The segment of the media delivery industry that may yet take off for consumers consists of programming and services that are delivered to newer HDTVs "over-the-top" (OTT) - meaning, outside of the cable or satellite provider's pipeline. Naturally, the Internet is the delivery medium here. In prior years, analysts have wondered how (or whether) traditional programming from multi-service operators (MSOs) like Comcast would compete.
The answer we may get from CES 2012 is that it won't have to. Semiconductor maker Broadcom is set to demonstrate a new class of system-on-a-chip (SoC) components that could be integrated into set-top boxes (STBs). This new class, numbered BCM72xx, would deliver OTT services alongside cable channels, in a format that would enable MSOs to utilize Android as the operating system, and Sling Media as the streaming provider for wireless devices. It could be the formula behind the phrase, "Goodbye, TiVo."
The multitude of partnerships this new class of products entails is so hot that neither Broadcom nor its new partners could hold off until next week. Essentially, what we should expect to see demonstrated in Las Vegas by Broadcom is a type of STB that delivers all of the following:
1. DVR functionality from EchoStar that incorporates wireless "place-shifting" from Sling Media. Meaning, anything you record to your EchoStar DVR can be streamed wirelessly to your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. EchoStar had purchased Sling back in 2007, but its ability to exploit that technology had been tied up in a patent battle with TiVo that only ended last May, in a $500 million settlement in TiVo's favor.
2. An Android-based apps ecosystem enabled through a partnership with Myriad Group, the maker of the Alien Vue environment that Dan Rowinski introduced you to last month. Existing OTT program services such as Google TV and Roku are already being integrated into Alien Vue; and to that end, Roku today announced its own partnership with premium channel Showtime for a kind of "previewing app" for premium content.
3. A 3D environment for graphical, on-screen program guides using OpenGL ES 2.0 as the graphics standard.
4. Optional built-in videoconferencing, which could be a major plus for cable operators that still want to deliver "triple-play" or "quadruple-play" customer options, but find themselves uncompetitive with wireless providers like Verizon.
5. Interactive supplemental content similar to the BD-Live content on Blu-ray movie discs, by way of Adobe AIR for the Digital Home.
6. Expanded bandwidth for on-demand streaming of as many as six simultaneous channels, by way of support for the Multimedia over Coax Alliance MoCA 2.0 standard.
7. Accelerated channel changing and scanning ability by means of a Broadcom standard called FastRTV.
As RWW's Dan Rowinski told me today, one of the sticking points to seeing Android implemented on STBs already concerns something called the device recognition setting, which enables software to determine the size of its own display. Newer versions of Android, including "Ice Cream Sandwich" version 4.0, enable a variety of standard sizes; but at least for now, Rowinski says, "extra large" refers to tablets with 10.1-inch diagonal screens. Any demos we see of Alien Vue on Android-based widescreens, therefore, would probably have to be manual hacks, at least for now.