Some want set-top box killed

Verizon is the latest company to join a movement that wants the television set-top box eliminated.

The RVU Alliance is a non-profit group comprised of DirectTV, BroadCom, Samsung, Cisco and now Verizon. In a rapidly-changing media environment, you’d expect this kind of collaboration to be sinister, but it’s actually a pretty cool initiative.

RVU wants all set-top boxes replaced with one single server that feeds content to all home televisions, PCs and media players. Doing so would allow movies, music and television to be shared across any device in the home, with one common interface. It would even allow users to start watching a show on one television and then resume playback on another. For consumers, this also means less clutter in the entertainment center.

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The group, which formed in early August, wants to create standards that make this interconnectivity possible. While Broadcom’s and Cisco’s support, as providers of network solutions, is obvious, the inclusion of content service providers such as Verizon and DirectTV is crucial. (There is, of course, the ulterior motive of taking business away from TiVo and other third-party boxes, but the end results looks positive to me.)

My only concern is how these integrated units will play with online content, such as streaming video from Hulu and Netflix. If this initiative is just a way to keep more people hooked up to cable, it’s less attractive than a device that can pass all kinds of media around the house. I’d like to see the same support for Internet widgets that you currently get from a TiVo box.

Even then, RVA will likely face some strong opposition. For starters, a device that easily sends TV content to PCs and other devices seems to directly compete with TV Everywhere, an initiative by Time Warner and Comcast to stream subscription cable on computers. I can’t imagine that cable companies will abandon TV Everywhere just because a better idea has come along.

Then, there are the content providers — Hollywood studios and TV networks, specifically. So far, they’ve fought tooth-and-nail to control how consumers can watch movies and television. If RVA devices do include ways to watch Hulu and other Internet content, this push for a standardized media server could turn into a big mess.

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