Here's a curly one for you: when is a new technology not a new technology? Or how about this one: when is a new media service widely available before it has actually been rolled out? Or the channel quandary: how do you market a technology that everyone knows about, but no one seems to understand? The answer to all these questions has something to do with IPTV, but that's about where the simplicity ends. IPTV is television services delivered through Internet protocols, either via the Web, or more exclusively through a LAN or WAN.
To a certain degree anyone who's logged onto YouTube, or BigPond movies, or watched a news webcast has used IPTV.
Pictures and sound via your computer, that's really all it is.
The complexity comes when people begin to discuss how it is actually going to be used, who's going to deliver the content and who's going to make any money out of it.
Free for all?
Some pundits, including managing director of consumer technology research group Connected Research Services, Graeme Philipson, envisage a media free for all.
"IPTV will provide massive business opportunities. As bandwidth grows, it will provide an alternative distribution medium to free-to-air and pay TV. The YouTube phenomenon will be repeated, but at high resolution. YouTube, remember, is still less than five years old, and is now used for applications like company training and advertising as well as amateur videos," Philipson said. "IPTV, combined with the sort of bandwidth we will see within a few years, will mean that any organization and any individual can become a TV station."
In fact, a kind of digital production explosion akin to the website explosion witnessed during the early years of the Internet may well be on the cards.
Like Philipson, broadband group product manager for Ericsson Australia and New Zealand, Colin Goodwin, suggested IPTV will provide room for traditional and emerging broadcast models.
"There are opportunities to support the existing broadcast models [from today's "free-to-air" advertising based and subscription-based "pay-TV" models] to more innovative approaches with real-time, streamed or downloaded on-demand services, and 'prod-sumer' models where viewers become producers and distributors of their own content," Goodwin said. "Instead of a limited number of video distributors channelling exclusive content, there is the potential for many more players and a greater variety of services."
That's the Holy Grail, the long-term goal technologists are striving for.
Paving the way
And the hardware vendors have certainly thrown their support behind digital media consumption. Intel has long been championing media and Internet convergence, coming to market in January 2006 with the Viiv platform designed to enable consumers to download video information from the Internet in their own lounges.
Designed to manage digital entertainment in the home, the Viiv technology platform is also able to support high-definition video, surround sound and all the other bits and pieces that make for a cinema-like experience at home.
In February 2006, Toshiba also came to market with a media rich offering including the HD DVD standard, retail support and a range of new convergent products, including MP3 players, projectors and a high-definition entertainment Qosmio laptop.
In June this year, Microsoft released an updated version of its Mediaroom software, designed to be integrated into set-top boxes. The software is designed to combine the capacity to access digital music, data, photo and video files, either locally or through a networked connection.
More recently, networking vendor, Allied Telesis, formed a collaborative agreement with IBM to turn Cisco networking infrastructure into commercial IPTV systems for carriers.
If all goes according to plan, the consortium will roll out complete multi-channel High-Defi nition platforms to provide on-demand video service and interactive television broadcasts via the Internet within 12 months.
And earlier this month, Juniper Networks came to market with the E120 Broadband Services Router (BSR) designed to enable servers to better control and deliver advertising via IPTV streams.
So it would seem the building blocks are all in place, but digital media consumers remain few and far between, and IPTV viewers, well, virtually non-existent. Australians like having Internet in the study and television in the lounge, and as yet have little interest, and scant encouragement, to connect the two.