The end of STBs, or a new beginning?

It has become clear in recent months and especially at trade shows like IBC2008 and TelcoTV 2008, that traditional TV set-top boxes are on the way out. Maybe this sounds strange as we also talk about more households gaining STBs in order to address the DTV transition, but bear with us. If you take a gander at much of the news we have posted in just the last week, the trend is obvious.

--ABI Research predicted, in separate reports, that (1) the STB market will peak in 2012 and then decline; and (2) that carriers could become major over-the-top video players, which would require a much more integrated STB at the very least.

--There's current evolution toward sleeker STBs that might be hidden in back of TVs or elsewhere, which kind of renders the "ST" in "STB" meaningless.

--More TVs will include integrated Internet access, and more traditional STB functions are being pulled into the network.

--Consolidation in the STB market, which arguably began long ago when Cisco Systems acquired Scientific Atlanta, has been re-booted by Amino's acquisition of Tilgin's IPTV STB assets.

--New TV graphical user interfaces and media guides are already changing the way consumers interact with TV services, and will continue to do so.

--Boxes such as Entone's Janus "media hub" seek to replace multiple devices that currently fit the STB definition in one way or another.

So, does all this mean that the STB is dead? Not necessarily. The term certainly is under-going an extreme makeover, and some of the traditional STB functions may be moving elsewhere, but if the concept of media hubs catches on, we will basically see the rebirth of the STB as something with quite different capabilities, yet essentially occupying the same space and same fundamental role as it always has. Is there room for all of the new takes on the STB evolution--from Vudu, Roku, 2Wire, Sezmi, Entone and many more? Probably not, and some next-generation STBs will fail. Yet, the STB market itself is far from dead. It's actually looking pretty lively right now.