Internet TVs May Doom the Set-Top Box
Now that Sony has unveiled a series of HDTVs with built-in Google TV software, similar high-def sets from competing vendors are sure to follow. As you're probably aware, Google TV strives to meld the television and online worlds by acting as the ultimate TV Guide, allowing to you to search your television and the Web for video content that's often hard to find. It also comes with ready-to-use apps for online entertainment services such as Netflix and Pandora, as well as myriad other tools.
Sony's new Internet TVs, which range from $600 to $1,400, are the first HD televisions to incorporate Google TV, but other external hardware, including the new Logitech Revue set-top box ($300) and Sony Internet Blu-ray player ($400) feature it too.
The humble boob tube (well, sans "tube") is rapidly evolving into an Internet-ready, big-screen computer for the living room. Sony's Google TV-equipped sets are just the start of this evolution, of course. According to market researcher NPD Group, 31 percent of all flat-panel TVs 40 inches or larger are now networkable with Ethernet and/or Wi-Fi connections. Soon Internet connectivity will be a checklist item for TV buyers, and every HDTV, except perhaps for the cheapest models, will include it.
But what will become of today's set-top devices, including the Apple TV, Boxee Box, Logitech Revue, and Roku's trio of devices? These low-cost boxes stream Internet content to your living room TV, but their capabilities will soon be integrated into most televisions. Unless they can master a new bag of tricks, or offer content not available elsewhere, their lifespan will be brief.
To be fair, there's still a sizable market for set-top boxes when you consider the millions of non-Internet-ready HDTVs sold over the past five years. And as the popularity of Internet streaming rises, many cost-conscious consumers will snap up these boxes-or perhaps rely on Internet-ready Blu-ray players, DVRs, and game consoles-rather than upgrade to a pricey new HDTV.
Google TV looks promising, and odds are good it'll come preinstalled a variety of HDTVs. But even if it doesn't succeed, similar services would almost certainly take its place. As video entertainment moves online, consumers desperately need a way to find, filter, and organize a seemingly endless selection of Net-based content.