Emerging generation of TVs melds many types of media

Emerging generation of TVs melds many types of media

Emerging generation of TVs melds many types of media

The living room of the future is where you’ll check e-mail, send a tweet, play a game of Scrabble and make a dinner reservation – all on your Internet-connected television set.
Of course, you’ll also watch shows and movies, but instead of flipping through channels with a remote, you’ll swipe through a TV guide on an iPad or an Android-based tablet, and change stations with a slight press of the touchscreen.

Later on, you’ll use hand gestures to control your TV, and theatrical releases may be available for the small screen while still on the big screen.

This is the digital living room, and companies that include TV manufacturers like Samsung, Internet firms like Google and traditional living room titans like Comcast are battling for control of that real estate.

“The digital living room really has opportunities for everybody,” said Kurt Scherf, a vice president and principal analyst for research firm Parks Associates. “It clearly starts with video, and how you enhance things like video on demand.”

Software applications will turn your TV into more than a TV, similar to the transformation of cellphones. Users by the millions have traded in flip phones like the Motorola Razr for smartphones like the Droid X that have access to thousands of programs and games.

Web-enabled TVs, or sets that can connect to the Internet without a separate set-top box or gaming console, were one of the standouts at the International Consumer Electronics Show last week in Las Vegas.

Internet-enabled TVs were about a quarter of 2010 TV sales, says Parks Associates. By 2015, they’ll make up three-quarters of all TV sales.

An Internet connection allows companies to turn a TV into a “smart TV” by offering services and apps that complement the video content.

“You will be able to watch a sporting event and instantaneously call up a range of statistics about the team, the individual player, the context of the game,” said Ira Bahr, chief marketing officer for Dish Network, which serves 14 million satellite-TV subscribers.

For Dish’s service, the applications will ride on Google’s Android operating system, which also powers many smartphones and tablets.

Though the online search giant has been slow to release tools that allow developers to build software designed specifically for the bigger TV screen, Bahr said the kit will be available over the “next   few months.”

“Once that starts happening, you will probably see thousands and tens of thousands of applications roll out to the Google TV marketplace,” he said. A wave of cheaper, online-based video services from Netflix, Amazon On Demand and others have pushed many consumers to cancel traditional pay-TV offerings from cable and satellite companies.

Netflix announced last week that some TV sets released this year will include a remote control with a Netflix button.

In turn, pay-TV providers are partnering with technology companies to ensure that they’re not pushed out of the digital living room.

Dish and Google’s partnership is one example.

CenturyLink, which is acquiring Denver-based Qwest, uses Microsoft software on a video service that allows users to see who is calling their home phone through the TV set.
Alticast, whose U.S. headquarters are in Broomfield, Colo., makes software that gives cable-TV subscribers access to Android apps through traditional cable set-top boxes.

Independent of Android, Alticast has software that will allow cable viewers to use social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare through the TV with a regular remote control.

“We’re in some operator labs right now doing internal trials, and we’re hoping to have this rolled out this year,” said Jeff Bonin, an Alticast senior vice president. Dish’s Google TV service already gives viewers access to Twitter.

Mobile phone apps such as OpenTable, which allows users to find restaurants and make reservations, and games such as Texas Hold’em will soon make their way into TVs.
Recognizing the revenue potential, Samsung has launched a TV app store, similar to Apple’s app store. Prices range from free to $3.99.

Scherf, the Parks Associates vice president, said motion-controlled remotes are on the horizon. They would use similar technology to Microsoft’s Kinect, the Xbox add-on that recognizes players’ gestures and voices.

Until then, tablet computers appear poised to be the new remote for smart TVs with their touchscreen and keyboard functionality. Comcast has released an iPad app that can change TV channels and will soon offer video streams on the tablet.

“Tablets are not just for an on-the-go, outside of the home use,” said Fred Balay, a general manager for tablet-maker Archos. “Tablets will redefine the way people use digital at home.”

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