Apple and Microsoft Back IPTV

IPTV is “Internet Protocol television”, and refers to video content delivered over a network instead of broadcast over terrestrial towers, satellites, or cable systems. The rapid growth of YouTube and the sale of network broadcast show episodes over iTunes demonstrate clearly that people are ready to start getting at least some of their entertainment video content over the Internet.

Microsoft and Apple have supported the concept for a while, but both publicly renewed their commitments in a big way. At CES in Las Vegas, Microsoft announced an upgrade to the XBox 360 game console so that it can access video content on the Web and display it on a television. It is based on software with the descriptive if not catchy title of “Microsoft TV IPTV Edition”. And at MacWorld, Steve Jobs unveiled “Apple TV” (the box formerly known as “iTV”) which combines video, still photo, and music storage on a 40 GB hard drive so it can act as an entertainment server. It also supports wireless networking connections. Apple has the distinct advantage with its plan to ship in February, while Microsoft is aiming at some time before the 2007 holiday season.

Add these to Sony’s CES announcement on Sunday about their new IPTV initiative, and you see the players with some big money starting to pay attention to the potential to what IPTV has to offer. We’re still a bit away from the point where selecting content from the Internet will be as easy as it is from broadcast sources, and there are still some quality of service issues to iron out, but we appear to be making rapid progress.