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Computers redefine TV

June 16: In college, Julie Holley, managing editor of television content with Vocus Media Research Group, wrote a long paper about the future convergence of computers and television. According to Google, that day might be coming this fall.

A couple of weeks ago the search engine powerhouse announced that it was launching Google TV, which is Google search built into TVs, Blu-ray players and companion boxes.

“This is what I have been waiting for. I want to be able to search the program grid on my TiVo for the show I am looking for. There is a way to search for programs, but it’s not as easy as what Google claims to offer,” Holley said.

According to Google, Google TV will allow viewers to access anything online, from a list of past and present episodes of favorite TV shows to social media sites. Engadget reported the concept is much like what TiVo offers with its Premiere service, “but the difference is that Google TV has a full browser with Flash – you can theoretically navigate to virtually any video site and simply play video with no fuss.”

At the same time early adopters breathlessly await the arrival of Google TV, there is also the recent launch of 3D TV. The concept gained momentum after the success of “Avatar,” which was released in theaters this past December. “The thing that Avatar did for 3D was not so much that it was a great film, but it exposed millions and millions of people to the idea of 3D,” said Bryan Gonzales, technology specialist at the Entertainment Technology Center in Los Angeles.

This convergence of TV-based technologies goes back to high definition, Gonzales noted. Digital content has allowed the industry to create a higher quality of content, he added. “So it’s all these technologies specifically around digital video storage that has led to this marriage and merging of technologies you’re seeing today,” he said.

Although it’s taken awhile to catch on, The Nielsen Company reported that more than 50 percent of the United States is now watching television in HD, which is up 189 percent from the first quarter in 2008. If the stats for people watching HD are any reflection of 3D and Google TV’s potential, television’s overall popularity could be on the rise. Nielsen also found people who have high-definition television sets are actually watching 3 percent more primetime programming.

“I think the best quality content had been put on HD – if you’re a fan of ‘24’ or ‘Lost,’ these were some of the first action series to be put on HD. I think the really high budget, widely advertised content is on HD,” he said. And since people invested a certain amount of money in purchasing an HD TV, those viewers want to make sure they invest a certain amount of time into their purchase as well. Even so, Gonzales said there’s still a bit of a challenge with HD becoming the standard. Major news channels have it, but many local stations don’t. Many popular old reruns were made before the advent of HD and so will remain in standard definition.

Tom Butts, editor in chief of TV Technology, echoes the sentiment. While network television has realized “this is the future,” Butts said, it’s frustrating that local broadcast stations have failed to adopt HD just as quickly. Even so, the NYT claims it is the “fastest adoption of TV technology since the VCR hit store shelves in the 1980s.”

Will 3D and Google TV catch on as fast? “It’s hard to say, I don’t think 3D is going to be as ubiquitous as people think it’s going to be,” Butts said. Meanwhile, Google TV has the potential to thoroughly confuse the very definition of TV, he noted. “Ten years ago we were talking about how every website could conceivably be its own TV channel,” he said. TV is still fairly rigid, he noted. But there is everything on the Internet. “Any kind of programming is really going to alter the whole categorization. How do you define a program anymore?”

For that matter, how do you define TV anymore? These days television is more than just a box in the family room; it can mean what someone is watching on an iPhone, iPad or laptop. “In the end, it’s just video and audio,” Butts said. As the industry continues to adopt new technologies while merging with older ones, it looks as if television as we know it will be redefined.

— Katrina M. Mendolera

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