The folks at DivX and D-Link recently loaned me two pieces of hardware to help bridge the gap between the Internet and my TV set: a DivX Connected box and a pair of powerline adapters to turn my electrical wires into a branch of my home network. All the gear worked well and was surprisingly easy to set up (especially the powerline adapters, which were literally plug-and-play -- a first for any networking gear I've used). Yet as much as I enjoyed using the DivX device, it reminded me that closing the PC-TV gap isn't as simple as hooking up a smart set-top box. It's about finding a way to make computers and websites speak TV.
The current generation of DivX Connected devices are designed to connect to server software on a home PC. The boxes can't drawing content directly from the Web without a PC's help, although that's a possible feature down the road, CEO Kevin Hell said in a recent interview. Significantly, the DivX Connected devices can display video streamed from the Web (with the PC caching and relaying the content), in addition to images, music, video and some applications stored on the PC's hard drive.
The box I used could tap into but one source of streaming video: DivX's Stage6 site, which the company shut down abruptly last month. (DivX didn't offer much of an explanation, so TechCrunch's Michael Arrington provided a more complete one.) The streaming lineup is due to expand soon, though, thanks to deals DivX has signed deals to bring in selected content from Jaman, Vuze and Veoh to DivX Connected boxes. Unfortunately, the Veoh deal doesn't include the full-length TV shows Veoh carries from Hulu -- at least not initially.
The box's video quality was impressive. Actually finding a video to watch, on the other hand, was an exercise in tedium. Unlike the Stage6 website, the version on DivX Connected provided no way to search for a particular program. Nor were there any meaningful indexes to help narrow down the choices. Instead, I had to scroll from folder to folder, opening them one at a time and peering in to see if there was anything of interest. That kind of UI is typical for a digital media adapter, yet it doesn't come close to reaching the usability standard set by TV program guides.
Solving this problem will be no mean feat. To create useful program indexes, developers will need better metadata about programs, particularly those posted by users. And coming up with an easy-to-use search function that doesn't require a keyboard means rethinking the remote control. I don't mean to dismiss how much progress DivX has made in closing the PC-TV gap. The company deserves credit for making it so easy to connect a TV to a home network and to discover and display content stored on a PC. I'm just saying that there's a lot more work to be done.