FOR almost 50 years Australians faced one of the most limited television channel choices on the planet -- a choice eventually expanded by pay-TV, and then digital programming -- but now the country is about to enjoy almost unlimited choice with the arrival of IPTV in the lounge room.
IPTV, otherwise known as Internet Protocol TV, has been a buzzword on computers for the past year with the development of services such Joost, Hulu and the ABC's own iView application.
Now experts say the unlimited sourcing of programming from the internet is at hand with new television sets boasting direct-to-the-internet broadband connections. These will allow programming to be streamed to the TV without the use of a computer as an intermediary.
Sony, Samsung, Panasonic and LG are among a handful of manufacturers that will bring the technology to Australia.
Paul Colley, technology communications manager with Sony Australia, says the technology is already available on its Bravia range in the US, and will debut in Australia in the near future.
He says it will give TV viewers to a very different way of accessing content.
Sony launched its Bravia Internet Video Link in the US last year. This allows a TV to stream content such as IPTV and web pages direct from the internet without having to go through a computer.
But Colley says viewers are looking for a different experience through televisions and "don't want to be hunched over a mouse and a keyboard".
Sony's solution has been the development of its Xmedia bar, a navigation tool developed initially for the handheld PlayStation Portable and PS3, which comes with the video link box.
The navigation tool replaces the browser address bar and allows people to surf to regular websites and those offering IPTV feeds in a similar way to browsing through channels.
"It's just like channel surfing," Colley says. "And one of the wonderful things about the internet is the ability to explore."
Duane Varan, head of the Interactive Television Institute at Murdoch University in Western Australia, says evolving media habits were at the heart of the emergence of lounge room IPTV in the local market.
"The basic principle is that people have a primary need for content and they want it when they want it," he said.
"The big contingent in all of this is the metering of broadband."
Varan says the way in which broadband providers metered their content in Australian was one hurdle to the success of IPTV through TVs.
Another hurdle was the availability of content from overseas portals and the protection of digital rights.
"I think the other problem is region-specific," he says. "Savvy users know how to hide their IP address to get content from overseas, but this is beyond most people."
While there may be hurdles, Varan believes the arrival of IPTV in Australia as a staple alongside free-to-air, digital and pay-TV broadcasters could prove to be a benefit to existing players rather than a drawback.
"What does it (IPTV) do to TV viewing?" he says. "I think it enhances TV programming and it is not taking away.
"Overall, I think it represents good news."
Another benefit that Varan believes IPTV will bring is that it will allow advertisers to more keenly target audiences and individuals in the same way they can now slice and dice demographics online.
"Now you are going to have the ability to adserve, and there are some really interesting cases online already."
He cites the IPTV offering on the ABC network in the US which allows on-demand programming supported by ads and offered with an interactive element.
"On the one hand it is competing with existing advertising, but at the same time it is enabling a different type of advertising program," Varan says.
Sony's Colley agrees that broadband capacity and cost in Australia are among the most significant issues standing in the way of the development of IPTV in the lounge room, but says computer-based photo, video and music libraries are already starting to be networked around the home.
Samsung has launched its second generation TV capable of streaming TV from a PC to the TV, but director of marketing Kurt Jovais says "the holy grail of IPTV is live streaming content over the internet to your TV, like watching the American Superbowl in real-time over the internet in native resolution on your home TV. This will require very fast broadband speeds and most likely a subscription service, but from a device perspective, today's TVs could deliver."
"As we move up in our IPTV capabilities, people will be able to share nearly any content experience over the TV. The amount of available content from anywhere in the world will be astonishing.
"It is also very exciting for the industry, as it is classically disruptive to the existing free-TV and pay-TV business models. It will be a very exciting evolution to be a part of," he says.
Source The Australian - November 10, 2008 12:00AM