WEB-ENABLED TV is coming, and it will be here almost before everyone realises it.
It is actually already here, but more commonly in 'trojan devices', peripheral devices that connect to television sets to access content such as Blu-ray players, games consoles, set-top boxes and even PCs. For example, the Sony Playstation 3 and Microsoft XBox each offer their own web TV services.
But in the very near future most TVs themselves will have Internet connectivity built into them - research says as high as 90 per cent by 2014. Last year only about two per cent of TVs sold in Europe had internet connectivity and 12 per cent this year, so obviously it's something that is growing incredibly rapidly.
Intel, although it's mainly known for making chips, is one of the companies that has looked at this trend with great interest. It has put big resources and research into how it can take advantage of TVs, which vastly outnumber PCs and smartphones put together.
But it was only this year that Intel really hit on something with 'Smart TV', as the operating system and hardware needed finally hit something of a sweet spot.
Using its Atom processor, Intel collaborated with companies like Google, Sony and Logitech in a partnership that should enable viewers to interact with their TVs in ways we have never seen before.
Instead of single-function features such as movie streaming, the partnership will enable people to look at Internet content, broadcast programming, personal content and applications, all on one screen.
Speaking at a recent Westminster E-forum on 3D and the future of TV technology, David McKeown, EMEA consumer electronics business development manager at Intel, said the company is very excited about the development, which allows "pure integration" between the very best of traditional TV and the unlimited Internet.
He referred to one of the results of Smart TV in 'Google TV', which was announced about two weeks ago. This will soon be either built into TVs or put in a separate box that you can connect with a TV that you already own.
It works simply by allowing you to type something on your TV screen, which Google will find by searching channels, recorded shows, Youtube and other websites. Then you can add it to a home screen where you can find things like your favourite channels and websites. There is also a full web browser.
McKeown said, "We've been working with Google for quite some time to bring this together."
Lovefilm is another company that has thrown its hat wholeheartedly into the web-enabled TV ring, offering a service where films can be streamed on new Internet-enabled Samsung and Sony TVs.
Lesley MacKenzie, group digital officer at Lovefilm, said that it is a big step for the company to offer its service in this way, but that it has to do it because the traditional physical DVD market is dying.
"We don't know how long its going to take [for people] to stop using physical [DVDs], but we know that digital is coming, and we believe that web-enabled TVs could be that future," she said.
But many people in the UK don't want to bother shelling out for a new TV or set-top box, or even pay to get digital streaming content like movies. They simply want to watch TV. If they can get an interactive benefit all well and good, but not if it complicates things.
This is where Project Canvas comes in, which has the potential to change the way that we watch TV in this country for many people. The proposed partnership between Arqiva, the BBC, BT, C4, Five, ITV and Talk Talk has already caught the ire of companies like Sky and Virgin Media, which see it as a big threat.
Simply put, Project Canvas is a venture that could offer Freeview and Freesat users an open Internet-connected TV platform complete with traditional TV services and additional benefits such as interactivity, catch-up TV and web applications.
But the big difference between this and other similar services is that it is free, with no subscription required. All you need is a broadband connection and a suitable set-top box, and you already have it.
The dates for when this will launch are sketchy, if it indeed does happen. The scheme is still awaiting regulatory approval and partners, but if it works out all ISPs are welcome to get involved.
"We already have a target market. Freeview and Freesat upgraders who already predominantly have broadband who don't want to pay for television. Between six and seven million homes fall into that category at the moment," said Simon Pitts, controller of strategy at ITV.
"For Canvas to be successful it needs to be as open a platform as possible. Open in every sense - to ISPs, content providers and manufacturers."
Bob Hannent, chief technologist at Humax, added that Project Canvas is about the seamless combination of broadcast and broadband, truly integrated with each other so that consumers didn't have to worry about paying extra for it.
So that's in the near future, either this year or the next. But what comes further down the line? It seems obvious that we are heading towards a connected TV world, which will change the nature of how we watch TV in the next 10 years.
But it seems that we will still want 'linear TV', TV that is served up to us rather than us searching for it. Evidence of this can be seen with the Iplayer - it hasn't affected the number of people actually watching the original broadcasts and in many cases actually increases them.
But Mike Grant, media partner at Analysys Mason, said that the nature of the linear TV schedules and channels is likely to change.
"In 10 years, broadcasters will almost certainly be hosting IP video services, offering live and forthcoming library programming," he said.
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