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Television Technology

The Coming Tech Battle Over 'Smart TVs' 314

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-like-our-phones-and-bombs dept.
An anonymous reader writes "One persistent theme from this year's CES is that television manufacturers are racing to establish the concept of 'Smart TVs,' sets that integrate modern browsing features, control through voice or motion, application support, and even upgradability. This article suggests the living room will be the location of the newest tech war. Quoting: 'To compete, the companies will have to offer carefully curated, high-quality applications and be open to supporting mobile devices such as tablets. Other media companies have already started: Comcast, for example, announced that it's going to allow OnDemand streaming not only to Samsung Smart TV's but also to the iPad. The TV makers are hoping that the multitude of additional features will be enough to trigger turnover like the industry saw after the introduction of flat-panel screens, Bloomberg noted. It's a big market, if the television makers can figure out how to crack it.'"
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The Coming Tech Battle Over 'Smart TVs'

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  • I want a dumb TV (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sycodon (149926) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:17AM (#38673688)

    I want to be able to attach smart stuff to the TV...smart stuff I choose.

    When the smart stuff dies or is obsoleted, I can get new smart stuff and keep the old TV.

  • My only beef: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fredrated (639554) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:19AM (#38673692) Journal

    Where's the content? I would rather watch a good show in black and white that watch the current drivel in 3D surround sound motion enhanced smell augmented life like blah blah blah.

  • by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:20AM (#38673710) Homepage Journal
    You can't really interact well with a voice system, if media is going off in the background. I learned this the hard way. It saves a lot of headaches if you just accept that you may have to hit a button before giving a command
  • Urgh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:21AM (#38673720)

    " To compete, the companies will have to offer carefully curated, high-quality applications and be open to supporting mobile devices such as tablets."

    Surely they mean "To compete, the companies will have to own, license or aquire vast numbers of vague patents and be open to locking users in to their product by pushing sub-par standards and deliberately crippling their products".

    No good will come of 'smart tvs', but only because nothing good can come out of the consumer technology industry anymore.

  • My Ass. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by unity100 (970058) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:21AM (#38673726) Homepage Journal
    I have one of them 'smart tvs' next room, one 32 inch lg 3d tv. as smart as it goes - can connect to internet, watch youtube vids directly, connect to this service and that, and let me tell you :

    it is a bitch to use it with the remote. the moment you need to type something, you're in deep shit. guess what it needs ? right - a keyboard.

    and the moment it gets a keyboard it would become a rather oversized monitored dumb terminal pc that i cannot tinker with .... so then why shouldnt i buy/build a small media box and connect my tv to it instead ?

    all these said, its rather convenient.
  • by aglider (2435074) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:23AM (#38673742) Homepage

    As soon as people will start playing with TV firmwares, just like they did with smartphones [cyanogenmod.com] and routers [openwrt.org], we'll get better TVs.
    Which in turn is not what manufacturers and broadcasters want.

  • by alen (225700) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:23AM (#38673752)

    the winner will be the one that allows us to cancel cable and pay for content a la netflix. set up a few tiers for content where you pay more depending on the show. kind of like spotify but with price tiers depending on the show.

    i'm paying $150 a month for cable/internet/phone and i want to cut it by half and still have a good choice of content to watch. i don't care about sports so leave that to the people who are willing to pay for it

  • by Kjella (173770) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:23AM (#38673754) Homepage

    Hooking up smart devices like HTPCs, game consoles, cable/fiber boxes and such I can understand. Maybe a really small appliance box to hang off the back of the TV too. But I can't for the life of me understand why tying this to the TV is wise. If it breaks, your ungodly expensive smart TV must go away for repairs. You can't upgrade to better "smarts" or a bigger TV or a projector without paying all over again. You can't use it on any other TV, you can't take it to a friend. I'd much rather take a cheap dumb TV and get the smarts some other way.

  • Re:Finally (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:24AM (#38673766) Journal
    Unfortunately, it'll be a different half-assed build, with a different shit interface, and tragicomedic 'app store', on every single model...

    The only thing they'll have in common is being cryptographically locked, so that the only thing that can be installed are the manufacturer firmware updates that never materialize.
  • by blahplusplus (757119) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:26AM (#38673788)

    ... it's called the internet.

