Intel Inside...the TV

Mark Cuban has a post up at Blog Maverick discussing HDTVs as PCs. As to computers in the TV, I agree 100%. It just has to happen. Computers are now amazingly cheap and TVs are getting amazingly complex, or at least the stuff they need to display is getting amazingly complex.

Mark did say some things that had me shaking my head though.

Remember when you would buy a new PC every couple years to keep up and you would buy a new TV every decade ? Well thats about to reverse itself. You no longer feel the need to get the latest and greatest desktop PC, but you are about to get in the habit of upgrading your TV every couple years as new and original features and applications are developed for it.

Yes, I remember the computer treadmill. A new one every 2 or 3 years, just to be able to run what was current. There's no way I'm going to do that with TVs, especially TVs that now cost in the thousands, not the hundreds of dollars.

In 3 years the mainstream TV will be 70" and cost less than $1500. In 5 years, it could be 100" for $2500 dollars . Yes, you will make room for it. You will redesign the family room or your bedroom to make room.

I'm guessing Mark's house is a little bigger than mine. There's no way I can fit a 100" tv in either my family room or my bedroom. It might fit downstairs in what can be a home theater room, but even then, 100" is gigantic and you need to sit a long way away from that screen. People aren't going to build bigger houses to hold their bigger TVs. At least, not the masses.

So back to the computer in the TV. Absolutely, I want this. If you've seen an Apple TV, your first thought is Why can't they just cram that in the back of the LCD? I wonder if the current Apple TV is the first in a family of products. It doesn't take much imagination to picture a 30" Apple display with an Apple TV built in.

Apple isn't the only company that can make this happen, but they appear to be one of the few that care. The on screen menus of many of todays DVD players, receivers, and HD tuners look like they were designed by engineers. They navigate like they were designed by engineers. They frustrate the crap out of their users. In case I'm being too subtle, most engineers can't design UIs. The ones that can are usually designers.

Part of the reason they suck so bad is that they're written in low level languages running on very basic display hardware. It takes a lot of effort to make stuff look good with those resources. Contrast that with the Apple TV. It's a full-blown computer running a full-blown OS that can make use of full-blown development tools and techniques. The Apple TV costs $300, but that's not that much more to pay on top of a TV that already costs $3000. I say build it in. You might think this leads to the upgrade path that Mark suggests. I'd like to think the opposite. Build in some general purpose hardware and let folks at it. Look at all of the new functionality that has been built on the Apple TV. Look at the tremendous work done to add functionality to routers with the DD-WRT project. If you open it up (intentionally or not), they will build for it.

Let me run widgets on my TV. Let me cut out the weather warnings with stylesheets for TV. Let me build a channel guide that doesn't suck.

It seems to me that this is what Mark Cuban would want, and I think he does. He wants people to continue to sit in front of their TVs and watch HDNet. To keep them there with compelling user experiences. He even points out some of the ways that features are being added to TVs. However, pay attention to the subscription fees for services like caller-id on your TV though. I don't want a plan for my TV!

So, to sum it up, TV manufacturers need to build up the development capabilities of their TVs. Focus on the experience. Focus on the interface. Do these things and you'll get my dollars.

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