The Gamer's Solution

Orb Networks' software gives the tube Internet-like flexibility

Forget the powerful companies that are pouring money into new ways to bring TV into the Internet Age. Some video gamers have figured out their own solution. Using features pre-installed in their game consoles, they call up software from Orb Networks that lets them view Web sites, YouTube (GOOG ) videos, or digital music collections on big-screen TVs.

Don't try this at home if you aren't a real techie. Orb's controls and setup are plenty complicated. That explains why fewer than 100,000 people use their consoles this way, according to Orb's estimates. Still, the phenomenon shows one possible route TV viewing might take, assuming the mechanics are made simpler. Rather than subscribe to Net-based entertainment services now being cooked up by phone and cable companies, TV watchers would simply grab their media themselves.

Orb's so-called place-shifting software has several things going for it. It handles many of the behind-the-scenes technology conversions that must take place for a show to be watched on all manner of Net-connected devices—cell phones, TV set-top boxes, someday cars. Once you've downloaded Orb's software onto your PC, you tell it which files and online content you would like to have available on your various devices. Next time you log in to Orb, it's there waiting—including the latest feeds from your favorite bloggers or news sites.

Click on, say, a home video of your kid's school play, and Orb's software is supposed to make the adjustments so it appears, whether the destination is a smartphone with a 2.5-inch screen and Wi-Fi connection or a 50-inch plasma with a superfast cable modem. In the future, when TVs have built-in Net connections, users might be able to sort through digital media right on the big screen. No need to monkey with game consoles or PCs.

This approach could give TV watching Web-like flexibility. Already, Orb can pull up shows that aren't available locally. Eugene Saburi, a tech executive in Tokyo, used the software last year so his Japanese-born mother back in Seattle could see her favorite shows while recuperating from cancer.

There are many obstacles besides Orb's still-clunky technology. Cable networks may cry foul, since users get around regional program restrictions. And since Orb gives away its software, it eventually wants to run advertisements. Orb CEO Joe Costello is counting on users to understand the power of the idea: "This is all about what digital media do I want to consume, on what screen."

By Peter Burrows

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