services at work, at home or on the move, rather than focus on specific products,” Gupta said. “Every telco is considering, looking, strategizing how its service can be different from anyone else. But every telco is in a different life cycle for deployment.”

As each looks to differentiate, Gupta added, Cisco is helping them explore how to bring Web 2.0 technologies to the TV, as well as social networking and other Web experience aspects.

Integra5, which already is selling software to service providers globally, is using NXTcomm08 to demonstrate its compatibility with Cisco’s IPTV solution, said Meredith Flynn-Ripley, CEO. She also sees consumer habits changing as the TV becomes networked into other home devices and more central to the communications process.

“We are seeing the TV becoming a prominent device for communications, but you have to look holistically at all devices in the home,” Flynn-Ripley said. “We now have content on any device, and that has been synonymous with video. Now you would laugh if someone said they only watch video on TV, but soon you’ll laugh when someone only communicates on a landline or cell phone.”

Instead, she said, when a home phone rings, “the call simultaneously pops up on the TV or any PC with an instant messaging client or that has an I5 client. In the future, you would also get it on your mobile phone. With either the remote control or PC mouse, you click and do active call control, send to voicemail, send it to your husband’s cell phone number because he is out of the home. That is the current user experience.”

In the future, consumers will come home and flip on the TV to look at a call log and see who called, then scroll down and do click-to-call to return a specific call, Flynn-Ripley said. “If you are a quad-play customer with wireless, you can trigger your cell phone to ring instead,” she said. “We are seamlessly adding all the phones and the TV and the PC into the mix. You could also go and look at a voicemail log and see who’s left you voicemail.”

Future services also will let short messages appear on the networked TV set, such as one from a husband to a wife saying he’s running late, Flynn-Ripley said.

“One really exciting movement that we see will be happening next year is bringing social-network type of applications in, so you have the ability to watch TV and send a message to say ‘let’s watch a TV program together’ to someone on your buddy list,” she said. “You can hit a button and create a conference call, and use the remote control to text with one person or everyone in the group.”

That’s an approach to TV that will hold more appeal to younger viewers who have been turning away from traditional TV, Flynn-Ripley said.

“This is how they communicate, and TV hasn’t been able to be a part of that because it hasn’t been central to them,” she said.

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