  • by james_van (2241758) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:26AM (#38673792)
    No really, it's going to get literally ugly. There will be a few TV manufacturers that will get onboard with good design for the interface, and take the time and money to study the most effective ways to present on and control smart TV's. And then there will be the other 99% of manufacturers that will slap on glossy, shiney, gaudy interfaces that are barely usable. Couple that with the inevitable "format wars" that will start - each manufacturer will insist on their own proprietary platform for apps and set up their own licensing deals with content suppliers (except the cheap ones, they'll just license the cheapest platform they can get from one of the big players and execute it poorly). They will all also try to mimic that "App store" model, creating dozens of "walled gardens", each just being a cheap knock off of Apple and Android. And, each of them will be rather understocked due to proprietary platforms and a lack of app developers willing to deal with the headache of porting apps to 3 dozen different setups. In time, there will be a few that will rise to the top and push the others out of the way, but the next few years is gonna be the wild wild west. And it's gonna be ugly.
  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:30AM (#38673826) Homepage

    At what point did we accept that companies have to sanction their software to run on each and every different device?

    Comcast, for example, announced that it's going to allow OnDemand streaming not only to Samsung Smart TV's but also to the iPad.

    Imagine if you read the following statement:

    Microsoft, for example, announced that it's going to allow Microsoft Office to run not only on Toshiba Laptops but also on the Sony Vaio

    Or perhaps

    Google, for example, announced that it's going to allow Google Search to run not only on Chrome, but also on Internet Explorer

    Or perhaps closer:

    AT&T, for example, announced that it's going to allow voice conversations to run not only on Panasonic phones, but also the Uniden DECT phone.

    Those would be preposterous. Yet because media companies are basically monopolies, they decide who can use what services on what devices. And we accept this. We cheer when they allow yet another device to connect to their services. We need to break up these media conglomerates, disconnect the phone monopolies from the handset manufacturers, and get the DOJ and the FAA to stop allowing mergers like Comcast - NBC that just make the problem worse.

  • by David_Hart (1184661) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:30AM (#38673838)

    I agree. The TV should remain a dumb device, much like the computer monitor. The TV manufacturers see the churn in the cell phone space and just drool. However, I don't see people spending $2K for a new TV every 12 to 18 months.

  • Re:Finally (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FaxeTheCat (1394763) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:35AM (#38673886)
    It has been for a while, but the manufacturers did not bother to tell you, because it doesn't matter.

    I just got a new Samsung TV. It is running Linux and loads of other free software. well hidden, so it looks like a TV, and just works.

    And with the built in media player, I can now let my Popcorn Hour box stay at the older non-networked TV.
  • by Twinbee (767046) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:36AM (#38673896) Homepage
    Exactly. A screen should just be a screen. High resolution, low latency, great colour gamut, high frame-rate - sure, knock yourself out. Anything else will probably detract from the purchase.
  • by Hatta (162192) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:43AM (#38673974) Journal

    If you hit a button anyway, why not just hit a button to turn the volume up?

  • by TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:54AM (#38674108)

    All these companies are complete idiots because its not a war between themselves, but a war against Cable companies.

    The problem is that cable companies are holding on to their monopolies with a white knuckled, kung-fu death grip. Any time a disruptive technology comes along that might usurp cable in the living room, the Big Telco lobbyists fire up and make life difficult for government agencies so that those agencies impose laws that almost always rule in favor of Big Telco and limit the abilities of competitive "Smart" TV services.

    Cable companies want to charge you $80+ for cable, another $15 for the box to access that cable, in addition to charging you $40+ a month for a "separate" internet service, so they get $135+ per month out of you, every month, and they want this for life. These companies also own the internet infrastructure and ensure that any disruptive services are throttled or blocked to prevent competition. I know damn well that Roger's in Canada throttles Netflix, I can download web content at max speed but I can't watch more then 5 minutes of Netflix without it pausing and buffering.

    Big Telco is uninterested in merging Cable and Internet and allowing competitive IPTV services to encroach against traditional Cable TV services. Sure Netflix is already out there and Boxee and various TVs have IPTV "apps", but overall you generally cannot access high quality (visual and audio) television except through Cable services. Netflix "HD" is not the same as Cable HD, Boxee streaming web broadcasts is nowhere near Cable HD quality. The only exception is iTunes which charges you per episode a price that would greatly exceed cable subscription rates for the equivalent amount of viewed content. Apple conveniently allowed a pricing structure that would not compete with Cable services.

    The first person to win in the "Smart TV" war is the one that allows me to stream HIGH QUALITY content over the internet without a separate cable services charge. The problem is that while Google and Apple and Microsoft and all the others try to win that war as individuals, the morons are not realize that they need to band together to break the stranglehold that Big Telco has in the living room.

    Once the monopoly for the living room content distribution is broken, then the companies can compete to offer the best form of Smart TV possible. But until then most of these Smart TV services are stillborn because the content available on them is a small sub-set of what is available on Cable, and that is how Big Telco wants it.

  • by Thud457 (234763) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @11:57AM (#38674146) Homepage Journal

    Stupid TV! BE MORE FUNNY!

