Parks Associates Blog

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Hulu on the TV? The ZvBox and "Localcasting"

What the folks at ZeeVee announced today in unveiling their ZvBox isn't necessarily a new concept. My colleague Steve Harvey reminds me that one of the early premises of the connected home was the whole idea of allowing thin clients to access applications and features hosted on a server. Now, media adapters and connected entertainment devices haven't necessarily set the world on fire with high sales volumes over the past couple of years, and we can safely argue that extending the Internet experience to the television in its present format isn't a scenario that the vast majority of consumers are going to embrace. When it comes down to it, accessing spreadsheets and e-mail on that beautiful high-definition TV in the living room is no reason to have a home network!

It's interesting how the notion of the home server has shifted in both subtle and dramatic ways over the past few years. I think that one of the key trends that we're witnessing today is a renewed emphasis on the notion of network-hosted applications driving connected home devices and applications more than localized storage elements doing so. This isn't to say that locally-hosted content and applications aren't going to be significant - in fact, devices such as DVRs are now evolving into set-top box media servers with the introduction of multi-room DVR capabilities. Further, there is a renewed emphasis now on networked-attached storage (NAS) devices that will provide for not only backup and safekeeping of content, but also more ways to easily share content with friends and family without necessarily uploading it to a photo-sharing site or figuring out how to create FTP downloads!

I think that the really exciting activity taking place today revolves around how to bring network-hosted applications and content - such as streaming premium video - direct to the television. This starts to answer one of the more common questions I'm hearing at industry tradeshows: "When am I going to get Hulu on my TV?" There are a few ways to do this already, but each has its own challenges.

If you're one of the lucky 1.5 million households that's figured out a way to connect their PC to their TV (either via a media adapter or more likely through S-video or some other traditional connection), access to Hulu or the content from Veoh Networks can be obtained. This, of course, relies having the aesthetic sense to not mind a cord running along your living room floor! And media adapters are now starting to address connectivity applications beyond the ability to view a photo slideshow on the TV or play music or have access to some limited Web video content. The D-Link DPG 1200 does provide access to the Internet TV programming from Veoh. But, right now, these examples are few and far between. And, when it comes down to it, media adapters are still home networking devices with some configuration and operability quirks.

I'm intrigued by the ZvBox for its ability to take PC and Internet-hosted applications and services and basically establish network-connected (via coax) HDTVs as secondary monitors. This is a feature that ZeeVee has coined "localcasting." If you look at the projected growth of premium online content (and we're forecasting streams and downloads of TV shows and movies to grow to 18 billion by 2012. So, the potential for network-hosted applications moving to the TV appears to be quite significant.

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