Convergence between the television and the home computer -- a holy grail of the digital age -- has largely eluded the industry, but the living-room screen is now emerging as a key battleground for software and Internet companies.
Improvements to the processors in TV sets are making it feasible to run Web applications on a TV without the need for a special set-top box, such as those offered by TiVo Inc. or Apple Inc.
While challenges remain, including technical issues and the reluctance of parts of the entertainment industry, companies are building chips and Web browsers for TVs, and others such as Yahoo Inc. and Adobe Systems Inc. are developing Web applications that can be accessed on a new generation of TV sets.
Adobe Systems is among those building Web applications that can be run on a new generation of TV sets.
"Five years ago people said they didn't want email on their phones, now everyone uses data," said Patrick Barry, a senior executive at Yahoo. "The television environment is going through the same transition."
Until recently, standard TV sets lacked the processing power for the Web, but manufacturers like Sony Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and Vizio Inc. are installing chips that can run more sophisticated computing tasks.
Vizio, for example, will have Wi-Fi enabled TV sets with screens measuring 42 inches or bigger on the market by November. These models will feature Web applications and a remote control with a full keyboard, starting at about $1,200.
Research firm iSuppli forecasts that the total number of Web-enabled sets will grow to between 88 million and 90 million world-wide by 2013, around 40% of the television market. There are around 90 models on the market that are Web-enabled, it says.
But there is little consensus about the type of Internet access users want on their TVs: Should it be a wide-open browser, like a PC, or more narrow Web services that resemble traditional television channels?
"We don't see the browser becoming the primary metaphor," said Anup Murarka, a strategist for Adobe Systems Inc. Mr. Murarka said consumers favor applications like video and social networking on the television, as opposed to text-based pages, and like some preselection of content.
Yahoo has developed Web applications called "widgets" that run in a ticker on the TV screen and can be expanded by pressing buttons on a remote control. Yahoo's widgets include versions of popular services such as Facebook, eBay and Twitter. One of Yahoo's ideas would have consumers buy these widgets in a TV storefront.
But others argue that TVs should have full Internet access. Palo Alto, Calif.-based Personal Web Systems Inc. is developing a browser tailor-made for the television set. Chief Executive Gordon Campbell believes consumers will chafe at having restrictions placed on the Web content they can get on a television.
Mr. Campbell, a former Intel Corp. executive, said several telecom operators are planning trials featuring his company's technology, scheduled to run next year, but declined to disclose their identities.
It's not clear whether consumers, long accustomed to the distinction between the "lean back" mode of television and the more engaged mode of the PC, will welcome the introduction of interactivity into the television.
Yankee Group analyst Carl Howe said TVs are still lacking is a compelling user interface for the Internet. "On the mobile phone it looked like it was never going to work until Apple's iPhone took off. That needs to happen with the TV," he said.
--Taken from Wall Street Journal