  • by Medievalist (16032) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @12:02PM (#38674192)

    I have an HDTV as a second monitor, without the cable connection, and therefore, minus commercials. Why anyone would buy a computer geared towards watching commercials is anyone's guess. Maybe they will be giving them away?

    The original value proposition was you got free content in exchange for screening commercial messages in your home. Pretty much the same as Gmail, really. It can be a very successful business model when imaginatively applied - for example, you can get soap companies to pay for women's theatre [wikipedia.org] or get a local grocer to pay for music broadcasts [wikipedia.org].

    But eventually the middlemen got greedy and started charging for providing high quality signal to the home... thus the birth of Comcast and other cable companies. You pay a minimum of three times, now - first for provider installation (one time charge), then for signal (monthly), then for content (by viewing commercials). In some cases, four times, because you also rent an access box. In some cases, five times, because your commercial-laden channel has additional access charges (hello, HBO!) or because you like PBS so you voluntarily pay them.

    The Internet (and wide availability of free or low-cost wireless Internet access) may be pushing media back to its roots - where the middlemen sell eyeballs to advertisers, and content creators are motivated by a desire to make art more than by a desire for riches, and common people can access culture and art without making multiple payoffs to a bunch of sleazy gatekeepers.

  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @12:04PM (#38674214)
    On the other hand, you will be prevented from doing things that you want to do, right now or in the future when new consumer systems come out. I have seen this happen with DVDs:

    Me: Stuff about DRM and deCSS
    Other person: Oh so what, only pirates want to rip or copy DVDs! Look, my laptop plays DVDs just fine, and so does my DVD player!

    Some years later

    Other person: Hey, how can I rip this DVD so that it will play on my new tablet computer?

    The problem with these all in one TVs is not the form factor, nor is it the difficulty in upgrading them -- it is the DRM. Someone else gets to dictate to you when and how you use your TV, whether or not you are allowed to fast-forward past certain parts of shows or movies (e.g. you cannot skip commercials, but you can skip non-commercial parts of a show), when you can start watching a movie, where you can buy your movies, etc.

    At first, everything will be OK -- after all, you follow the rules and are not a pirate, right? Five years from now, though, there will be new devices that you might want, and you might discover that you actually want to do something that your all-in-one TV will not allow you to do. We saw it happen with DVDs, we have seen it happen with other DRM systems, and I can guarantee that it will happen with "Smart TVs."
  • Advertisements (Score:5, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @12:06PM (#38674260)
    The point is for you to watch advertisements. Who cares about good shows?
  • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @12:10PM (#38674316) Homepage

    I want to be able to attach smart stuff to the TV...smart stuff I choose.

    I agree with this ... I recently bought a new TV; it's a nice TV but it's got no wifi or any of that stuff. And, I didn't want any of that ... it's just a monitor really, the fact that it has speakers or knows how to change channels isn't even being used.

    But, my AppleTV allows me to connect and stream all of the stuff in my iTunes. Nothing you couldn't do with Slingbox or Windows Media Player or a lot of other products on the market ... just a wireless media device.

    It cost 1/10th to buy the Apple TV as the cost of the TV, so to me it's the more replaceable part so it makes more sense to not have it as part of the TV ... and it's cheaper and easier to upgrade and replace.

    I'm reminded of my wife's last car, which had in-dash GPS navigation ... which was cool because at the time it was new. But, as the maps got out of date and we looked at updating it ... the DVD with updated maps from GM would have cost almost 3x the price of a consumer GPS you could pick up at any electronics store. It wasn't worth trying to upgrade the one installed in the car; the technology was pretty much obsolete.

    So, me I'd rather have a device external to the TV which is more readily upgraded than have the functionality in the TV ... and since my last TV lasted almost a decade, I expect I'm at least 5-7 years away from replacing this one. Which means anything they're planning now will have completely changed by the next TV.

    And, I also discovered the added cool factor that I can control my AppleTV from my iPad ... so I would say to any company making a media extender ... make an Android or iOS app for your device ... being able to use your smart phone/tablet to control your media center is way cooler than just the remote that comes with it. If they're already both on your wifi network, there's no reason they shouldn't be able to communicate. I can control my AppleTV and the iTunes on my computer from anywhere in the house, and the native app means I can do more than I can with the remote that it came with.

    Putting this into the TV just adds cost to the TV, and opens you up for some functionality which has become obsolete which you can't readily update ... spend the extra money on an external device, they've gotten quite cheap now, and they are likely a little more general purpose than what will be in the TV.

