CES 2011 – LAS VEGAS. According to various US reports, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer is said to unveil a new Windows-powered set top box to take on Google TV and Apple TV. Ballmer is expected to make the announcement during the opening keynote this Wednesday.
The keynote will start at 6.30pm PST (or Thursday, 02.30 GMT) and can be followed live in a webcast from the Microsoft website. Following a number of unsuccessful attempts, Microsoft is rumoured to once again try to enter the connected TV market.
Both Google and Apple are struggling to move into this market. A number of hardware manufacturers were expected to show their latest Google TV product at this year’s CES, but Google has asked them to refrain from doing so. Meanwhile, Apple has announced it sold one million Apple TVs just before Christmas.
The new Windows TV set-top boxes will reportedly run the Windows embedded platform and utilise the Windows Media Center interface. The new STBs are expected to sell for just under $200 (EUR 150).
Connected TVs will be on show with a lot of manufacturers in Vegas. Sales of connected TVs will more than double over the next two years, with more than 100 million sets sold in 2013, according to research by DisplaySearch.
When Ballmer takes centre stage, we can again pose the question – is Microsoft the right company to achieve success in the world of interactive TV? So far, all their projects have failed. Who remembers Web TV? A small US start-up, in which Dutch CE manufacturer Philips was also a minority investor, which aimed to bring the world wide web to the TV set. An attempt to sell the service as MSN TV to (elderly) people without a computer failed.
Then there was Microsoft TV, which would bring full interactivity to cable networks. At least, that was the plan and one UPC was planning to introduce in the late 90s. They never did – except for one operator in Portugal in 2001. And French company Alcatel tried to sell their early IPTV products bundled with Microsoft TV software. The idea evolved in Multiroom – as used by AT&T’s IPTV service in the US.
Another go at the TV market was the concept of Windows Media Center, which involved having a built-in analogue TV tuner (!) in the PC. By doing so, it tuner the computer into a de facto TV set with PVR. The idea wasn’t so bad, but until now, it didn’t catch the consumer’s imagination.
Can Microsoft be successful this time? We are not so sure – especially when we look at the cold reception Google TV is getting from the established forces in the entertainment world. For them, one Apple and iTunes store seems to be enough. No more out-of-left-fielders, if they can help it.