2012
01.13

When I hear people talk that we will all be viewing more Web content on our televisions than on our computers in five years, I tend to be skeptical. But this little anecdote was brought up to me on more than one occasion this week at CES. And by the looks of it, the major TV manufacturers are pushing hard to ensure the television is indeed one of the four screens that help you stay connected.

With so much hype around the smartphone, tablet, and notebook, we sometimes tend to forget that the connected devices community is also making a strong push to sell us on the concept of the connected television—i.e., that fourth screen for content. In essence, the television has seemingly gotten lost in the discussion about connected devices in the past year or so. Sure, TV makers tried to make a splash with 3D TVs a few years back (and a few were still riding that wave at this year’s CES), but for all intents and purposes this segment has not taken off as desired.

To me, that won’t change until the experience itself of watching TV changes. For instance, viewing Web content on the TV isn’t all that attractive of an experience. Or at least, it hadn’t been. Putting the Web on the TV, for the most part looked like …. well, putting the Web on a TV. No offense, but if I want Web content I will go to my notebook or tablet. When I want to watch TV, I will go to my TV. And not vice versa. But perhaps that might not be the case soon.
The TV manufacturers made some interesting developments addressing that front at this year’s CES, really focusing on improvement around that TV viewing experience. First off you had Panasonic, which seemed to dominate the Central Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center with everything from TVs to EV charging stations.

Sitting down with Merwan Mereby, Panasonic’s VP of interactive content and services, was an enjoyable experience. For the record, it is the third time we had a chance for a one-on-one with Panasonic’s IPTV executive—he gave us an exclusive interview for the Jan/Feb cover story. I like Mereby’s emphasis on the fact that Panasonic is not “in the numbers race” but rather is focused on creating the ideal user experience, with the belief that the interaction a viewer has with the TV will help drive the types of services and experiences they will want from that TV.

Panasonic is well on the way to making sure that experience is exactly so. Whereas in years past Panasonic was shipping connected TVs with a preloaded set of apps that the company felt consumers desired, they are instead allowing you to use its Viera Connect Market to download apps that fit nearly every want and need. The company has opened up access to its SDKs for applications developers, and they are delivering everything from customized gaming, fitness, energy management, and even an interesting karaoke app.
Partnerships with fitness OEMs like Withings and Nordic Track, among others, are delivering products that you can combine with the TV as well that will help you train virtually for that marathon. For the record, you can also buy such products through the Viera Connect Market.

I think Panasonic really has something here with the application development and the Viera Connect Market. Both ideas could go a long way in spring-boarding the connected TV experience more.

Also on the TV front we had a chance to demo a forthcoming Android smart TV from Lenovo. The TV is set to launch first in China (as is typically for Lenovo products) with the hope that it will come state side later in 2010.

This set includes video on-demand, a set of Android apps, voice recognition, and even motion-controlled gaming where the remote control turns into this touch sensitive gaming controller that also includes a microphone. I like the way Lenovo made the interaction with the TV through the remote control—a familiar and comfortable experience that most consumers will be reticent to abandon for use of their smartphone or tablet, for example.

In fact, many of what Lenovo showed us—across all four screens—had potential for really changing the game in the world of connected devices. From a notebook with a screen that flips 360 degrees to become a tablet, to a touch enabled all-in-one PC that you can lie flat for purposes of things like gaming, the lineup is sure to turn some heads.

As for the TV, I think some of the big OEMs are on the right path. I think the focus on that user experience is a winning formula for marking the eventually return of that fourth screen to our connected consciousness.

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