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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why your set-top box should be a PC

40 years ago, if I wanted to communicate with you in a professional way, I would type a letter on an electric typewriter, an analog device. 30 years ago I could use a document preparation system (aka word processing machine) like a Lexitron. It was an electric typewriter with a floppy disc memory. This was a great advance and very popular, since it allowed editing without correcting fluid or retyping a whole document. A bigger advance came a decade later with the introduction of the personal computer with word processing in software. New functionality like unlimited templates, spell and grammar checking became possible. No one would think of using a Lexitron today.
Todays cable boxes and DVRs are essentially TV Lexitrons, limited functionality TV processing machines. A big advance will come when this is all done in software on a personal computer. Improved intelligent automatic recording, Social TV, and unlimited accessory apps. (Switch to a webcam when someone rings the doorbell? Show a map where all the kids cellphone gps locate them?)

Many companies are coming out with limited functionality devices to interface TV with internet in some way. It is time to use a real PC and do it in software.There are many advantages to this business model. No need for research and development of proprietary hardware - the PC is industry-standard. No need to install or service hardware, outsource to the manufacturer. No need to carry boxes in inventory. There is a reason that Cable companies don't sell TV sets.

This also changes the work environment for developers. Programmers can concentrate on coming up with cool features and apps. No need to worry about convincing a retail hardware manufacturer that it is a good idea or that it will generate revenue. Dramatically decreases development time. The network is the thing, and it runs on software.

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