STBs put the 'play' in 'triple-play'

As promised this time last year, Microsoft has officially transformed its Xbox 360 game console into an IPTV set-top box. Powered by Microsoft's Mediaroom software, the IPTV-enabled Xbox was launched at CES2008 in Las Vegas in January, and Microsoft has already lined up BT Vision as the first telco to adopt the console as its STB.

The Xbox 360 isn't the first game console to support IPTV. Last year, Sony launched an IPTV-ready version of its PlayStation 3, and Korean telco KT is using it for Mega TV, a video service offering limited high-def programming.

However, Microsoft has upped the ante by also launching DVR Anywhere, an app that streams content to other STBs in the home from a central storage unit, and even allows functionality like pausing a show in one room and then resuming it in another room.

And while Nintendo isn't actively pursuing an IPTV strategy with its Wii console, that hasn't stopped independent apps developer Vui Huang Tea from creating an IPTV portal accessible via Wii's web browser in the hopes of generating support for IPTV on the Wii.

Such is the brave new world of the STB, where expectations for IPTV are being reshaped by the shifting viewing habits of the increasingly net-savvy TV audience, says Microsoft TV's senior product management director, Sal Arora.

'We're seeing a different type of TV audience emerging,' Arora said at the opening of the IPTV World Forum Asia in early December. 'Attention spans are getting shorter except perhaps for sports programming, and viewers are likely to be doing a number of different activities while they watch.'

Hybrid STB

They also don't get all of their video needs from broadcast TV. Internet television - via video sharing sites like Google-owned YouTube or P2P-powered offerings like Joost and Vakaka - is competing for face time. Ian Cox, principal analyst at TelecomView, says that people will watch as much television via the web as via IPTV by 2011.

Meanwhile, Google is getting more aggressive in the video space - in January, the search engine behemoth teamed up with Matsushita's Panasonic to develop TV sets with internet connectivity that can access YouTube and Google's Picasa photo hosting service.

Consequently, the STB landscape is undergoing a sea change that is allowing consumer electronics firms to enter the market. Today's STBs are up against digital-cable-ready TVs, media centers, and residential gateways, and manufacturers are adding all sorts of new features.
This puts Asian telcos eyeing IPTV in an interesting position, in that IPTV is still in its infancy in Asia, held up by various factors, from infrastructure readiness in China and India to regulatory barriers in lucrative pay-TV markets like Korea and Taiwan. With 2008 slated as a potential banner year for IPTV rollouts, new service providers will be able to leverage STBs stuffed with functionality that allows them to tap consumer demand for timeshifting, placeshifting and accessing web content - and differentiate themselves from the local cable guys. TA

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