Smart TV evolution
The expectation of our TVs have changed – we now expect our set to do a lot more than just flick through broadcast TV channels. Consumers have been given a taste of a vast array of online content made available through TV sets, allowing the viewing of programs that may have been missed through apps such as Plus7 and I-View, and “renting” of new release streaming video straight from the TV from apps such as Bigpond TV. Content that we traditionally only accessed on our PC is now made available to us through our TV sets, Blu-Ray players and Home Theatre systems – closing the gap between internet and TV.
One of the most attractive capabilities of Smart Televisions is the ability to stream movies via the internet straight onto our big screen. This has revolutionised the manner in how a lot of people are accessing their movies, with the video store rental industry starting to really feel the pressure. In fact Samsung have just announced they have signed a deal with blockbuster to bring more movies to Samsung devices. The new Blockbuster streaming service is expected to land in the US and Europe in early 2012, and in Australia by September.
Bigpond Movies has been available on Samsung and LG TV's for a couple of years now, and this represents a collection of thousands of new release and back catalogue titles which are streamed to your TV via the internet. No more leaving the house to go to the video store, or amassing late fees for that disc you forgot to return.
Quickflix has been available on Sony TVs and Blu-Ray players previously, and thanks to a recent deal Samsung join Sony in partnering with the online DVD subscription service and developing an app that will allow Australian users to stream video content to their Samsung Smart TVs.
Sony also bring us their own streaming service – Video on Demand, offering late release movies in the option of HD or a cheaper SD version – for those of us who don't have the fastest internet speeds available or just tightening our wallets.
Consumers are also beginning to take up services such as Telstra's T-box and Optus' similar service FetchTV, over traditional cable or satellite connections from Foxtel and Austar. This has developed into a billion dollar industry in Australia – with nothing but growth forecast into the near future.
There is also a plethora of Multimedia devices available on the market such as Apple TV, Boxee and WD Live so we now have the widest option of internet content made available for us to watch on our TV screens than we have ever had before. Two of the more powerful Media centres have emerged from Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft's Xbox, with the latter also recently able to stream a wide selection of Foxtel channels including movies and sports via the internet. Both also have movie streaming services available.
Smart connectivity also opens up many options for us with regards to television channels. Almost every major television manufacturer has ABC's popular I-View app pre loaded into their menus. ABC iview is a catch up service featuring the best of ABC TV. You can watch your favourite programs in full screen at your leisure. Most shows are available to watch for 14 days and new programs are added every day.
Another ever present app in any Smart TV's arsenal is PLUS7. Plus7, from Yahoo and Channel 7, offers video streaming of full length episodes as seen on Seven, 7mate and other content partners. High quality, full screen videos are available for immediate streaming. New episodes are added daily and are available for up to 28 days after the air. You can pause, forward and rewind programmes, and all available to watch on your TV in full screen. PLUS7 also includes an email reminder service so you don't miss out on watching shows before they expire. There is also the option to share videos with friends via email and Facebook.
BBC's Iplayer is another Video On Demand service which provides access to the bulk of the BBC's massive television archives, with over 1000 hours being available at launch and “hours” of additional footage being “regularly added”. Content available include BBC News, Documentaries, Entertainment, Drama, Science and Nature, as well as Family and Kids, Music and Culture and Comedy and Lifestyle. There is also a collections of the BBCs best exports such as Dr Who, Little Britain, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Absolutely Fabulous and more.
Bigpond TV is available through LG Smart TVs and Samsungs connected TVs (with internet at TV function). This is also the same service made available through Telstra's T-Box. Bigpond TV is a TV channel streaming service which provides us with channels like AFL TV, NRL TV, Bigpond News, Bigpond Sport and Bigpond music and more. According to a study undertaken by independent telecoms research company Telsyte, One in ten subscription TV services in Australia are delivered via broadband, and they predict that by 2015, one third of all Pay TV services will be over broadband networks.
This is an obvious concern for cable subscription companies Foxtel and Austar. Austar, in particular, has had a big dip in fortune as it faces increasing competition from cheaper Internet TV rivals like FetchTV, iiNet and Internode – available from as little as $10 a month. With the streamed Internet TV content available from Smart TVs like movies and new release TV shows, as well as many new free-to-air digital channels – compared to a cable subscription which starts at $45 a month plus possible fees for the box, consumers are voting with their wallets en masse.
