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Hollywood and Silicon Valley just don't get along. Aside from rare exceptions such as Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) CEO Steve Jobs, who parlayed his top spot at Pixar into a seat on the Disney (NYSE: DIS ) board, the 300 miles between San Jose and L.A. might as well be a continent. Firms that try to cross the chasm often do so at great risk -- but Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) is going for it anyway.
On Wednesday, the chipmaker announced a partnership with Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) to bring Web content to TVs. Yahoo! will contribute software development tools called widgets -- here's one for our Motley Fool CAPS stock-picking community. Intel, meanwhile, is working on technology that it calls "system on a chip." Translated, it's the collection of silicon circuitry that will be programmed to take instructions from Yahoo!'s widgetry, while broadcasting video on a screen. Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) , Sony, and Disney have all endorsed the idea.
Why WebTV was really TV Web
Anyone remember WebTV Networks, the company created by Diba and Zenith in the '90s that allowed users to surf the Web via their TV set? Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) acquired the firm in 1997 for $425 million. As innovative as it was, I never really warmed to the idea of transforming a TV into an oversized PC monitor. E-mail from your remote? Why?
I've got no idea. Yet WebTV still exists as MSN TV, and it's sold as a set-top box. But it's not a leader; TiVo rules the remote for those of us who still think of form factors -- laptops or desktops -- first when it comes to computing.
Microsoft knows this all too well. Mr. Softy's no longer actively pushing a Media Center PC, relying instead on the Xbox 360. It's a good move; the Xbox is a living-room device that easily plugs into broadband networks, and a deal with Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) allows for movies on demand. For all the talk of Apple winning the living room, Mr. Softy has a comprehensive, if flawed media center for sale right now.
Living on Web video
That's the secret, Intel and Yahoo!: Build a system that uses the Web to combine gaming, content, and video. Bring me my Netflix account. Let me watch season one of Heroes now, before the new season begins. Or, just as good, create a device that fetches NBC's online coverage of the Olympic Taekwondo tournament when I want it. (It's not on the tube, sadly.)
Too bad this doesn't seem to be what the duo has in mind. Not yet, at least. Yahoo!'s software, called Widget TV, is designed to access Web content such as photo albums stored in Flickr. That's nice, but it's not what I need. Flickr is best on my Mac, where I can browse, edit, and print the photos I like best.
The good news? Widget TV is an interface that software developers will utilize to write code for Intel's chips. This handshake between hardware and software could simplify the process of bringing the Web's best -- movies on demand, multiplayer games, and custom programming -- to life on the tube.
Let's hope so. We've already turned the channel on TV Web, a failure of the cultural chasm that separates Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Intel and Yahoo! needn't suffer the same fate; Web TV's time has finally come.
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