One of the big themes at CES 2006 was IPTV. Digital TV transmissions already take digitized image data and send it out as packets, so it’s a small step to apply the Internet Protocol — IP — to the process so that you can use standard Internet and network transmission systems to move programming from somewhere to your screen, whether it’s from a server that the “broadcaster” runs, or from your own hard disk storage. IPTV clearly means different things to different people, but it boils down to doing for “television” what the iPod and MP3 players have done for music; watch what you want, when you want, where you want.
We have a lot of ground to cover to make this possibility a reality, but CES was filled with companies making great strides in many areas. One important area is wireless transmission of HDTV over normal networks. Ask most people in the industry about doing this, and the common wisdom is “It can’t be done.” But it can. I saw it.
One company that has a system to transmit HDTV signals using a standard WiFi (802.11g) network is a new company name Ruckus Wireless. They had a demonstration system that sent HDTV images without any noticeable degradation or flaws. They also had another system set up that was “broadcasting” three standard definition digital TV programs over a single connection, and you could rapidly change from one to another. This means that one wireless system could deliver three different content streams at the same time. Talk about being able to deliver domestic tranquility! Each kid in the house can watch his or her own choice of movie or cartoon at the same time over the same connection.
Wireless IPTV in the home means that you don’t have to rewire the house to deliver programming to a room. It doesn’t even mean that you have to sit still while watching a program. And using standard WiFi means that you can use a notebook computer as a portable TV screen. Ruckus doesn’t intend to sell directly to consumers, but rather will sell through television services such as cable companies.
As I’ve said before, we can’t imagine the complete impact that IPTV could have on our viewing habits, entertainment and information content production, and even social interaction. But as I see demonstrations by companies such as Ruckus, I’m growing more and more convinced that we’re going to get the chance to find out.