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Internet Connected TVs – The Idiot Box Smartens Up
Evolution of Smart TV
The expectation of our TVs has 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 the vast array of online content available through TV sets, enabling viewing of programs they may have missed using apps such as Plus7 and I-View, and ‘renting’ new release streaming video straight from the TV from apps such as Bigpond TV. Content that we traditionally only accessed on our PCs is now available to us through our TV sets, Blu-ray players and home theater systems – closing the gap between the Internet and TV.
One of the most attractive capabilities of smart TVs is the ability to stream movies over the Internet directly to our big screen. This has revolutionized the way many people access their movies, with the video store rental industry starting to really feel the pressure. In fact Samsung just announced that they have signed a blockbuster deal to bring more movies to Samsung devices. The new streaming service Blockbuster 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 TVs for several years now, and it’s a collection of thousands of new release and back catalog titles streamed to your TV over the internet. No more leaving home to go to the video store, or racking up late fees on the disc you forgot to return.
Quickflix has previously been available on Sony TVs and Blu-Ray players, and in a recent deal Samsung is joining 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 brings us their own streaming service – Video on Demand, which offers 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 are just tight on the wallet.
Consumers are also starting to receive services such as Telstra’s T-box and Optus’ similar FetchTV service, over traditional Foxtel and Austar cable or satellite connections. It has developed into a billion dollar industry in Australia – with only growth forecast for the foreseeable future.
There are also plenty of multimedia devices available on the market such as Apple TV, Boxee and WD Live, so we now have the widest choice of internet content available to us to view on our TV screens than we ever had before. Two of the more powerful media centers emerged from Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox, with the latter also able to stream a wide selection of Foxtel channels including movies and sports over the internet. Both also have movie streaming services available.
Smart connectivity also opens up many possibilities for us when it comes to TV channels. Almost every major TV manufacturer has ABC’s popular I-View app pre-loaded into their menus. ABC iview is a catch-up service that presents the best of ABC TV. You can watch your favorite shows in full screen at your leisure. Most programs are available for viewing for 14 days and new programs are added every day.
Another application that is always present in the arsenal of every smart TV 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 instant streaming. New episodes are added daily and are available up to 28 days after broadcast. You can pause, forward and rewind programs, and everything is available to watch on your TV in full screen. PLUS7 also includes an email reminder service so you don’t miss watching programs before they expire. There is also the option to share videos with friends via email and Facebook.
The BBC’s iPlayer is another Video On Demand service providing access to the bulk of the BBC’s vast television archives, with over 1000 hours available at launch and “hours” of additional footage “being added regularly”. Content available includes BBC News, Documentaries, Entertainment, Drama, Science & Nature, as well as Family & Kids, Music & Culture and Comedy & Lifestyle. There are also collections of the BBC’s 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 Samsung connected TVs (with TV Internet function). This is also the same service available through Telstra’s T-Box. Bigpond TV is a TV channel streaming service that provides us with channels such as AFL TV, NRL TV, Bigpond News, Bigpond Sport and Bigpond music and more. According to a study by independent telecoms research firm Telsyte, one in ten subscription TV services in Australia are delivered via broadband, and they predict that by 2015, a third of all pay TV services will be over broadband networks.
This is an obvious concern for cable subscription companies Foxtel and Oster. Austar, in particular, has had a big drop in capital as it faces increasing competition from cheaper internet TV rivals such as FetchTV, iiNet and Internode – available from just $10 a month. With streaming TV content available from smart TVs like new movies and TV shows, as well as many new free digital channels — compared to a cable subscription that starts at $45 a month plus possible fees for the box — consumers are voting with their wallets in droves.
TV giants Sony and Samsung will both have music streaming services available on their smart TVs, with Samsung devices soon to release a “Music Hub” designed to revolutionize 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 theaters and smart Blu-rays by mid-December. The music center offers owners of smart TVs, smart home theaters and smart Blu-ray players access to more than 10,000 music videos with the premium subscription.
The technology stores music playlists in the cloud, and music can be accessed from individual devices anywhere in Australia where an internet connection is available. A neat function is the “follow me” feature, which allows users to start listening to stored music via a mobile phone, before picking up the same playlist again when they get home via their TV.
Sony unlimited music has been available for several seasons, on phones, Bravia smart TVs, PlayStation 3 and Sony computers and tablets. Over 10 million songs are available on demand, from independent artists to blockbuster superstars. Thousands of new songs are added every week, 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 categorized by genre, era or mood. You can “like” or “dislike” to customize channels to your personal taste, and you also have the ability to create new channels based on your favorite artists.
How much smarter will smart TVs be this year?
Viewers will be able to control their TV using facial recognition, plus gestures and voice controls and move away from the traditional TV remote – in a similar vein to Microsoft’s XBox Kinect. LG and Samsung both demonstrated voice and gesture controls on their next-generation TVs at CES 2012.
Samsung’s new 8-series TV, the ES8000, includes integrated gesture recognition – using a camera that detects hand movements that guide it to change channels, adjust volume, move a cursor on the screen, and more.
Samsung and LG are both introducing voice control on some models in their 2012 lineup. Current LG Smart TV owners may be familiar with the Magic Motion Remote, which allows you to control an on-screen cursor in a similar way to how a Nintendo Wii controller works. This year will see an upgrade to the Magic Motion remote which now provides voice recognition functionality. A microphone on the remote sends your voice to your smart TV – allowing the user to search the web, tweet and post on Facebook, all with spoken words.
Panasonic has developed a new “Flick” technology, and they believe it will open up completely new ways of displaying content from our mobile devices in perfect picture quality on Viera TV. This will revolutionize the connectivity between our devices, allowing us to simply “flip” content to remotely transfer photos, videos and web pages from Android or Apple products directly to the TV.
Another important feature that comes is the ability to upgrade your TV with future functionality, without having to buy a new TV. This will basically be in the form of an upgrade slot on the back of the TV and you can purchase upgrade “kits” as needed and available.
Google has announced that LG, Sony and Vizio will introduce Google TV devices at CES 2012, with Samsung coming out with Google TV later this year, with Apple also making 37″ – 50″ TVs, and reported iTV features such as Siri-powered controls, app support iOS, AirPlay, iCloud support and deep iTunes integration.
Sony has announced two Google TV add-on boxes in the form of a Blu-ray player and a network media player. These will be shipping in America and Europe soon, and other parts of the world can expect them to roll out after that. Both boxes have an all-new remote, featuring a backlit QWERTY keyboard with a touchpad. The remote can also work as a universal remote for other devices, while the Blu-ray player also supports voice search.
The death of the idiot box
The goal and vision of television manufacturers has now progressed far beyond providing us with superior picture quality. The ability to seamlessly link our media, be it on our phones, tablets or computers, with our home televisions has become paramount. An abundance of new content, in the form of apps brimming with movies, TV and music, is diverting us away from the traditional way we consume such content – putting heavy pressure on industries like traditional video and music stores, and cable/pay TV. Companies like Foxtel and Oster. For what we used to have to leave the house, we now have in the blink of an eye. The days of the missing remote are quickly disappearing, in fact the days of using a remote are disappearing altogether. The idiot box finally got smart!
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