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CES: Hook up Internet TV without getting a new box

January 8, 2010 |  3:15 pm

ActiveVideo Chief Executive Jeff Miller, left, with senior vice president of marketing Edgar Villalpando. Credit: Mark Milian / Los Angeles Times
The Consumer Electronics Show this year is host to a slew of companies that want to connect your TV to the Internet. Most require buying new hardware (Boxee, Roku) or a brand new Net-enabled TV set.

Software like ActiveVideo and Dreamer tap into the hardware you probably already have, like a cable box or Blu-ray player, to connect your TV to the Web.

The San Jose-based ActiveVideo wasn't on the conference floor and instead elected to show off its innovative technology in a hotel living room. Cozy. Partnering with cable companies and ramping up talks with hardware manufacturers, the ActiveVideo software can run on virtually any cable box or Blu-ray player.

Although the software could use some design work, it's packed with useful widgets and streaming options including YouTube. It's also the first official implementation of Blockbuster's streaming service on the TV.

The cable box implementation is the most interesting and most prolific part of the company's business. The software is extremely lightweight -- it communicates with ActiveVideo's Web server and interprets remote control button presses (that's about it).

Along the lines of the Web app philosophy, all of the intensive work is done "in the cloud" on ActiveVideo's servers. The cable box is simply fed the content. It wouldn't work otherwise because cable boxes aren't powerful enough to decode video and run complicated software.

Another perk of living in the cloud is that software updates are only a matter of changing things on the company's end. No downloads necessary.

"Every time you do that [ask the user to install software updates], you're going to risk breaking the video-watching experience," said ActiveVideo Chief Executive Jeff Miller.

Through partnerships with cable providers, ActiveVideo is in 4 million U.S. homes and another million internationally. It's not yet available in Los Angeles, but Time Warner Cable has partnered with ActiveVideo in other cities.

The company just rolled out the service to Cablevision customers in New York. The process is simply flipped on by the cable company -- no user intervention required. But cable companies have expressed concerns about bandwidth consumption, which is also a factor in slow-to-roll-out video on-demand services.

If you can't wait for your cable company to get on board, Dreamer will sell a disc containing its software that you can pop into a PS3 or Blu-ray player. It's an open platform with a heavy emphasis on widgets -- music, video, concert apps, social network bridges. Its interface is practically a carbon copy of Apple's iPhone home screen.

While Dreamer offers a variety of long-form video options, general manager Perry Weinstein says much of it is designed for more active couch consumption.

-- Mark Milian