  • Re:Finally (Score:4, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @12:12PM (#38674334)
    Well, you are going to be very sad over the next few years, as it becomes harder and harder to avoid these things. Smart TVs will probably be big money makers, because companies will be able to open new sources of revenue:
    • Charging a premium for advertisements that cannot be muted or skipped
    • App stores (lots of money if you run a popular one)
    • Enforcing payment models for premium shows
    • Disabling devices or features that threaten profits
    • Vendor lock-in
    • Integrating TV advertisements with web advertisements
    • Dozens of other "creative" ways to monetize smart TVs

    In a decade, you might not even be able to find a TV that is not "smart," and if you do you might not be able to watch anything except broadcast channels -- and only low-def.

  • Look around (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 12, 2012 @12:29PM (#38674588)

    ...Expansions slot on the back to add 'another' hard disk and extra ram....

    Expansion slots?! You clearly have not been paying attention to the direction devices have evolved toward in the last 5-10 years.

    At this rate, you'll be lucky if they let you swap the batteries in the remote.

  • by StikyPad (445176) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @12:47PM (#38674848) Homepage

    I would love to buy a new monitor, but pixel density/resolution seems to have stagnated since the advent of the widescreen LCD.

  • Re:My Ass. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tsingi (870990) <graham@rick.gmail@com> on Thursday January 12, 2012 @12:55PM (#38674928)

    --
    Barbara
    RMS is asking police to investigate a murder attempt. Someone slipped Odor-Eaters into his sandals.

    You're an asshole.

  • by RanceJustice (2028040) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @02:01PM (#38675920)

    The biggest impediment to technological progress in many forms of consumer electronics and information is greed by way of lock-in. Everyone has to make their own "thing" that is wholly incompatible with everyone else's thing, even (especially?) if there is an existing player doing well in the market. Right now the cable monopolies pretty much have everyone else by the pubic hair; exclusivity contracts ensuring that many "OnDemand" shows can't be shown elsewhere. Then the big networks/broadcasts have their own gadget (Hulu/Plus), as now are Premium channels like HBOGo and their Cinemax gadget; Showtime/TMC andStarz are catching up. Somewhat agnostic players like Netflix are making headway, but running into barricades because the aforementioned won't simply license their content to Netflix but instead insist on their own player.

    All of these locked-down players and streamers need to be coded and ported for varying platforms, with varying levels of quality and openness. Will X be on both Android and iOS? How about Windows Phone and MeeGo? Windows PCs, Xbox360...Linux? Built into the "SmartTV"s of LG and Sony? How about Samsung? On BluRay players? Available online? HD or SD? Back catalog, new releases, or only items 6 months out? Commercial skips, or forced ads? Is it any wonder that people aren't emptying their pockets in droves to subscribe to these service where everything is going to be so limited?

    People can't pay a simple, reasonable fee for the content they want and generally have access to it nomatter what, when, or where they may want to watch. Right now, even for those who already have a CableTV subscription, its often easier for certain content, to simply downloaded pirated ripped versions; which come online swiftly, have a fleshed out back catalog, lack commercials, have an up-front listing of the quality, streaming is an option not a requirement, and generally no limits to how the user can watch. Until this is remedied, trying to ask people to pay extra for "SmartTVs" is going to be a farce because 99% of people aren't going to research that only Sony and Samsung TVs over $2500 are authorized to carry HBOGo etc.

    Content producers all need to get together and decide on an OPEN, unified system for placing their content online. Lets start with Netflix, the current pack leader who has already been fighting for the right to display content for years. Lets say if everyone, from broadcast, cable, movie studios and even foreign content producers went and licensed their content to Netflix, with the understanding that Netflix will 1) Collect and share revenue from subscriptions and 2) create an open source client for distribution that has a number of important features for users such as lack of commercials, HD resolutions and the ability to download as well as stream. Then we can think about "SmartTVs", where each manufacturer knew all they had to do was support the unified client. Then, no matter if you had a set-top box, home-theater PC add-in card, or software-based setup, a subscriber would still have full access to everything.

    Until hubris and greed can be let go, I don't see this happening. Thus, all the scraping about in this market will be a gimmick at best or useless at worst while clueless industry blame users and piracy and demand even more lockdown, thus beginning the circle anew. We need to show we simply won't put up with having content held hostage in this way.

  • by ljw1004 (764174) on Thursday January 12, 2012 @02:03PM (#38675956)

    The original value proposition was you got free content in exchange for screening commercial messages in your home.

    Of course it was never actually free; merely "free at point of delivery". The soap manufacturers paid for those ads, and they passed the cost onto consumers in the form of higher prices.

    US annual expenditure on advertising: $300 billion
    US population: 300 million

    Advertising tax: $1000 per person per year. We're paying this money to line the pockets of the advertising middle-men so that we get ads that we don't want thrust in our faces.

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