It all started back in September 1996 when engineer Steve Perlman who once worked with Atari and Apple had an idea that would allow regular TV viewers like to access the Internet via the television set. He came up with the concept at a time where a mere 15% or less of Americans had internet access.
The device was manufactured by Sony and Phillips Magnavox but because it was not only expensive at $400 it was also as bulky as a VCR and users had to connect TV sets through the device and phone lines into the inbuilt dial-up modem; it wasn’t as well received as expected. But Microsoft believed in the vision and concept and bought out WebTV Networks for $425,000,000 and hoped to turn it all around.
Back then WebTV wasn’t as ideal as say watching directly from your normal conventional TV. 85% of Americans had never been on the Web and connections were slow and causing the videos to take a long time to download and watch. Watching TV as you normally would was a much more convenient setting than buying the expensive device.
Microsoft and WebTV however managed to monitor subscribers’ behaviors and patterns and found that most users faced the dilemma of either surfing the net or watching TV. By promoting that the device could complement the TV rather than a stand alone “appliance”; users could not only plug the device to their TV sets but to PC screens as well and thus bridging those two issues. Such a user was Ezra Englebrant; an Account Planner who lives with his girlfriend in the West End of Boston Massachusetts. He used to connect his television to the internet via his laptop by hard wiring the two.
But when Apple re-launched their revamped device and AppleTV it opened the doors for other devices and one of those which gained popularity was Roku – a brand that Engelbrandt was familiar with. After hinting to his girlfriend’s parents – he was given the Roku XDIS which boosted 1080p HD video display capabilities at a sweet price of $99 for Christmas that year. Since then it has been their daily ritual to watch DVRs or live streaming of videos through the device and they will never again miss any of their favorite programs.
Now 80% of Americans are connected to the web and 180million watch 70 hours of videos online. 70million of them have high speed broad band connections making watching videos online, downloading or live streaming easy that users are even tuning in at prime time hours when in the past. There are so many options to choose from as well for new age smart TVs as well beside WebTV such as Google TV, Boxee Bee in addition to Roku.
These are all amazing technological advances that have rapidly evolved from the device Engelbrant once had and Perlman once envision. Everyone can now enjoy endless entertainment just a remote control click away and so far at least 30% of US households have internet ready TV. Perlman and his brainchild have come a long way.