By Michael V. Copeland
May 21, 2010

The question in the aftermath of Google’s smart TV announcement is, who wants one? Especially since over the last decade, mating the PC to a television has resulted in an unholy alliance that primarily sent people running from their favorite gadget store. Remember WebTV (now the lackluster MSNTV)? Or all those media centers that every PC manufacturer was flogging? Youch.

Paul Otellini, CEO of Intel (INTC) certainly does. The largest maker of microprocessors in the world was involved in all those rather disappointing technological forays, providing chips to all comers. Intel is back inside what Sony is calling its Internet television, as well as forthcoming BluRay players from Sony (SNE), and boxes from Logitech (LOGI). You can bet there will be many more devices from many more players in the near-term. But this time, Otellini says, the Web/TV, TV/Web mashup is liable to work – for consumers, for software and hardware makers, and certainly for Intel.

“What we found in the late ‘90s when we last tried this, was that when people wanted Internet content they were going to their computers, and when they wanted broadcast content they were going to their television,” Otellini says.  “But you have to remember this was a decade ago, YouTube didn’t exist, Hulu didn’t exist. It was a much more static environment.”

Otellini’s point is that content is now flooding the Internet, whether it’s video, music, photos or a five-way chat with your buddies. And behavior has also changed. A decade ago you weren’t (or your kids weren’t) sitting on the couch with a laptop or smartphone chatting with your friends while watching the latest episode of “American Idol,” or “Lost,” and taking a quick peek at the box scores from the Oakland A’s game.

That kind of behavior, coupled with low-cost, high-performance microprocessors like the version of Atom (Sodaville for those keeping track) that is powering these first Google TV gadgets, is a massive opportunity for Intel to put computing muscle everywhere, Otellini says. “Ultimately every electronic device is going to connect to the Internet in some fashion or another,” he says. “Whether it is machine-to-machine, which is what is happening for a lot of the sensor networks for smart-grids, or in your car and now your television. Adding the Internet capability adds a level of utility, information and safety – in the case of your car  – that wasn’t there before.  That is an opportunity to sell microprocessors tailored for all of these kinds of devices.”

Otellini wouldn’t put a dollar figure on opportunity, but he points out the number the Google (GOOG) guys cited – 4 billion televisions worldwide. “At some point in time it’s conceivable that all televisions will have access to the Internet,” Otellini says. The near-term action for Intel will be in set-top boxes and DVD players that bring the Google TV platform to that sweet HD television you already own. “It will take some time as people refresh their televisions,” Otellini says,  “but the opportunity is really quite large.”

Bringing Intel’s muscle, not to mention Google’s and the other partners in this newest iteration of “smart” televisions may also change the way the consumer electronics world functions. “Moore’s law is changing the pace here,” Otellini says. “Typically it took you two years to design a television, and then you would run them for four or five years. In the PC world, computers have new features every six months…what you are going to see happen is the beat rate, the cycle rate of the consumer electronics industry will approach that of the PC industry, which is much faster, much cheaper to get new technology to consumers.”

So, when Sony starts selling their Internet TV in the fall, who is going to rush out to get them? It will be the usual early-adopter crowd, the folks who view it more as a Web/TV device than the reverse: a TV/Web device But Otellini is probably right, eventually it won’t just be the propeller heads with their connected televisions, it will be all of us. The distinction of what a television does and how it interacts with their rest of our digital lives will blur. We won’t think about it, we’ll just come to expect that any screen we happen to be in front of will call up whatever digital goodies we desire. And if it also shows World Cup football in HD, so much the better.

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