Earlier this week Intel announced what we'd heard rumors of in months past, that it would be creating an IPTV service along with a custom software and hardware platform to deliver it direct to consumers. A few hours after the announcement, I had the opportunity to speak with Erik Huggers, formerly of the BBC and currently heading up Intel's new Media division.

For years Intel has tried to grab a slice of the TV business. Remember the Intel CE series of Atom based SoCs? How about Sandy Bridge's Intel Insider technology? Both of these were focused attempts to solve problems within the TV industry, but both ultimately went no where. Intel's solutions thus far have been too narrow in scope to do anything.
 
The TV today reminds me a lot of smartphones in the early 2000s. There's tons of potential, but largely ruined by slow hardware, kludgy user interfaces and heavy fragmentation both on the content side and on the cross platform compatibility side. Much like the smartphone, the solution to revolutionizing the TV as a platform is unlikely to come from within the existing market. And just like the smartphone revolution, a disruptive solution here may very well come from a computing company.
 

What Is It?

 
At a high level Intel's unnamed TV play seems to work like this. Intel negotiates deals with content providers, said content lives on a server farm somewhere (likely running tons of Xeons courtesy of mother Intel). Using a box that Intel will sell you, you'll get access to this content over the Internet. The box will run an OS and software layer both developed by Intel. The content will include live TV, traditionally only available via a cable TV subscription. The box Intel will sell you won't act as a traditional PVR/DVR, instead you'll be able to activate a catch-up feature to pull down older episodes after they air, as well as live TV. How far back you'll be able to catch up will depend on the content license, it's technically feasible to go back as far as you'd like - but not all content owners will allow it. Intel's service will also include video on demand features to fill this gap. The goal is to provide one platform where you can get access to everything: live TV, episodes/content that have already aired, and even older content through VoD.
 
The content will be bundled together in some form. This isn't a purely á la carte TV service, but rather bundles put together by Intel Media rather than your cable company. Think cable channel/network bundling, but perhaps more granular than you're used to. Simply offering the same bundles at the same price as your cable company won't work, so I suspect the bundles will have to be more user friendly (more sensible, smaller, etc…).


ATI's OCUR CableCard Tuner for PCs, another failed solution to the problem from 7 years ago

Intel doesn't seem to have any intentions of keeping the content exclusive to this one box either. Erik wants to see this content on Ultrabooks, smartphones and tablets as well as on your TV. It sounds a lot like the holy grail of digital convergence: any content, on any device, anywhere. Netflix was really one of the first to achieve this level of ubiquity, but only really for older content. Intel seems to want to do this with live TV.
 
Intel isn't talking about bitrates or codecs yet, nor is it disclosing what content providers have already signed up for the service. The platform will launch this year and it'll be immediately apparent whether or not Intel is on the right track after that happens. 
 
Pricing is also unknown at this point. Erik was careful not to brand Intel's TV service as a value play, implying that you may not actually save any money vs. your current cable provider. It's pretty obvious from the start though that Intel can't just offer a better experience than your cable TV provider, it also has to offer a cost competitive platform as well. 
The Backstory: Why Get into the TV Business?
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  • Cometer - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    The problem is, this guys don't get it. All of them.
    It's a box for this. A box for that. A new TV with this small new feature that costs $1000 more.
    People are tired of wasting money in stuff that doesn't do anything special in the end.
    Right now I see one way and one way alone to "revolutionize" the TV.
    And that is a single product that merges gaming+media streaming+internet
    For instance, a gaming console with an open app store that completely integrates with your TV. Similar to Google TV but without content maker restrictions.
    Similar to Xbox/PS3 in terms of being powerful enough to make people want to buy the console for games alone. And with enough horsepower to become the home media server (Mac Mini with Plex comes to mind).
    People will buy the console to play games, but if the integration with the TV is good, they'll get hooked and people will start buying this consoles to be the "brains of the TV".
    On top of this, all other devices in your home, tablets, smartphones, PCs, they need to be able to remotely control this device.
    Obviously part of the secret is in building an interface that is easy to use and that grabs attention.

