Set top boxes may get VLC for all-format TV playback

vlcFunding to port the popular VLC open source media player to set-top boxes could mean a lounge-room media player that actually supports all the media you want to play.

Media sharing enthusiasts got a huge truckload of hope backed up to the delivery dock this week when Neuros announced that it had, in effect, received sponsorship from Texas Instruments to port VLC (VideoLAN if we’re being formal) onto its Neuros platform, an open source set-top box. Neuros is very much a niche project, but the fact that TI, a major player in the STB market, is involved makes it likely that a mass-market box capable of playing back virtually all downloaded and streamed content could eventually hit the stands.

A set-top box that could play pretty much any existing media format would be a boon to people who (ahem) acquire their TV shows and movies from a variety of different sources, especially since additional codecs could be added over time as required. That’s great news for enthusiasts, but to be fair, those are the same enthusiasts who could already install VLC on a Mac Mini or a PS3 or a custom PC, given time, enthusiasm and a drive full of freshly-torrented televisual goodness.

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What’s unfortunately rather less likely is that any VLC-equipped set-top box will make its way into the Harvey Normans and Dick Smiths of this world and hence get really widesprea adoption (the strange PC shop round the corner in Granville is another story alogether). Indeed, given the slow speed with which Australians are adopting even basic digital TV boxes, the role of pay TV channels Foxtel and Austar will be crucial.

Foxtel will begin installing new IQ2 boxes for customers next week, but while these are presumed to include some content download capabilities, Foxtel isn’t talking about what features these will support. What it almost certainly won’t support is playing back a wide variety of codecs or viewing material online.

Austar has suggested in comments this week that it doesn’t mind so much if people access other content via its STB (getting some sort of subscription fee is the main game here, after all). According to the Australian, CEO John Porter remarked after the company’s annual meeting: “Philosophically, we’re not opposed to subscribers going to any website and downloading content – as long as they do it through our box.” But until it signs a new contract with TI, I wouldn’t hold your breath for VLC being the solution there either.