Television Plus The Web Equals

I’ve been thinking about television recently. That’s all, you can go now. Huh, still here eh? You want me to go into more detail or something?

I have an odd relationship with television, based on what I expect and what I’m willing to pay for. As one doesn’t yet match the other I’ve walked away from television for the past decade, spending my money on DVDs so that the money goes towards the actual programmes I watch rather than repeats of things I haven’t ever wanted to watch yet have seen dozens of times anyway. Online catch-up services like iPlayer which let me download programs after they’ve been broadcast to watch at my leisure have helped me keep up with interesting programs recently, including indulging a recently acquired taste for documentaries, without having to worry about license fees (only payable on broadcast television). My own design for television, an idea I’ve been talking about for well over a decade, is of on-demand television taken to the Nth degree. Rather than just a selection of programs, every program for the week would be shown on a menu allowing people to watch them as they want. Adverts would be built into the programs so that money could still be made, and a premium version (say 10 or 20p per program or an optional premium subscription price per month) would be available for those who wanted to watch without adverts. Series would be linked throughout the entire run, allowing users to set up their own marathons and secondary content (in my original idea this was thought of as documentaries about programs such as making-ofs and cast interviews, the sort of things that ended up as DVD extras later on, but could include webisodes and the like as well these days) would be available from the series menu. As I’m sure you can imagine, terrestrial television doesn’t come close to that design and the entire experience is left feeling not worth the license fee at all, even when the extra channels from Freeview are included. That’s the main reason I walked away from the paid versions of television and decided to change my viewing habits so that I am not obliged to pay for how I watch.

As I researched the upcoming Smart TV options in a bit more detail, I discovered Youview. This set-top box is simply an HD-enabled Freeview box at heart, with two tuners so you can record and watch different things at the same time, a large hard drive to record programs and pause/rewind live television, and enough RAM to run several applications. So far so basic Freeview, but once the box is plugged into the internet a whole new set of options opens up. All of the terrestrial channels are there and they bring on-demand television through integrated versions of their online players.

All of the extra channels that Freeview provides have partnered with Youview and most of them will be offering catch-up television for the past seven days of programming, allowing the viewer to watch at their own leisure. Where the US Smart TV providers have partnerships with Hulu and Netflix (virtual unknowns outside of the US) as on-demand film apps for their services, what Youview brings to the table is a set of partnerships with companies that are already proven in the UK. Youview is signing up with LoveFILM and Film4 amongst other on-demand film services in the UK, allowing for a more home-grown selection of familiar services.

Despite the fact that the first Youview box wont be available in the UK until 2012, I’m already looking forward to the service and will be signing up for it myself as I find the services offered to be worth the license fee that has to be paid. As none of the services cost any money (obviously on-demand films will cost money to rent) beyond the price of the box itself I’ll be happy to embrace this evolution of television and hope that they move closer to my needs as time goes on. I feel that this is the way Smart TV needs to be designed in the first place and that brands such as Apple and Google who are trying to push their own television packages need to have a good look at it. You can’t come up with a single service that will appeal to the entire world, and each country needs its own sense of individuality, it’s own set of services that can be added to the main box easily, either via an app running on its system that connects the user to different channels or through content sharing deals that add new channels.

However, things are starting to change in the UK and television is inching closer to my design for it with the introduction of “Smart TV” which is already starting to become popular in the States and I’m starting to see that television will be worth the license fee soon enough. Now Smart TV has been around for a few years in many forms but they’ve never really been that impressive, and the few that have taken off around the world seem more aimed at the US than elsewhere with their feature and service lists, and therefore their value, reduced dramatically outside of the US. As such these services don’t quite meets my needs or match up to what I see as being worth the license fee I’d have to pay if I opted for them when they become available (see Youview in the boxout), but I can see the potential already as we become more and more connected in our lives.

Already different manufacturers are messing around with different ways to differentiate their systems from each other. Sony has integrated it’s Qriocity movie store, allowing full HD movie streaming to the screen from a single rental point, no matter which country you’re in. Samsung has chosen to push it’s phones as a selling point, as hooking them up to the network gives significant advantages. The television and all web based content on it can be controlled directly from the phone which can have a remote control application installed on it. While this is happening, incoming messages will be displayed on an optional boxout on the screen and incoming calls will get a larger one complete with caller display. They’re even working on streaming video calls directly through the screen although this has been stated as something that should wait until front-facing camera sizes have increased. Almost all of these ecosystems have realised the importance of your own media in this equation (Apple has declined to allow anything not downloaded through iTunes, predictably) and allow you to find it on your PC and stream it over to the television screen.

