ARM, FXI want HDMI sticks to replace cable boxes (with browser-based software)

There are dozens of inexpensive HDMI sticks which you can plug into a TV to surf the web, stream internet video, or play games on your TV. But most of those sticks run Android software and come from companies you haven’t heard of.

But chip designerARM is working on a software platform that could mean that in a few years your cable company or phone company will deliver live and on-demand TV as well as other apps using a tiny device about the size of a USB flash drive.

FXI Cotton Candy

ARMDevices caught up with ARM at Mobile World Congress to talk about the project last month.

The idea is to focus on a browser-based user interface which delivers video and apps through HTML5. ARM is working with the FXI Technologies Cotton Candy PC-on-a-stick as a hardware prototype. It’s a small box with a Samsung Exynos 4210 dual core processor and support for Android and Linux.

ARM’s software platform for the stick is based on Ubuntu Linux with a Webkit-based web browser running on top. The user interface is rendered entirely in the browser, so users wouldn’t really be able to see the Ubuntu base unless they’re looking for it.

The idea is that TV service providers would be able to deliver content through web apps such as an electronic program guide, streaming video, and other content. Because the box has a low power processor, it can be powered entirely from a USB port on a TV.

It could be a few years before we see broadcasters or telecommunications companies adopt the platform — but it’s interesting to see that it’s not just Chinese device makers interested in delivering tiny ARM-based PCs designed to turn dumb televisions into smart televisions.

Interestingly one of the world’s largest TV makers is also adopting web-based technologies to bring online and interactive content to televisions. LG recently acquired webOS from HP. While webOS was originally designed as an operating system for phones and tablets, LG is expected to use it to power upcoming smart TV devices, bringing web apps to the big screen.