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Will that Bravia make me look fat?

Bravia_tv_1 I used to think that downloadable Hollywood movies would eventually drive consumers to find ways to connect their computers to their TVs in home entertainment networks. Several announcements at this week's Consumer Electronics Show, however, have me wondering whether user-generated content might be an equally important factor.

The most notable of these came from Sony, which will be offering an add-on module this summer for its Bravia line of high-definition TV sets that will link them directly to selected online video sites. The box hangs on the back of the set and plugs into a home network via Ethernet. The initial content lineup includes Sony Pictures movie trailers, Yahoo, Grouper (a user-generated video site that Sony bought last year) and AOL. The videos will be free, the add-on module less so (price TBA).

There are some obvious v. 1 issues, most notably the limited choice of video sources. Why not let customers go wherever they want online? After all, Internet-enabled TVs have been hard enough to sell without blinders. Some skeptics (read: Microsoft's IPTV crew) also ask why anyone would want to display user-generated Net videos, which tend to be short on pixels and production value, on a big-screen high-def TV. Sony tried to address this issue by designing its Internet Video Link to handle high-definition streams from the Net. That's more a future-proof feature than a current benefit, though; there's not much available online in HD, other than movie trailers and bootlegged TV shows. And until the business-model issues get worked out (and they will, once there are more Internet-connected HDTV sets and HD PC monitors), there's not much incentive for Web sites to swallow the bandwidth costs associated with high-def streams.

So, does anyone really want to watch Web videos on the TV? IMHO, the picture quality issue isn't as important as the entertainment-value issue. Something like Rocketboom won't look as good as CNN on TV, but it's not competing on that front. It's competing on the basis of its writing and imagination. I recently had half a dozen houseguests crowding around the 17" PC monitor in my kitchen, watching a funny YouTube video. It was such a great piece, people replayed it time and again. Still, that would have been a much better experience for everyone had we been in the living room, watching the video on TV -- low res or not.

Another thing to bear in mind: now that high-def has arrived in the TV, PC, video game and DVD markets, camcorders can't be far behind. Sony announced four more consumer-grade high-def video cameras at the show; within a few years, you'll see $500 high-def camcorders at Target. Web sites are going to start catering to that market, increasing the supply of user-generate HD video online.

By the way, it's not just TVs that are starting to tap directly into online video sites. There have been a bunch of announcements this week about a new generation of digital media adapter that can stream online content directly to a TV set; previous generations only streamed audio and video from computers in the home. One example: a new Netgear "digital media receiver" that can connect directly to YouTube and other online content sites.


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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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