The future of the TV is online
Your television's going to get connected, says Matt Warman
As the luminaries of Britain’s television industry gathered yesterday in Oxford, the talk at the Media Convention was often about new local TV stations, the importance of the web in the UK’s creative industries, and how content, watched in new and traditional ways, will continue to be king.
Ask the manufacturers who make the TV sets themselves, however, and they present an even more complex, fragmented picture.
Korean company Samsung, consistently among the most innovative of the major players, recently announced that owners of its newer televisions have downloaded more than two million TV applications, giving direct access via the internet to features such as Google Maps, the BBC iPlayer, Twitter and movie rental service LoveFilm.
And tellingly, the BBC’s Erik Huggers, head of future media, has just left the Corporation to join Intel to lead its push into the “digital home”.
At the centre of this new vision is a television that is connected to the internet and offers a tailored big-screen version of the web, mixed with everybody’s TV favourites.
In May, Google launched Google TV with much fanfare, but poor reviews and a lack of consumer understanding of the project means the company is still working on a product to crack the mainstream market.
Google says: “We’re in the early days of a long journey, and we are committed to building a great platform for users with flexibility for our partners to innovate. And because Google TV is a connected device, we will continually push out product updates and enhancements that all users can benefit from.”
A little further down that development road is Apple’s own Apple TV. Although Steve Jobs, the company’s CEO who is now on medical leave, once called it a hobby, the small box to connect any TV to the web has recently returned to the limelight.
The new device updates the company’s previous model so that it “streams” all its content direct from the web.
That makes the process simpler because all users need to do is point at a film or TV programme they want to watch and it starts pretty much instantly (if your broadband’s good enough). And thanks to Apple’s peerless user interface design, the product is easy to use.
Another product, the Boxee Box, is twice the price of Apple TV and performs similar functions. However, it basically contains an entire computer (and is powered by Intel), which means that you can augment its capabilities with special apps.
But the crucial issue for the disappointing Boxee and all such connected televisions, for now, remains content.
Indeed, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, Samsung’s keynote speech focused on its deals with American content providers.
Every other major manufacturer, too, was showing off how its web TV services allowed consumers to watch programmes and do new things, from exercising to painting on screen. All these functions are being marketed under a “smart TV” banner.
You can be sure that the next set you buy will almost certainly have an option to connect to the internet and to do more than ever before. The challenge manufacturers face – along with all those gathered in Oxford – is persuading you that it’s worth the effort.