Microsoft has officially blessed IPTV by announcing that the next XBox revision would be able to act as an IPTV set top box. Content will be provided by certain broadband providers like AT&T and BellSouth. If this sounds like a marriage made in heck, it probably is. The most likely reason Microsoft has made this announcement is to try to counter the buzz that will likely emerge on Tuesday (January 9th) when Apple announces its own set top box. Apple provided a peek at this device months ago, and some analysts think it may make its debut tomorrow at the start of the annual MacWorld Conference. Others think it may not show up for a couple of months.
There are two things worth noting in these new product announcements. The first is that the industry is moving quickly toward IPTV using an HD format, meaning that if you want to watch anything, you will need an excellent broadband connection. You can't squeeze even a single channel of HD TV over today's DSL and cable modem systems without seriously degrading the image quality.
The second thing is the evolution of TV and the ongoing fight between the computer as TV and the TV as computer. Microsoft's model does not make much sense (the company sees the computer as the TV) because it means you have to have a very expensive box next to the TV. Does it really make sense to put an XBox costing $400-$500 next to every TV in the house? Apple's model is less expensive and should be much less confusing to use and to manage. You can have one computer, located anywhere in the house, that stores and manages video programming (using iTunes), and you can send the video program anywhere in the home using a cheap Apple set top box.
The cable companies and IP TV providers are also crafting solutions, but the cheap set top box is likely to win this war.