Connected TV

Jan 17, 2012 No Comments by


Some clever research types are predicting that by 2016 75 per cent of televisions will be connected, wirelessly, to the Internet.  It’s a bold claim that presupposes quite a few things:

Three-quarters of all TV owners will junk their current TVs for the new, connected variety.

Wireless routers will improve sufficiently to be able to send the requisite amount of digital data to your new TV.

Broadband speeds will be fast and reliable enough to stream Full HD/1080p (as opposed to the 720p/1080i that’s the best any broadcast TV can do at the moment).

Internet service providers (ISPs) will let customers stream/download large amounts of data without incurring extra cost.

Whatever digital delights are on the various streaming services will be worth watching and/or worth the money.

The way it’s supposed to work is that your TV, rather like the current crop of smartphones and tablets, will be festooned with apps (applications) that will act as portals to Internet-based audio-visual goodies – movies, TV shows, music, games and other stuff that no one really cares about.  Movie-streaming service Netflix, for example, has now arrived in the UK on a wave of tub-thumping US-style chutzpah.  Whoopee-doo.  To watch Netflix, or Amazon’s LoveFilm, on a TV that is not Internet-enabled requires a bit of cabling jiggery-pokery and a (wireless) laptop, games console or somesuch that can connect to the Internet.  If you have the energy and understanding of what plugs in where you can then watch services such as BBC iPlayer on your TV.  And if lots of others do likewise and clog up the broadband ‘pipe’ you may spend more time than ever gazing at that swirly circle in the middle of the screen.

Much of the impetus for developing connected TVs has come from Korean manufacturers such as Samsung and LG.  South Korea is relatively unusual in that it has had fibre-optic broadband from the beginning; which is to say, over 10 years.  The system has been so future-proofed that Koreans don’t quite understand the notion of ‘broadband speed’ that exists in the rest of the world.  Their network has virtually infinite capacity and they have been busy finding ways to utilise it.

Content owners such as Hollywood studios and TV channels are also very keen to exploit any new revenue stream.  (Almost as keen as they seem to be in lobbying for the extradition and prosecution of small-fry who might have indirectly infringed their precious copyright).   Apps will give access to the kind of content most often swiped from cinemas and off  TV by those naughty pirate-types.  But problems will still arise from the fact that cinemas want their slice of a new movie’s revenue before it goes to DVD/Netflix/Sky Box Office, so there will still be a demand for those new movies to be pirated and uploaded to the Internet for the great unwashed to download and watch.  There is also the issue of territorial rights/sales etc.  As discussed in the TF diatribe on file-sharing, many of the latest series of must-watch US cable TV shows such as Dexter, Breaking Bad and Californication have been and gone on US TV long before they get to the UK, giving file-sharers plenty of time to get those shows up and available for download.

The new generation of TVs will also have the coming screen technology – namely OLED (organic light-emitting diode) – which is particularly lush and somewhat unnerving in its clarity.  I asked a Samsung goon in their enclave at CES what standard definition TV looked like on his fab new screen and he didn’t quite grasp what I meant by ‘standard definition’.  To his thinking 1080p/Full HD is standard definition.  He said he hadn’t seen anything other than Full HD on his wafer thin tube.  Given that standard def (generally 576 horizontal lines) looks dreadful on my geriatric 720p/HD Ready Sony Bravia it’s reasonable to assume it will look extra-super shite on an OLED screen.  But unless you had access to plenty of HD content and owned a Blu-ray player there wouldn’t be much point splashing the cash on a huge OLED set anyway.  And right now there are no OLED sets available bar a couple of weeny ones from Sony and LG.  When they do arrive later this year expect to pay (at a guess) around £4,000 for a 42-incher.  Then wait a few years while Moore’s Law does its work and the prices come down to less-than-eye-watering.

As ever, TF wonders how much of these so-called innovations represent genuine consumer benefit and how much represent increasingly desperate efforts by hardware manufacturers and content creators to squeeze yet more cash out of their customers.  Want the shiny new toy?  Wallets out!

CES 2012