    Unfortunately I know how the industry works and I'm not seeing this happening any time soon.
    If Sony was smart they could sign an agreement with Google and release a PS4 that runs on Android and has access to the Android ecosystem.
    Since next-gen consoles are very similar to high-end PCs, they could even work as a pretty powerful media server.
    Your console could record your TV programs. IT would integrate with the program guide and send notifications to your phone when your favourite show is about to start.
    From your phone you could hit the notification and an app would open where you could choose if you wanted to record the show or live stream it to your phone.
    I could go on and on.
    One last thing. The true success of the first iPhone was that Apple managed to merge the phone+ipod+internet into a single easy to use device.
    Same needs to be done to "revolutionize" the TV.
    Reply
  • Zanegray - Saturday, February 16, 2013 - link

    This.

    As a college student I completely agree and as far as our generation is concerned the TV box is dead. Completely. I will never buy a single box for a single purpose. What I want is a service I can subscribe to that is better than Netflix that lets me stream to whatever device I want. I already have the hardware why do I need to buy more. The issue perhaps is the DRM and hence why Intel is going custom as Amand mentioned.
    Reply
  • pzs_80 - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    The subject header says it - im wondering why we havn't seen powerfull SOC's in TV sets, able to decode 1080p video, use apps and browse the web?

    The smart TV experience is horrible as it is today - the cost of these chips would be a miniscule addon to the price of an already pricy TV.
    Reply
  • Pheesh - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    If I recall boxee box was originally going to use the Tegra3 but switched to intel's CE SOC for performance reasons. logitech's revue and google tv used the same intel SOC which pretty much enables the above, although that's a few generations old and this new offering likely trumps it performance wise. Reply
  • FITCamaro - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    I'd be happy just seeing high quality 720p streaming. Far less bandwidth required, still looks good on 1080p screens. Reply
  • beginner99 - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    Besides the fact that it will probably be years before this is available outside of US, I don't see it. The ultimate limitations come from the copyright limitations and those can't be magically ignored.

    Yes, it would be great to be able to view at any time a 5 year old episode or whole season of your favorite series without needing to have my own copy. But I doubt that is possible and even more so without commerical breaks and the possibility to fast forward. Also if your internet connections breaks you are f*****.

    So having your own copy be it legal or not just offers way to many advantages over this.
    Reply
  • Gunbuster - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    I won’t be holding my breath waiting for Intel to produce excellent software for this endeavor. They can barely do a passable video driver control panel. Reply
  • Hrel - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    Streaming 1080p is good, but it doesn't have to be 10MBPS. I play a 90 minute movie that totals 2GB and I play the uncompressed file that's 30GB and I see now difference at all. I think it incredibly stupid. I want the smallest file sizes possible at a given resolution; so long as it looks good. Which, as I stated, it looks great at 2GB.

    I'd prefer a model where you cut out the middle man. Just give us a platform for content creators to sell directly to customer. UFC sets it's own price, House sets it's own price, Dexter, How I met your mother, so on and so forth. That way people can pick and choose what they want. Just give us a platform for these content creators to deliver the content on. Choose any 10 for 10/month. Choose any 20 for 18/month. Shows never air year-round, so it would have to be monthly. I'm not paying or their holiday vacation where they stop filming. Offer entire back catalogues for cheap, 5-10 bucks. Then you own it, stream it, download it, edit it; whatever you want cause it's YOURS!

    Personally I don't really care about live content. I'm always doing other things when live stuff happens. The one exception to this is MMA; but now days there's way too much of that for me to catch it all live. I'd probably have Bellator and UFC as live content and just have back catalogues for everything else. In general I prefer to watch shows all at once anyway, rather than one episode/week. For example when I got into Dexter I watched 5 seasons over a few days, perhaps a week. That's how I like to consume tv shows, I don't want to wait for new episodes. Even when I do get caught up I just ignore that series until at least another entire season has come out.
    Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    Only stupid and lazy people have any use for such a ridiculously large cable tv bill. For the price you pay you can have a netflix subscription, and buy over a dozen seasons of your favorite tv shows each year. Who the heck watches even that many tv shows? Or alternatively you could rent 4 movies a week. Or half a dozen tv series and 2 movies a week, plus whatever is on netflix. It makes no sense. Yet people still shell out $60,$80,$100, even $150 a month for cable tv service. It makes absolutely no sense what so ever. Those people ar ejust lazy and think they have money to burn but that kind of money doesnt stick around forever. In this new economy it is on the top of the poop list if you know what I mean. There is no future for content in those quantities. Reply
  • crimson117 - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    <quote>I had the opportunity to speak with Erik Huggers</quote>

    aka The Scarecrow.
    Reply

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