LAS VEGAS – Brace yourself for the dawn of a new consumer electronics era, one in which TV no longer defines itself. Evident in this year’s Consumer Electronics Show was the notion that mobile devices are beginning to redefine what TV must do next – in terms of apps, services and connectivity that hardware will need to accommodate.
Samsung made the strongest pitch for this approach at CES. Leveraging its position as the world’s top TV brand, No. 1 smartphone vendor and one of the strongest semiconductor manufacturers, the Korean giant is challenging developers to create “multi-screen apps” that take advantage of mobiles, tablets and smart TVs. Samsung’s goal is to break down the boundaries for content, apps and services among disparate devices.
If multi-screen apps are indeed the way of the future, then where is the CE industry’s next battle line?
According to Kumu Puri, a senior executive with Accenture’s Electronics & High-Tech Group, “The last battleground [for the CE industry] has already moved from TV to mobile.”
Last year’s CES will be remembered for the increasing role media tablets could play in the living room. But few predicted the extent of the changes tablets could bring to the traditional PC-vs.-TV debate.
Accenture found that 44 percent of tablet owners stream media content while 43 percent download applications at least once a week. More important, the same survey found that the share of consumers watching broadcast or cable TV in a typical week on televisions plummeted from 71 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2011.
Several semiconductor executives here opined on how mobile devices are becoming important in the future of TV. In an exclusive interview with EE Times, MediaTek President C.J. Hsieh stressed the significance of having a big play in both mobile and TV platforms. It’s true for chip companies and system vendors alike that survival in the consumer electronics market means “you have to play in both. Being a cross-platform gives you a significant advantage,” said Hsieh.
Broadcom, which exited the DTV business last fall but maintains a substantial presence in the set-top box market, is building its product strategy on the mantra: “Easy to share and connect.” At the company’s booth, every demo showed peer-to-peer connectivity (wireless or wired) among mobile devices, small set-tops and TV for sharing content.
Rafael Sotomayor, vice president of Broadcom’s mobile platform solutions group, acknowledged that the demos “may be a little on the rough side,” predicting that “mobile will influence a lot of features [in] TVs.”
Broadcom is pushing its first family of 802.11ac chips. The new wireless technology allows less video compression, resulting in much less latency (less than 50 milliseconds) and higher resolution, claimed Broadcom. The company is pushing the technology so that mobile device content move from small screens and get connected with a cross-platform, Wi-Fi display solution.
Questions remain, though. For example, what is needed to connect all these mobile devices and TVs? What would be the killer multi-screen app?
Consumers have already discovered they don’t really need to surf the Web on TV. They can do that on a tablet, while also stationed on the couch watching TV. Moreover, consumers already know they really don’t have to watch TV on the couch. They can stream video on a tablet and watch it in bed. Why bother streaming video content from PC, tablet or phone to the TV?
Those pushing Wi-Fi Direct and Wi-Fi display solutions like Sigma Design and Broadcom believe that a small access point or a set-top featuring Wi-Fi Direct, loaded with Netflix and other applications, would make such a streaming scenario much simpler, and more viable commercially.
It’s true, however, that there isn’t a single, simple step available now to make content-sharing happen among multiple screens.
Samsung can reasonably expect customers with its Galaxy phones, Galaxy Tab and Samsung large screen TV to be able to connect all three devices – just as Apple’s constituency believes in a cohesive Apple home environment.
But for most consumers with a host of different consumer devices – each on a different operating system, with divergent graphics and video capabilities – the new Wi-Fi Direct set top will be critical. It needs to be smart enough to do everything from de-interlacing (dealing with different resolutions of screens) to developing a new middleware to handle different operating systems. Sounds easy, but a smooth peer-to-peer connectivity experience among disparate mobile and consumer devices is still in development.
Others think that seeing tweets or instant chats pop up on their large-screen TV will redefine the TV. In fact, consumers are already sending SMS messages during sports events via their TV. That alone may not require a behavioral change among consumers. And that’s a good sign.
But would it be enough to make consumers go out and buy a new TV? Answering her own rhetorical question, Accenture’s Puri said, “I am not sure.”
Fifteen years ago, the CE industry was sweating over the PC’s potential invasion of the living room. The PC-vs.-TV battle drove technology agendas in both industries -- ranging from interfaces, video codecs, CPUs to operating systems, middleware, Java, and of course, emerging DTV standards.
Each side argued over arcane issues such as who would control the home and benefit from information super highway? Would it be a 500-channel cable set-top box, a TV with smarts or a PC?
As the debate raged, the Web exploded, sending the CE industry scrambling to develop a host of new devices ranging from Web TV to Internet-enabled TVs, living room PCs and cable set tops with the walled-garden Internet experience.
After several years of trial and error, the industry’s initial excitement over “Internet TV” slowly faded, finally yielding to a realization that TVs and PCs are fundamentally different. With the possible exception of Intel, nobody sees the PC as the heart of home entertainment. Over the last few years, though, Google TV has revived the notion of a more powerful, brainier TV, re-dubbed the “smart TV.” The “Connected TV” pitch was heard everywhere during CES 2012.
The consumer landscape has gotten more complicated, though, with smart phones and media tablets now in the mix of connected devices that now rival the TV for importance in the minds of consumers.
To be sure, TV companies without a big mobile presence are likely to struggle. TV vendors need a strategy, devising an effective way for consumers to connect, work and play effortlessly with a number of different mobile devices and TV.
At the end of the day, the marketing is shifting towards promoting an entire ecosystem that has the whole array of devices and electronics to enhance the consumer’s experience of content ingestion. There is no doubt that Apple has paved the way, and it is now up to the other companies to come up with their strategies for the long run.
