Future of Internet TV Is Coming Into View

A computer screen shows Internet services available through a TiVo recorder linked to a broadband Internet connection at the Consumer Electronics Show.
A computer screen shows Internet services available through a TiVo recorder linked to a broadband Internet connection at the Consumer Electronics Show. (By Steve Marcus -- Reuters)
By Leslie Walker
Thursday, January 12, 2006

I was trying to sleep on a flight home from Las Vegas Sunday when the craving hit: I want my Internet TV.

After catching a virus at the gadget show I'd attended, I felt too exhausted to read. I needed distraction, a slice of that personalized video universe I'd seen on display -- even a TV show on an iPod would have helped.

No single company put everything together into a magical product at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, but you didn't need much imagination to connect the booths and see the Internet TV networks of the 21st century struggling to be born.

The unmistakable theme was how video is moving over the Internet onto home televisions and mobile devices in ways that will finally allow consumers to talk back to their TVs, much as they have been interacting with Web sites for the past decade.

It wasn't just about time-shifting TV or watching shows on mobile devices, though both were prominently on display. A newer technology known as Internet protocol TV -- IPTV for short -- also made a stir by blending those capabilities while trying to remake regular TV shows into something more dynamic and personal.

Basically, IPTV allows multiple layers of video, pictures and text to be mixed with video feeds in ways viewers can control with their remotes. It's the old interactive TV vision -- point your remote at an actress on screen and up comes her name, prior credits and perhaps a "buy me" button for her blue sequined dress.

Major telecom players such as AT&T and Verizon are slowly rolling out IPTV services over high-speed broadband networks. Trials are underway around the country.

Microsoft showed off some IPTV software in Las Vegas, and some start-up companies displayed systems for delivering Internet video streams to home computers, bypassing traditional networks owned by cable and satellite companies.

At the same time, Hollywood studios announced new deals to distribute TV shows over the Internet in a mix of new pay-per-view and subscription offerings. And Google and Yahoo, the Web's top search providers, jumped in with new services they hope will give them central roles in helping people find all this Internet-delivered video.

In fact, so many new IPTV services and technologies were displayed or announced it was hard to make sense of them all.

But as I started daydreaming about taking the same flight five or six years from now, the scenario I pictured helped pull it together in ways I could understand:

Instead of watching the dorky movie US Airways was showing, say I flip open my six-inch Verizon Internet viewer, switch to my Google Video channel, select "CSI: Baltimore; Jan. 5," and watch my favorite TV show, which I missed while in Vegas (hey, there's bound to be a "CSI: Baltimore" by then). Google Video knows me well enough to have beamed me a compressed copy when it had a strong broadband signal back on the ground. It bills my stored credit card, say, 50 cents when I decide to watch this episode.

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