Television giants Sony and Samsung will both have music streaming services available on their Smart TVs, with Samsungs soon to be released “Music Hub” set to revolutionise the connection between our music and our devices like never before.
Samsung's Music Hub gives us access to shared music without the need to download and transfer content from one device to another, with the service becoming available on Samsung smart TVs, Samsung smart home theatres and smart Blu-rays by mid-December. The music hub offers owners of Smart TVs, Smart Home Theatre and Smart Blu Ray players access to more than 10,000 music videos with the premium subscription.
The technology stores music playlists in a cloud, and music can be accessed from individual devices anywhere in Australia where there is an internet connection available. A neat function is the “follow me” feature, which allows users to begin listening to stored music through a mobile phone, before picking up the same playlist again when they get home through their TV.
Sony's Music unlimited has been available for a couple of seasons now, on phones, Bravia Smart TVs, PlayStation 3, and Sony PCs and tablets. Over 10 million songs are available on demand, from independent artists to blockbusting superstars. Thousands of new songs are added weekly, and you can create and edit an unlimited number of playlists, as well as listen to any song you want as often as you want. There are internet radio channels categorised by Genre, Era or Mood. You can “Like” or “Dislike” tracks to customise channels to your personal taste, and you also have the ability to create new channels based on your favourite artists.
How Smarter will Smart TVs be this year?
Viewers will be able to control their TV using face recognition, plus gesture and voice controls and move away from the traditional TV remote control – in a similar vane to Microsoft's XBox Kinect. LG and Samsung both demonstrated Voice and gesture controls in their next generation televisions at CES 2012.
Samsung's new 8 series TV, the ES8000, has gesture recognition integrated – via a camera which recognises hand-gestures prompting it to change channel, adjust volume, move an onscreen cursor and more.
Samsung and LG both introduce voice control in some models in their 2012 line up. Current LG Smart TV owners may be familiar with the Magic Motion Remote, which allows you to control a cursor on the screen in a similar fashion to how a Nintendo Wii controller works. This year will see an upgrade to the Magic Motion remote which now delivers voice recognition functionality. A microphone in the remote sends your voice to your Smart TV – allowing the user to web-search, tweet and make Facebook posts all with spoken words.
Panasonic have developed a new “flick” technology, and they believe it will open up brand new ways of displaying content from our mobile devices in perfect picture quality on a Viera TV. This will revolutionise the connectivity between our devices, allowing us to simply “flick” content to remotely transmit photos, videos, and webpages from Android or Apple products directly to the TV.
Another important feature coming is the ability to upgrade your TV with future functionality, without the need to buy a new TV. This will basically be in the form of an upgrade slot at the back of the TV and you will be able to purchase upgrade “kits” as they become needed and available.
Google have announced that LG, Sony, and Vizio will be parading Google TV devices at CES 2012, with Samsung coming out with Google TV later in the year, with Apple also rumoured to be manufacturing TVs ranging from 37″ – 50″, and reported iTV features such as Siri-powered controls, iOS app support, AirPlay, iCloud support and deep iTunes integration.
Sony have announced two Google TV add-on boxes in the form of a Blu-ray player and a network media player. These will ship in America and Europe shortly, and other parts of the world can expect them to roll out afterwards. Both boxes have a completely new remote, featuring a backlit QWERTY keyboard with touchpad. The remote can also work as a universal remote for other devices, while the Blu-ray player also supports voice search.
Death of the idiot box
The aim and vision of television manufacturers has now progressed far beyond just delivering us a great picture quality. The ability to seamlessly link our media, whether it be on our phones, tablets or computers, with our Home Televisions has become of paramount importance. A plethora of new content, in the form of applications brimming with Movies, Television and Music is shifting us away from the traditional way we consume such content – placing heavy pressure on industries such as the traditional Video and Music Stores, and Cable / Pay TV companies like Foxtel and Austar. What we used to have to leave the house for, we now have at the wave of our hand. The days of the missing remote are fast disappearing, in fact the days of using a remote control are disappearing altogether. The idiot box has finally smartened up!