Page last updated at 09:08 GMT, Thursday, 21 August 2008 10:08 UK

Intel unites the internet with TV

Maggie Shiels,
Technology reporter, BBC News, San Francisco

intel widget channell
The "snippets bar" at the bottom can be personalised with favourite websites

Intel has signed a deal with Yahoo to enhance the way people use their TVs by adding internet applications.

The collaboration will produce a Widget Channel that lets viewers e-mail friends, trade shares or check the weather while watching programmes.

The internet-based services will run on a new set of Intel chips designed specifically for web-connected devices.

"This is not a copy of a PC on TV," said Eric Kim, head of Intel's digital home group.

"We are setting a new bar and delivering a richer internet experience to TV like never before," he said.

Unveiling the alliance at the Intel Developers Forum in San Francisco, Mr Kim said previous efforts to unite the net and TV had failed because the internet stopped people using their set for its prime function - watching programmes.

'Beam me up, Scotty'

With TV available in more than 1.3 billion households worldwide there was no doubt, he said, about its ubiquity.

Intel's Eric Kim: Service has everything people love about TV

"'Who shot JR?', 'Beam me up, Scotty', 'You're fired!' and 'Goodnight and good luck' - you know these lines better than I do," he said. "I don't have to name the show or the stars. Why? Because we all want and we all love TV."

Patrick Barry, Yahoo's head of connected TV, demonstrated the Widget Channel that showed a slim "snippet bar" at the bottom of the screen loaded with things like the weather, share prices, news, sports and photo-sharing website Flickr.

"This is about not compromising the screen size," he said. "In the past the idea was to put the browser on TV and use a text based interface which would interfere with the programme.

"This leaves the user in the environment they are comfortable with which is watching TV," said Mr Barry.

The "snippet bar" can be widened and used as a sidebar on the left of a screen without obscuring the show that is being viewed.


Other Widget Channel features shown at the conference included the ability to do picture-in-picture, download video on demand and shop online.

Viewers will be able to choose from what is expected to be hundreds of thousands of widgets, or web applications.

intel forum
The Widget Channel promises the power of the web on TV

The merging of the net and TV is expected to bolster TV's position as the number one draw for advertisers.

Analyst firm IDC has predicted that internet advertising will surpass ads on newspapers and cable and broadcast TV by 2012. The firm also predicted that overall revenue from the web will double to $51.1bn (26bn) in four years.

Irwin Gotlieb, chief executive of ad management company GroupM, said the Widget Channel would blur the line between the net and TV.

"Companies still spend five times as much ad money on the TV as the web," he said. "Advertising is sold more effectively on TV. The problem with TV is that everyone sees the same ad."

Mr Gotlieb said the Widget Channel could mean adverts tailored to a viewer's preferences - the dynamic between TV and the web could change dramatically.

"It changes accountability," he said. "It puts TV not on an even footing with the internet as a mass medium, but it could potentially leapfrog it because of the improved dynamic of the big screen audio experience."

New chip

For its part Intel is building a purpose-built system on a chip designed specifically for the web-connected consumer electronics market. It will be able to handle high-definition viewing, home theatre quality audio, 3-D graphics and bring net connectivity to the TV.

Mr Kim urged the consumer electronics industry to embrace the new CE 3100 chip, code-named Canmore, in an effort to "create an ecosystem to enhance the viewer experience".

The widget system is slated to be ready in 2009

"Up until now there has been no consistent architecture to do this well," he said. "No de facto platform to fuse the internet with TV.

"For the first time we are bringing the full richness of the internet and web 2.0 and optimising the TV while respecting the TV's unique attributes: simplicity, ease of use, socialising and entertainment value. All the things that people love about TV."

Paul Jackson, principal analyst with Forrester Research, said: "If you look at these things what they boil down to is - is it compelling to use? Am I as a consumer going to sit on my couch with my very expensive TV and think 'Wow, I really want to go and look at the weather'.

"As we have seen, a lot of people are doing that with their laptop on their knee during the Olympics or the Superbowl, which is inconvenient and involves just one person.

"So getting to the stage where you can bring some of that functionality to the TV without it being disruptive to the viewing experience is what has been missing to date."

Mr Kim said Sony, Toshiba, Samsung and Motorola had all shown interest in the Canmore chip, which will go into production in 2009.

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