X86 has one more chance in the race toward the living room and it starts now. Behold, the only platform with the roadmap to bring the vision of virtual reality into the present. Or transform the television into an entertainment platform. The upcoming AMD Phenom II X6 processor and its progeny may well find its way into your living room - through an inevitable cascade in living room applications. I am a biased insider, so take caution as you consume what lies below.
The buzz for 3D television is a mental smokescreen, the future is revealed when it is combined with a 3D interface and a powerful visual computing engine. Natal for the PC is the other half of the tipping point for the virtual experience. The XBOX 360 is too stoggy a platform for virtual reality and social simulation. The PC will be the innovation hotbed, and the innovation in virtual experiences is going to be mindbending. Today’s consols will start to show their age as Natal and superior PC 3D capabilities raise the bar and force consols to start to make compromises. You know of what i speak. 720P instead of 1080p. Lower frame rates. You will wish it were easier to overclock your console. Fortunately for the PC – not a problem.
Just as Boxee, an innovative seed for video consumption, finds adoption on the PC, so will virtual experience applications fueled by the full body interface of Natal and it will catapult the massively multiplayer virtual experience. Natal is the wrong interface for shooters but the right one for second, third, and fourth lives. Don’t worry, no one else believs that the PC running Natal is going to change the world. Or that Natal is going to change the PC. Yet I believe that the demands of full virtual environments, 3D display, and an intelligent full motion interface will define a new role for the high end PC – in the living room.
Mass integration of web video access in televisions is cute but doesn’t change the game. However, the rules change when every TV has integrated video access, video playback, and god-knows-what applications on it running on an industry standard platform (x86+Google/MS) that allows the media engine and applications to be updated. Today’s STB’s are bricks that fail to deliver new format support and evolved capability. From the cable guys, Uverse is one of the few to break the mold but the platform innovation beyond video delivery remains minimal. The iPhone is the analogue transforming the cell phone into our intelligent travelling companion. The same phenominon is happening in living rooms everywhere as people transform their screen into dynamic entertainment platforms, either by piecing together a home theater PC experience or though one of the more capable, platform-esque, but still limited set top boxes – Popcorn Hour comes to mind.
The deciding factor is not the will of content owners to direct content through profitable pipes (cable) rather the unruly web and unruly end-customers who are tired of paying for “access.” Access services like cable create waste, as it forces consumers to pay for availability rather than content. When the market moves, in mass, to paying only for the content it wants (analogous to paying for singles rather than albums, or paying a low flat rate for access to ALL content) there will be the great video content apocalypse. Money will move out of cable and out of content development. That’s fine, there’s too much content, too much competition to build and market content as Mark said in the keynote. The solution is not cable. The solution the market will choose is direct, on demand internet access to video. The consequences are less (rapid growth in) high-budget content, a shift toward monetization of bandwidth, a new social contract with content makers (the music tax), and other preposterous changes forced, not asked for, by the slippery slope of web-direct content. The transformation will be complete by 2015. I also suggest checking out the Mark Cuban (Broadcast.com founder) and Avner Ronen (Boxee founder) slugfest, debating the future of television, watch the video or read about it here.
And I do not need to talk about 3D television. It comes. What will make it compelling is interactivity. That interactivity, high definition display, real-time 3D simulation, and oustanding 3D graphics are the design goal and target of only one industry, the PC industry, and it will bind the PC and the TV together at last. Not every solution will have high-end compute, but the bar is going to be substantially above where it is for today’s entry-level dedicated PC’s.
Why is video telephony a service not provided by cable companies? As soon as the TV and an open software platform come to the TV the shackles of innovation will be broken and the hold of access providers who wish to monetize all uses will be undone. The social, video web will replace it. A webcam on your PC is cute. A webcam on your TV pushes the obscurity of video based social media into every home. It may help to stratify the television space, creating premium tiers as virtual presence and the visual social web will require additional compute and consumer expertise, enabling a market for premium compute in mainstream televisions.
Together we have the new uses of the living room television driving the innovations “that in 10 years I can argue is old news just like we argue about internet video today.” Virtual reality will come to the living room and rekindle X86 as it will demand compute we do not yet have. Overclockers will once again rejoice as benchmarks that reflect real uses yet pose impossible challenges come to be. The Television will become an application platform, just as important as the smart phone but with much more bandwidth and a new kinship with every other connected device. These will help the social web extend to all screens enabled by applications and video, creating new rules for the social web and the way content is produced and distributed through increasingly social networks. The fact that Facebook is now a top destination has implications not just for the social web, but for how content is marketed, distributed, and ultimately consumed. The platformization of the television and the new applications for the living room will create demand and a viable ecosystem for high computational capability and diverse applications. And if you doubt that anyone wants their television to turn into a broad scope computing device, look down at your cell phone.
Note: This blog has been revised for a lot of good reasons.
Simon Solotko works for AMD but his views and unconvential view of the future are truly his own.