The New Box

I'm spending an awful lot of my time at the moment talking to set top box manufacturers and a certain number of themes seem to be developing:

1) Hybrid - a box capable of delivering DV and IP TV into a single, seamless user interface is, as I have commented before, the current holy grail.

2) Home Server - the ability to then serve content to any room in a house using WiFi technology is the second thing on the 'must have' list

3) Hard Drive - with so many commercial services offering only downloads, the ability to record onto the hard drive of the device is essential

4) USB Port - the ability to transfer recordings onto portable devices is also desirable

What is off the table is the use of a keyboard and mouse. The greatest challenge to developers of web based services such as Narrowstep is to make interfaces available for remote controls. This also poses a problem for UGC and other video services, who by and large will have to either develop their own, or work with third party EPGs to deliver their content.

A channel environment works well for remote control, but a random environment such as YouTube is next to useless without a search capability - something that is turgid to use with a remote.

The vast majority of devices on the market are LINUX based with lightweight browsers such as Ant, Oregan and Opera, and Microsoft have been very reluctant to compete against their own, less-than-successful Media Centre (MCE), so most STB manufacturers steer clear since the cost of licencing is prohibitive.

However, many boxes now support the Windows Media codec (VC-1) and there are even some who have integrated IE. Microsoft should encourage this development strongly - as the old saying goes 'it's better to cannibalise yourself than be eaten alive'.