UPC’s new high-end set-top box will combine linear and on-demand television, content stored on the home network and the open Internet. Details of the new receiver being adopted by parent company Liberty Global were revealed by Ivo Lochtman, content director of UPC Netherland at the Mediapark Jaarcongres in Hilversum.
“We will bring the content that people store locally to the TV screen,” Lochman said. “Much like a regular media player. Viewers will be able to access all kinds of content they store on a local hard drive, such as pictures, home movies, music, but of course also content that people have downloaded from the internet – not always legally. Of course this will conflict with the shops (VOD portal) you have.”
Lochtman said there was still is a big gap between watching TV on the big screen and web video viewing, “internet video hasn’t yet become a full grown alternative to television. Just look at the figures. In the US the average viewing time per online video is four minutes; with Hulu is just a bit more, six minutes. There have been a few parties to build the bridge, such as Joost, Vongo, Vudu and others. Some are no longer around, others are struggling. [With these proprietary solutions] people have to choose, as no one yet offers everything in a natural, intuitive way.”
Then there is the issue of how people watch TV. “At the moment, when people switch on their TV set, they first have a look to see if there is anything interesting on linear TV. If they don’t find anything, they go on-demand.”
In May, Liberty Global said that its Multimedia Home Gateway would use technologies provided by Samsung, Intel Corporation and NDS, having originally mooted the concept at the CES technology expo in January. The gateway itself will be powered by the Intel Atom CE Media Processor and is compatible with MoCA and Wi-Fi. It will also participate in the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) ecosystem.
According to Lochtman content discovery will be a major and important feature of the new box. “We don’t mean search, as this requires the user to actively type in a few words. There is also a big gap between the User Interface on TV and the one on the Internet. People are now used to the culture of the internet and its UIs – there is no way at the moment we can realise this on the TV screen, but we need to to take next step.”
One of the more revolutionary changes will be the introduction of an App store, where people can choose to add functionality to their TV experience. Clearly inspired by the iPhone App store, it brings widgets to the television. “These can be upfront, right in your face, but they can also work in the background. [Using the Apps] it will be easy to publish on TV. Also, for, say, a local sports club. The paradigm will be real time.”
“Empower everything with internet. Of course we can produce editorial content here, but why not use a website such as the IMDB for movie information? If you add all these things, you create a platform that will really offer something – also for all parties involved. The user at home, the existing content parties, but also other content owners who can bring their content to the screen, such as the videos on Sanoma’s Autoweek site.”
“We are looking for an open platform with open standards, where everyone can add his content. We are ready for it. It is a development that is going to happen, whether we will take part of it or not.” Lochtman also said it is time to redefine the remote control – and it seems likely the iPhone will be the main source of inspiration.