Looking to the Future: Smart TV? I Don't Think So

By Peter Aylett, Archimedia Middle East. I have never liked the 'smart' in smart home. Consumers see the phrase as meaning that the TV they buy has access to more than just the off-air channels, or that they can operate something in their home from a phone. As an industry, we see the phrase as meaning that we give the users of a space an enhanced experience by intelligently integrating technology into the home and into users' lifestyles. I don't know about you, but I rarely adjust the heating in my house, change a lighting scene when I'm in a room or view a CCTV camera, but I do watch way too much TV for my own good and here is where 'smart' falls down to being downright stupid. Yes, with one button press my TV switches on and goes to the correct input, my A/V processor switches on and goes to the right input, my active speakers switch on and I have a preset volume set on the system. Is that smart? No, it's just a macro and the beginning of the stupidity. Now I have to choose what I want to watch. Except we don't do we? All this technology and smartness and we still do not have the ability to choose content, but only to choose a source and THEN browse the content that is on it. Content Fragmentation I am talking here about the recent increases in content fragmentation caused by all the new IP (Internet) delivered content that is now available from an increasing number of disparate service and hardware providers who are all fighting for control of our living rooms and viewing habits. [caption id="attachment_5298" align="aligncenter" width="400"] IP-delivered content is now available from an increasing number of service and hardware providers.[/caption] Recent hardware announcements have included Google's Chromecast and Amazon's fireTV. Recent content announcements include more Netflix original content; Microsoft being expected to launch two sci-fi series - Halo and Humans - on its Xbox Live service; and Sony developing Powers, a detective series investigating people with superhuman abilities, for the PlayStation Network. Even Yahoo is set to get in on the act. Netflix is going after recurring revenue with subscriptions, but the main difference between it and the others just mentioned is that Netflix is largely platform-agnostic, having plugins and apps to work on many TVs and network players. Microsoft and Sony however, are protective of their ecosystem - they want you to buy their hardware and subsequently lots of insanely profitable (to them) games for that platform. So, not only do we have serious input-bloat on that A/V processor if we have to plug in so many different boxes to get access to all of this content, but we also leave our customers in a greater sense of confusion as to what content is available on which platform. Smart? I don't think so. [caption id="attachment_5297" align="aligncenter" width="600"] How will our customers be clear about what is available on which platform?[/caption] Search is the Next Frontier There is a huge gap in the market for a company to come along and create an all-encompassing EPG (Electronic Programming Guide) that embraces every platform. If this had an open API (Application Programming Interface), it could revolutionise the operation of our systems. Rather than selecting a source, the customer would search for content on some sort of user interface. A control system would then turn on and route the correct source for that content to the A/V system whilst simultaneously selecting and playing the selected content. Now, that would be smart, and a service that I could see many people being willing to pay for in this increasingly fragmented media delivery world. This includes music services as well as video ones. Even on a 'smart' and integrated platform such as AppleTV, there is no search across all of the content providers resident on it. I have encountered many films that Apple wants to charge me for, yet Netflix allows me to stream for 'free'. This is an example of why I fear, that whilst a skateboarding 16-year-old genius from Ukraine could probably create the code for this to work, the commercial and legal realities of content providers being unwilling to share the data might make it difficult. Not impossible, just difficult. Quality is Important As for that Smart TV, in the 4K world we are about to enter, the first question I would ask a salesperson is 'Does it support the H265/HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) codec?' This will allow the TV to stream 4K content from providers such as Netflix who are likely to be first to market with platform-agnostic 4K content. I suspect that the next generation AppleTV will boast HEVC capability and will open up Netflix 4K content to many existing 4K-capable systems (don't forget the current HDMI limitations as discussed by David Meyer in his HD and Beyond column for HiddenWires over the recent months). [caption id="attachment_5299" align="aligncenter" width="615"] Graph showing how video compression capabilities have increased over the past decade.[/caption] This leads to another side of the search question. The result that is brought up by the search engine should be the highest possible quality content that is available with the customer's hardware and service providers' accounts. For popular content, it is likely that it will be available across multiple providers. To be 'smart', the system should only provide the customer with the highest available quality stream. Conclusion Those expensive touchscreens and tablets that we sell to control our customers' A/V systems are still a glorified remote control. The next frontier, and the one that will make these systems truly smart, is search. Peter Aylett is a world-renowned speaker and lecturer in residential technology, and the Technical Director at Archimedia, a multinational high-end residential integrator in The Middle East. He is also currently Chair of CEDIA’s International Technology Council Applied Content Action Team, and a regular contributor to HiddenWires. www.hometechassoc.com You are welcome to comment on this article. 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