Intel to show devices that bring Internet to TV

Intel on Monday said it will show off prototype devices that meld the TV and the Internet.

In an effort to personalize the TV, Intel on Monday said it will show off prototype devices that bring the Internet to the TV viewing experience.

The company plans to show off consumer electronics prototypes that run "widgets," or mini-applications that could complement TV viewing with information from the Internet, the company said. These widgets will also allow TV watchers to talk to friends in real time or buy products advertised on TV from online stores.

The devices, which could include TV sets or cable set-top boxes, will be shown at the International Consumer Electronics Show, which will be held in Las Vegas between January 8 and 11.

Intel and Yahoo teamed up at the Intel Developers Forum in August to announce the "Widget Channel," a hardware and software platform designed to meld television and the Internet. Though no product prototypes were shown, the companies offered developers a software toolkit to create TV applications using languages like Javascript, XML, HTML and Flash. The applications would be compatible with Intel's x86-based chips for devices like set-top boxes.

The prototypes shown at CES will bring The Widget Channel to life, said Mary Ragland, an Intel spokeswoman.

Intel also expects to announce new partnerships with content and service providers for The Widget Channel. The company also will introduce services "moving beyond just leisure and entertainment and television," said Genevieve Bell, an Intel fellow who specializes in studying user interaction with technology.

Televisions have always been interactive, either in the form of game consoles or remote controls, but the Internet will bring a new user experience and level of interactivity, Bell said.

Earlier attempts to bring the Internet to the television have been largely unsuccessful, but some broadband companies are trying to add interactivity to their IPTV networks. PCCW in Hong Kong is experimenting with ways in which users can upload and share photographs on their IPTV network. It is also conducting an experimental service where users can order an on-demand movie and pizza at the same time.

"Those all are still a bit clunky, but they are interesting indications of where things might move," Bell said.

The success of these services partly hinges on the usability of the interface, Bell said. TVs are easy to use, and the interface needs to flow in smoothly without breaking the TV experience people are used to, Bell said.

A browser or search engine could complicate the viewing experience as it brings the whole Web to a user, Bell said. Users want a few attributes of the Web, like social networking features that could bring personalized information or help users connect to friends for a chat.

That sets Intel's efforts apart from other offerings like Microsoft's Windows Media Center, home entertainment software that lets users connect a PC to their TV so that they can record programs, watch online programs and manage other media. Windows Media Center is broader than Intel's product, which aims to integrate certain Internet functions into TV.

Trends may change as digital media explodes and social networking choices expand, but the TV could remain a constant in accessing content and services, Bell said. TVs are ubiquitous, and its simplicity makes it a great platform to deliver the Internet to users, Bell said. The area is ripe for innovation, and social networking could especially help deliver more content and better TV viewing experiences, she said.

"I suspect it's a tip of the iceberg to look at how you can start to have more of a blend of social networking and television content," Bell said.

Given TV's ease of use, some may actually prefer to use it to access the Internet, Bell said. PCs require maintenance like updating drivers and applying patches, which can get in the way of the Internet experience.

"I don't know you, but my TiVo has never asked me to defrag[ment] it although it has a large hard drive," Bell said.

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