What's so special about Pioneer's SyncTV?

SyncTV is a new internet TV service from plasma TV maker Pioneer

Monday saw the private beta launch of SyncTV, a new web-based TV service from plasma TV maker Pioneer. We caught up with SyncTV president John Gildred to find out more about what's on offer:

How does SyncTV differ from other web-based TV services like Joost and Miro, which both offer internet TV content for free?

There are some important differences. SyncTV provides a home-theater experience, so all the TV shows will be available with the quality as good or better than the same content on DVD.

Also, SyncTV has been created so that it can be integrated into other devices. So when you start seeing portable players, in-car players and even TVs with SyncTV include. People will then understand and appreciate the flexible playback model, where you can easily share your content between a variety of devices.

How confident are you that you can sign up TV networks in the US and UK to offer programme content? What deals have you inked already?

We have done deals with four companies so far, Showtime, Nelvana, DMGI and Geneon. We are very confident that there will be more deals to announce with major broadcasters before too long.

How does the pricing model ($2-$4 per channel / download) work? What's the maximum / minimum potential viewers can spend? Do they OWN they content they buy?

There will be no minimum spend for viewers. If customers only want to subscribe to a single TV channel for $2 that is fine. Because this is an a la carte service, so you only subscribe to the channels you love. 'Leasing' is probably a good term for the content. The content is yours for as long as you subscribe to the channel. You still have the option of purchasing content outright, in which case you keep it forever.

How compelling do you think the inclusion of the Marlin digital rights management system will be to broadcasters? Many UK broadcasters already use Windows Media DRM for catch-up TV services

We chose Marlin DRM because it is a robust, open-standards based system which has widespread backing across the Consumer Electronics industry.

And secondly, because of that, it means that SyncTV will work with a wider selection of hardware and software than if we used a proprietary DRM system. The drawback of Windows DRM is that it does not allow you much flexibility, so there is no potential for playback over a number of devices, as with Marlin.

The Marlin DRM is expected to appear in consumer electronic devices from next year. What kind of devices will we see? Pioneer plasma TV and Blu-ray recorders? Entertainment PCs? Mobile phones ?

That's possibly a question for Marlin directly. Suffice to say that we expect some great devices to include SyncTV players from next year.

Why won't SyncTV work with the iPod or iPhone? Given that Apple has 85 per cent of the portable market in the US, aren't you deliberately excluding a massive chunk of your potential audience?

Support for the iPod/iPhone is not out of the question. If Apple makes its devices sufficiently open to third party applications and services, then a SyncTV player on an Apple device could happen.

SyncTV is an open-standards play - we will publish all our open-standard protocols and data formats, so if someone is keen to play SyncTV on other devices, we would like to help them to create a player and make it happen. As far as where else it will work, support on almost any device is possible. We will see how that develops over time.

It does seem however that hacking has become one of the inevitable things in life along with death and taxes. That is something that we will have to deal with now and in the future.

Why include DRM in SyncTV at all? Why not follow the industry trend and scrap it?

Firstly, from the consumer's perspective, DRM will not be an issue, as the options you have with the service are extremely flexible. Customers can specify up to five 'home' devices to play back TV shows on, as well as up to ten portable devices.

Secondly it would be challenging in the extreme to persuade broadcasters to sign up to a low-cost, DRM-free, unlimited download service.

What plans do you have for SyncTV now and in the future?

The immediate plans we have for SyncTV cover two major areas. First of all, we intend to build out the content, so that our library of content is as rich as possible. And secondly we will be working hard with hardware manufacturers to get our software into their devices.

Do I think internet delivery is the future for TV? Well, ever since the Internet became part of our lives I have thought that it had the potential to be an extremely important medium for distributing TV content. Our intention is not to replace satellite, cable or terrestrial TV broadcasters. We believe that SyncTV will be a great complementary service.