Where's Interactive TV?
Is tomorrow's technology ever coming home?
By Cliff Roth
For years now, consumers have been exposed to a vision of futuristic home connectivity through television. In the vision, they're able to bookmark a commercial, bet on whether the next play is a run or a pass, even vote in an election. All this and more from the proverbial easy chair.
But the phrase "Interactive TV" has become like a Rorschach pattern of advanced TV technology—it means different things to different people. Depending whom you ask, it's either a technology that's still waiting in the wings after literally decades of being hyped, or it is here today and becoming widespread thanks to Video On Demand services from cable TV, and video recorders like TiVo, Replay, and DVD-R units with built-in program guides.
So what exactly is ITV? Back in 1979, when the demo project QUBE, a two-way cable-TV system in Columbus, Ohio, was hyped on the nascent "Nightline" TV program as the future of democracy, ITV seemed to be all about instant public-opinion polling and "direct democracy." A quarter century later in 2004, the most common example of what ITV will bring (espoused at numerous trade shows and seminars): Ordering a local pizza delivery using the remote control of your TV set.
By that standard, ITV is still off in the future. Yes, there have been a few pizza delivery demo projects. Back in 2001, the OpenTV "middleware platform" (more on that later) created a highly publicized "ITV House" demo project in Half Moon Bay, Calif. Unfortunately, that demo project—which converted remote-control-entered pizza orders into printed faxes that would show up at the local pizzeria-was only available in a handful of homes. And when the local cable system got sold to another company, its ITV demo project got taken down.