The third screen approaches

The International Broadcasters Convention in Amsterdam this week produced much news relevant to broadcasters, but a different press release showed a step towards something important for developers… hardware Flash support integrated into a “System on a Chip” which manufacturers can use for different types of televisions.

Implications? Here are two paragraphs from the press release by NXP Semiconductors, a chip manufacturer and an Open Screen Project partner:

“NXP Semiconductors today unveiled a new family of highly integrated system-on-chip products enabling a complete range of high-performance solutions for mainstream HD DVRs and set-top box platforms in global satellite, cable and IPTV networks. Representing the world’s first fully integrated 45nm set-top box SoC platform incorporating multi-channel broadcast receivers, the NXP PNX847x/8x/9x delivers advanced broadcast decoding, media processing and graphics rendering technologies. This comprehensive feature set provides an optimized system that significantly reduces manufacturer bill-of-materials costs and power consumption and also ensures advanced picture quality for an improved home entertainment experience.

“Based on a powerful 1250DMIPS ARM Cortex-A9 Superscalar applications CPU architecture, the PNX847x/8x/9x delivers advanced system level performance for secure, multi-room DVR video streaming on home networks and for fast execution of Java-based STB middleware engines. . Combined with a rich set of hardware and DSP based content decoding resources, the ARM Cortex-A9 CPU’s internet software technology eco-system delivers industry leading performance for user interface environments based on Adobe Flash and web browser technologies. Dedicated hardare for flexible content format decoding along side ARM architecture optimizations for Javascript and Flash components ensures that the PNX847x/8x/9x can deliver the most responsive and robust user experience for on-line VOD and other content delivered via the internet.”

Timeline? They expect to provide device manufacturers with “sample quantities in Q4 2009”, so we’re still a ways off from having a sizable home audience. But groups like Intel, Broadcom, and Sigma Designs are also working on Flash/SoC integration too… seems a strong trend, like how flat screens eventually replaced cathode screens.

It may be too early to plan a business around Social TV, but it’s not too early to think of the social applications they’ll need. Some TV/connectivity contracts may end up being walled gardens, but the sheer diversity of chip manufacturers implies multiple business models, and I’m betting we’ll see open models emerge as well.

Bottom line? We already use workstations, and handhelds, and we’re getting closer to sitback screens too. Three screens, all expected to access those services we need, but all three accessing those services in different manners — work at a workstation, fast facts on the go, and notifications and networking while watching a movie.

(There’s a fourth screen too — ambient display screens accessed by personal mobile, such as interactive wallmaps at a transit station or message-boards at a convention. Flash is already well-established in environmental signage, and the screens themselves are prevalent in many public places these days, but I don’t know when we’ll make the social jump to accessing and interacting with ambient displays in public places.)

The notebook-only world of applications will still be useful. But just as with desktop publishing, or CD-ROM, or World Wide Web, or RIAs, the newer areas will grow faster than the old. You’ll still be able to design for a single screen, but the action will be in serving audiences across the different types of screens they own.

Just one small press release this week, one manufacturer disclosing chip and schedule details for the next generation of TV. But to me it seemed a significant marker. That third screen is finally becoming real.

More on NXP and Flash… more on Open Screen Project.

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