The television has evolved exponentially in the last 10 years. After 40 years of almost no development (color was the last great evolutionary leap and that was in the 60s) we have seen the development of High Definition, flat panel, DVR and 3-D TVs. Netflix and Comcast Xfinity TV deliver movies and TV shows directly to the set on demand. Hulu offers vintage and new TV shows over the internet and now Google has made a home theater component that connects to the home network and feeds web-streaming video to the High Def TV. But with all the advances and new technologies, the model still is dependent on content providers delivering the shows.
The networks still broadcast their channels over the air, but most viewers get their signals from broadband providers like cable, satellite and AT&T. TV has long been a passive experience; viewers simply sit and watch that which is displayed on the set. The only semblance of control was the ability to change the channels. But even then, you could only chose between those programs that were airing at the time. Now most broadband cable companies offer On Demand—the ability to order great varieties of content when you want to see it, on your schedule.
This technology requires one thing: a box. No matter how feature laden your TV may be, you have to have a set-top box to provide the content. Most companies charge a monthly fee to use the box. Of course, the FCC mandated that operators provide the content to user owned equipment, but that requires a cable card—a device that validates your cable subscription with the service. TV manufacturers hate cable cards. They require that the manufacturer build their set to an industry specification and that takes the control away from the company.
But there is a new glimmer of hope for TV viewing: the Ceton InfiniTV 4. This device can turn a computer into a 4-tuner HD PVR, thus eliminating the need for a set-top box from a service provider. Ceton has no problem making their tuner card work with cable cards, which they do quite well. The card is inserted into a compatible personal computer with a PCIe slot which is then connected to your HDTV via HDMI (for optimum viewing).
The InfiniTV 4 uses Windows Media Center for Windows 7 as a program guide and viewing program. The WMC offers full DVR functionality for all four tuners simultaneously as well as allowing any other TV that has an Xbox360 to watch them, too. That means those other TVs no longer need a cable box or DVR of their own, once they have been paired as extenders into the home theater PC.
A home network is a given, obviously. The HTPC needs to be fully networked for windows to take advantage of the guide downloads, and without a network the extenders cannot communicate with the TV tuners. A wireless N or Gigabit network is recommended.
In fact, using the Windows Live “To The Cloud” feature, you can access your HTPC and watch your DVR recordings on remote computers away from home, too. Most TV viewers will probably not adopt watching TV on a computer, even one hooked up to a big screen HDTV, but look for this technology to filter down to dedicated boxes that combine all services with a media center application. But for those early adopters, the home theater PC will be the model for TV viewing in the future.
Again, watching TV is a passive experience and it probably will always be, but what this new technology is offering is the ability to watch your favorite shows when and wherever you are.