Connected TV and the Tank

Now that we’ve seen the Logitech Revue and have a decent grasp of what Google TV is offering (pre-Android Market), it’s clear that this is aiming for the same primary use case as is Apple TV: streaming media.

In other words, this ain’t a replacement for your TiVo.

But it could be.

I can’t really fault Google TV and Apple TV for aiming for media from the cloud. However, until a preponderance of media normally watched on a television is available in the cloud, people will still be loathe to “cut the cable”.

However, this opens up an interesting opportunity to create a “dumb” media tank. By “dumb”, I mean that it does not need to be able to play back video, just to record it off a tuner and transcode between formats.

Such a tank could:

  • Be powered by MythTV, which is already nicely decoupled into distinct modules, so we can skip the playback and on-TV UI portions

  • Be controlled via a Web interface (today), a native Google TV app attached via a Web service (tomorrow), and a native iOS app for Apple TV (when they make that available) — more specifically, not be controlled by a direct connection to a television

  • Play back video via DLNA, or possibly the native apps as appropriate, and perhaps with an eye towards Slingbox-style network playback functionality

  • Offer transcoding, so content can be “flung” from the connected TV to the phone or tablet, or home video shot on a DVD-burning camcorder can be copied into the tank

  • Be modular, in that if two of these devices are in the home, they arrange themselves in a master/slave setup, so the TV sees one dual-tuner DLNA device and the user works with one app and one list of content

If implemented as a consumer electronics device, versus a homebrew setup, it could:

  • Offer one tuner, a CPU adequate for recording and transcoding, and 32+MB of on-board flash storage, for minimum power and heat

  • Offer USB ports for attaching mass storage, such as DVD drives (for playing back those shiny discs that come in the mail in the red envelopes) or external hard drives (for those liking to record massive libraries)

Of course, it’s entirely possible that Google TV will simply show up on some brands of PVRs, integrating all of this in one box. However, I don’t see a lot of consumer electronics manufacturers racing to this segment, perhaps due to patent or liability concerns.

Right now, I do not see Google TV as having a major impact. OTOH, in October 2008, I would not have expected Android to be where it is today, either, so perhaps I am selling Google TV short. But, once we get an ecosystem together of complementary hardware — and particularly once we can start coding TV-centric apps for it — I suspect that the potential will become more obvious.

BTW, if anyone knows of a nice recipe for building such a headless media tank, shoot me a message on Twitter (@commonsguy)!

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