Beware the device glut

The week after the Consumer Electronics Show may seem like a strange time to rail against the multiplying multitudes of CE devices flooding the market and the consumer imagination--or maybe it's the perfect time. In any case, I do not wish to be a "Buzz Killington" when it comes to the future of home entertainment devices in particular, but the increasingly crowded and complex consumer electronic devices environment is something that providers of advanced TV services need to be wary of, lest their own customers start drowning in it.

Web-connected TVs; 3D TVs; Blu-ray players; hybrid set-top boxes; gaming platforms that double as STBs or STB extensions; home gateways and other home networking devices using different connectivity technologies; HD DVRS, some of which require CableCARD--these are just some of the devices that are, with good reason, creating huge hype about the future of home entertainment.

It does not fall solely to TV service providers, such as telco TV operators, to make sense of that environment for the viewing public (that is supposedly why Best Buy is around, right?), but helping their own customers navigate and make decisions about these devices should be seen by TV service providers as both an opportunity and responsibility.

So, when it becomes clear, for example, that the Xbox 360 will be available as an STB or STB extension on AT&T's U-verse TV service, AT&T should come out with clear information about pricing, applications and deployment scenarios--what it means for customers who already have U-verse STBs and Xboxes in their homes, and what it means for those who don't. So far, any news of AT&T's plans for the Xbox (not that there have been many details) have largely come from the mouth of Microsoft (no, that is not my nickname for Steve Ballmer).

Perhaps AT&T is testing the reaction to the offering before it steps in with more details. Fair enough. But, as home entertainment devices of various kinds continue to pile up, consumer indecision may do the same. It might help if service providers clarify which devices they recommend to use with their services. That is no small challenge in itself, because the device glut probably is intimidating for service providers to sort out, too. However, the company that comes forth to confidently explain what it all means and which devices are best for their customers could have much to gain. -Dan

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