After having my sister’s 32 inch TV in my bedroom for the last 2 years I recently had to give back to her after her return from Australia. This has of course prompted me to look into the world of TVs to see what I can replace this huge vacuüm with.
Firstly I’m pleasantly surprised by the value for money which is out there at the moment. It is very easy to pick up a pretty decent LED TV for around £300, this is an absolute bargain and shows what fierce competition there is out there. However me being the enthusiast (read geek) that I am I don’t just want a standard TV I want an internet TV a.k.a. a Smart TV!! The problem is they don’t seem very smart…
Cost isn’t a problem. Spend around £500 and you can get a lower end Smart TV but it doesn’t look like anybody has cracked the market. For a start manufactures have so many models it is ridiculous and the names of these models is completely meaningless. For example Samsung has the UE40EH5300. What on earth is that? I can just about guess it is a 40 inch screen but that’s about as descriptive as it gets and why is it about £100 cheaper than the UE40ES6300? There are countless more examples and so far I haven’t worked out the formula.
The good news is that the Smart TV capability seems to be identical across all the TVs of a particular manufacturer. So if it is a Smart TV (no mention of that in the product name Samsung) then you can connect it to the internet (although maybe or maybe not wirelessly) through the manufactures online hub. Now here come the most important thing for a TV, the content and usability. It seems nobody has nailed these two things.
I accept that getting content right is hard. With so many content providers it is a legal minefield to get all the wranglings sorted out but really if you get the big players you’ll hit 90% of content and all parties will want to find a solution so it will come. The issue will be when exclusive partnerships are formed so you can only watch x channel on y TV – this needs to be avoided at all costs and we as consumers need to make sure we won’t accept this.
So then on to usability, without doubt this is where the current TV set up excels. Press the TV on and then select a channel, bang, easy. The channels are all assigned universally recognised numbers so it is fairly easy to remember you favourite channels. Of course the internet works entirely differently and offers far more potential. With this comes complexity and as far as I can tell nobody has managed to wrap the TV interface round this successfully.
There are promising signs. Youview is a great project which merges all the main UK free to air catch up channels into a familiar EPG based on time of original airing. This truly is a step forward but I can’t help thinking it limits us somewhat to our current way of thinking. Surely in the future the time of original airing will be a thing of the past and we will group things by content. Instead I might be interested in period dramas let’s say Downtown Abbey so I will follow the Downtown Abbey stream, the fact that it is aired on ITV on Sunday evenings is now irrelevant to me, I get an alert when a new episode is available and I watch it at my leisure. In fact traditional broadcasters like ITV should be very worried as like music labels they become less important and certainly less powerful.
Is Youtube the future?
So you might be thinking that what I’m describing is the Youtube model and you’d be right, to me this is the future. The secret is going to somehow transfer the usability of youtube into something I can control very quickly from the armchair. In fact Google themselves are trying to break into this arena with products like the ‘NSZ-GS7 Internet Player with Google TV’ (catchy name!). I like the look of the remote with a touch panel included but as yet it has proved unsuccessful.
All of this points to a huge opportunity for somebody and there is one company everybody is looking to – Apple. Can you imagine a true Apple TV? I’m sure they’ll get the user interface right and the TV obviously will look amazing so it is just whether they can sort the content out and not push the price up too high. If they can then everybody else should be very worried and we could see a repeat of the mp3 player dominance by Apple and a return to them being the world’s biggest company, I certainly wouldn’t bet against them.