Although Internet video seems to be going mainstream in the US, the idea of tuning in to IPTV content without needing to connect to a next gen console or home theatre PC is not catching on with Australian vendors, let alone consumers.
Major vendors such as Sony, HP, Panasonic, Sharp and LG are responding to this demand with new TVs or add-on modules that make it easier for viewers there to flick the switch to the Web.
However despite a slew of exciting Web-related announcements from TV vendors at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January, local representatives were not forthcoming when asked to comment on when or if these products will make their way down under.
While Australian broadband users are stuck with high costs for streaming and downloaded media, or locked to the limited content offerings from a specific ISP (eg. Bigpond, TPG or TransACT), it appears that TV vendors are reluctant to specifically address the IPTV market in Australia.
Sony Australia would make no comment on the local introduction of its BRAVIA Internet Video Link module. A US$300 add-on that connects directly to a broadband router and streams selected Web content to compatible BRAVIA televisions, it will be available on the US market in June.
Other vendors are introducing new TVs that offer Internet connection as an integrated feature, as with Panasonic's new line of Plasma TVs due out in the US this year. These will come with a customised interface featuring one-click access to selected Web content such as YouTube and Picasa Web Albums. However Panasonic Australia could not tell us when or if these would make their way to Australia.
Sharp's next generation LCD TVs will offer a technology called AQUOS Net, which enables connection to an Internet source via an Ethernet connection built into the set. AQUOS Net will not provide full Web access, but is intended to offer Sharp viewers the ability to configure "widgets" to check, for example, the local weather forecast, get stock quotes or provide customer support. Sharp Australia did not respond to our request for information on a local rollout.
HP has launched a new line of MediaSmart TVs in the US, LCD models that offer an Ethernet port in addition to the conventional mix of HDMI, component and optical audio. These TVs -- well, TVs of any kind -- are not currently offered for sale by HP in Australia.
It will be interesting to see if Australia's broadband woes also put the squeeze on the Seven Network's much-anticipated rollout of Internet programming means the latest version of the Tivo box is able to do much more than just skip through ads on recorded programs.due in mid-2008. The recent announcement that TiVo is extending its "Season Pass" functionality to
Any content that can be identified and delivered by RSS feeds can appear alongside free to air and cable programming as a channel choice for the TiVo TV viewer in the US. If this feature is included in the local rollout, it could drive Web TV even more into the mainstream. We asked a Seven Network spokesman if this would be a feature of TiVo in Australia, but we are still waiting to hear back.
A recent study by Yankee Group Research predicted widespread growth for IPTV. It forecast that nine million US households could be subscribing to IPTV services by 2011. The worldwide number of IPTV subscribers will reach 103 million by 2011, according to a study by RNCOS, a research firm which claims the Asia-Pacific region will lead a global surge in Internet television over the next few years.
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