Electronic Design

The Internet Comes Home

The Widget Channel, initially presented by Yahoo! and Intel at the Intel Developers Forum in San Francisco in August, marks a trend to open interfaces that will be on connected TVs around the world. These widgets are small icons and applications that can be presented along the border of the display. The underlying system is essentially a PCstyle platform with a Web browser on top (see the figure).

The difference in the approach compared to using the TV as a display for a PC is the presentation to the target audience— the average consumer. Forget start buttons and mice. This is a remote-control- driven interface. Wireless keyboards and pointing devices won’t be prohibited, but they will be enhancements rather than requirements.

Unlike many closed set-top-box solutions, this system is designed to be open. The graphical widgets are based on standards like HTML and JavaScript, and the sample system runs on Linux.

HTML made the Internet accessible to users and developers. Any browser can display it, and any developer can generate content. This is what widgets are supposed to do as well. Yahoo! has widgets, but other companies can offer them too, such as hardware OEMs and third parties. In fact, third parties will be key to widget success.

Widgets are different, though, since they use Javascript to make them interactive as well as a framework to allow them to interact with the user’s viewing environment. The framework also could allow features like the display of realtime analysis during sporting events. The game would be viewed full-screen with an overlay, probably along the bottom edge, with the commentary.

Of course, TV networks provide similar features, but one size fits all and everyone has to watch them. With widgets, viewers have more control and selection.

This opens a range of possibilities for user interaction in a social network where commentary or feedback on shows happens in real-time or may be synched based on the material being viewed. Developers should consider these possibilities because platforms that can host frameworks like the Widget Channel are coming.

The Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) framework is built on universal plug-and-play (UPnP). DLNA is network-agnostic, but Ethernet and Wi- Fi are the connections of choice. Also, DLNA addresses a host of devices, but HDTVs with DLNA video support are of particular interest.

What does this have to do with the Widget Channel? Imagine an HDTV with an Ethernet port. Better yet, go down to the nearest electronics store and check out Samsung’s Series 7 LCD or plasma screen model 750, which happen to be DLNA-compatible. These displays effectively have a PC built-in for video playback via Ethernet. Video would be streamed from a DLNA media server on the local network. The TVs could also handle media via the Internet as well. It is all a matter of programming the host.

It’s not much of a stretch to imagine something like the Widget Channel being supported on this type of platform. (It’s not at the moment.) Streaming video over Ethernet and interactive Widget Channel presentations are the tip of the iceberg. Just imagine the possibilities.




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