Kevin - http://www.webmarketingfunnel.com
Junko: To me the goal is not to connect the individual devices to each other in a closed environment, such as a living room. The goal is to share the "cloud-based" system with each device, and allow each unit to synchronize with the other on a regular basis. From my perspective, this would seem to simplify the "connected home" concept. The goal would then be to a cloud-based central system easily accessible to all networked products.
For example, I use Google Mail for my email provider, and set it to synchronize at a regular basis so I have a mirror image of the emails and status between by laptop and smartphone.
In the case of content that is downloaded to an individual piece of equipment, the goal would be to allow all devices to access the same deliver system and have the same rights to view or download an already paid-for product.
Like Bert, I incorporated a PC into my main entertainment system, but even with a smart remote, it's cumbersome to jump from watching live or DVR'd cable TV to watching something on Windows Media Center, and making wireless sharing work from the media center PC to other devices in the house is just not something I want to try to tackle. It's just not worth the effort, considering most of the content I want to watch is sitting on a hard drive attached to the cable company's DVR box, and is robustly encrypted and not accessible by any other device.
In any case, engineers and tech-minded consumers might go for the PC-in-the-entertainment-center idea, but the masses never will. Those other boxes (Apple TV, etc.) are smaller, easier to use, etc., but they just don't do what consumers want them to do -- like wirelessly stream that episode of my favorite TV show that's sitting on that rented cable DVR box, because I want to watch it on my iPad in another room. I can run the iPad app and see if maybe that episode of that show is one of the shows that my cable company is allowed to stream to my iPad. It's not? Oh well, I guess I'll sit on the couch and watch it on the big screen...
There are quite a few dilemmas facing CE makers in how to approach this seamless content-sharing among devices.
For one, owners of high-value content still have a mostly unfavorable view of such sharing, which means either restrictions on usage or else extra baggage like encryption/decryption is required. My local cable company, for example, has an iPad app that allows streaming of TV shows directly from the internet to the iPad -- but only a limited number of shows from certain content owners, and only if my iPad is on my home WiFi network :(
Also, the notion that consumers will go for another set-top fox is a non-starter. Consumers do tolerate set-top boxes from their cable or satellite company, because that's the only way to connect to the 500 channel universe, which is still the majority of the content that people consume. For cable, the set-top box is something you rent and are at the mercy of the Big Two set-top box makers and whatever features they decide to include. It's not that much better for satellite set-top boxes, although at least in that case you own the box. But really, how many people are excited about going out and buying another set-top box to sit next to the one they already have to have?
After a lackluster launch and a reset, the future success of Google TV remains uncertain. Even Apple TV, which has a few million unit sales over several years, is by any measure a dismal failure -- certainly by Apple's usual standards -- 3 million new iPads in the first 72 hours! That's probably close to the lifetime sales of Apple TV boxes. How about Roku, Boxee and similar devices? Not exactly breaking any sales records either.
Junko, what I meant by "handicapping" is, the connected TV and connected BluRay players are set up to only access a small handful of web sites. Why?
Any PC can access the sites those "connected TVs" can see, and a whole world of other TV and radio sites too. Literally. As well as the social networking sites, and e-mail, and anything else people seem unable to live without. For that matter, stick a TV receiver card in the same PC, and it can also get all of the digital broadcast stations in your market area in glorious HD, and can be set up with PVR software to boot.
Okay, so maybe the PVR function involves too much hardware and software to economically build into TV sets. But what is so difficult about building an unhandicapped "thin client" directly into TV sets? De minimis, as lawyers like to say, all you need is enough flash memory to hold a web browser and the user's favorites. Why limit the sites a user can go to?
I'm typing this to you on my TV set, with the keyboard on my lap and the mouse on the couch next to me. And I just finished watching an episode of A Gifted Man on the same TV. And if I felt like it, I could also have ordered pizza. It's really not that complicated. Surely, the TV vendors can figure it out! So, why can't you do all of this on those "connected TVs"?
Excuse me now, while I play some music I wrote in QB64, to run on the same stereo/TV/PC setup.
i read through this interesting article waiting to see if the fact Samsung et al are obviously copying Apple's iOS Airplay/Screen Mirroring (via Apple TV). which already offer the wireless "multiple screen" experience, since last Fall. (Try the Bloomberg TV app, or the Real Racing HD app.)
but no ...
Samsung/Google et al will no doubt "emulate" Apple. including Voice UI too, btw. but at least give credit where due.
I don't think any CE vendors are deliberately handicapping their "connected TVs."
They want to have their TVs seamlessly connected.
But unless you can convince consumers to buy yet another box -- whether a set-top or IP router, mediating smoother and simpler communications between a TV and a plethora of mobile devices, it's hard to build a truly "connected" home.
Hi, Bert22306. Maybe something got lost in the translation... I never meant to imply in this story that the future only consists of trendy, short-lived handheld gadgets. But think about that. Most young adults today will not live a day without checking their mobile phones; they are becoming the center of the universe -- at least in their lives. So, if you are designing any new systems that do not take advantage of the mobile devices (with which consumers sleep, eat, work and play with 24 hours), you are in trouble. Your system needs to be effectively communicating with that mobile universe!
Bert22306: I agree. We are too enamored about gadgets and forget that "gadgets" are just that. And the commercial companies pushing this on us drains the intellect. Just as the financial community is looking for ROI on anything that makes money in the next three months, so do companies who need to keep pace. And the CE industry is notorious about finding extensions to many useless products. I can count on my fingers the number of companies that have a real impact in our lives; the rest are rehash specialists.
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