What I find truly exciting is that this is a young technology, already aborted once in the past due to insufficient web speeds, and it is now about to explode into the public eye as it comes installed on more and more new televisions and media players (DVD, Blu-ray, Freeview, etc) over the next year or so. These currently closed ecosystems will undoubtedly learn from each other, with today’s exclusive feature being standard by the time most people are using them. Do we really think Sony will turn down the opportunity to sell movies via a competitor’s device if given the chance, or that tech companies who make phones aren’t already coming up with a standard for adding mobile to the wi-fi based ecosystem of the smart living room? Just as BD Live started allowing certain Blu-ray players access to web content about the films the users were watching, it is now prevalent on most new players and has started to be taken for granted by users.

In five or six years time we could well have a complete media hub in our living rooms, a range of devices set up to work through the television and set up to connect to their own network and just work together. What was once the dream of a techie could easily become something we take for granted before we realise it has happened. As the current television experience is so segmented, with us having the television screen, media player (DVD, Blu-ray, etc), digital television box (Sky, cable, Freeview, Freesat, etc) and HDD recorders, upgrading any one of those could change how we experience television. As such the smarter makers of these devices have decided to put their own Smart television solution onto each of these, adding on-demand and catch-up services as well as a few other premium rated applications. While these services will no doubt eventually be swallowed by the looming form of generic Smart TV, they are the frontrunners who will define what we expect for the next ten years of living room entertainment as they make things as simple as possible for the first time buyer.

Currently I’m looking into a few smart television versions, firstly just as an easier and prettier way to get media from my PC to my TV (I currently use the Xbox 360 Windows Media Center, and yes I hate that spelling too, to stream downloaded iPlayer programmes over) as well as directly access catch-up services. A truly Smart television package will enable the user to tune into whatever set of channels and services they want to have no matter where in the world they are, allowing the tourist to feel more at home. Until we get to that stage there’s going to be a lot of deals having to be made in backrooms as the manufacturers of these ecosystems try to get as much content as possible over to them. I’m currently thinking of upgrading our experience at the end of the year by adding a Sony media hub that is wi-fi enabled. This has the Bravia Internet Video platform that is currently the best suited for the UK due to the amount of content on it. I had been looking at Boxee and tried out the web experience for that to get a feel for it, even downloading the remote application and enjoying controlling my PC from that (come on BBC, get cracking on that for iPlayer) but too many of the available programmes weren’t what they were advertised as and too many of the applications didn’t work at all (the PC firmware hasn’t been updated in a year and is being brought more in line with the box experience soon so I’ll report on that in the comments when it’s released). All in all I was put off paying the best part of two hundred pounds for a system that doesn’t seem to work consistently well or know that the sites working with it no longer operate, leaving me waiting for a show that was not going to play.

So I’m looking into the Sony system for a start as it will provide a few on-demand services and catch-up services as well as allow media to be streamed from the PC, and will let us test out how often we’d use flat rate services like Lovefilm if available on the television. In the future (later next year, possibly the year after) we’ll get a Youview box and use it in tandem with the Sony box, using the Sony to stream media access on-demand services while the Youview takes care of regular television watching and catch-up services. Between the two we should have all bases covered for a while, although if Boxee lives up to its promise in the future then that may find its way into the collection of boxes hooked up to my television too. Still, internet television (Sorry, Smart TVTM) has a lot of potential beyond catch-up services, premium streaming and web video. Already the different application ecosystems are being used for more interesting things, some of which are pretty cool (video chat through the television already feels more natural to a majority of users who eschew such services through their computers) while others seem like a waste of the developers time (have an eye test at home with simply the old letter chart and none of the fancy equipment that makes it useful). The potential of the television application ecosystem has, in my opinion erroneously, been reported as equal to that of the modern smartphone. While that could be true if each ecosystem were to have a single app for each and every telelvision channel in the world, there are simply some items that will always need extra hardware that wont be put into a television. However, the ability to link mobile units up to a larger screen that understands how their applications run could well become a killer selling point in the future.

The thing that’s bugging me about Smart TV at the moment is that no-one really knows about it, even in the stores you’d go to for advice on such things. I’ve been seriously researching this for a while now and, more often than not, the people working at, owning or being the tech geeks at the stores simply didn’t know what I was talking about. At one point I was even shown a laptop and told that it can plug directly into my television, which may seem cool but is kind of the last generation compared to what I’m after with next generation prices. I’ve felt like I do when I’m out phone shopping, as the only person who actually knows what I’m talking about and infinitely more suited to the job than the monkeys I’m being served by. Still, tech shows are showing it off more often and the first models (not counting those aimed at true techies) are starting to roll across Europe, so people should know what I’m talking about soon enough. In about six months I’ll go back to these shops and be told to go away as they’re closed for Christmas and the new year. A week or so after that they should know what I’m talking about and be able to help me make a decision. Of course, by that time I’ll have most of this set in stone and some of it bought and in use. Perhaps the tech shops will be able to suggest the best sort of multi-socket plug to run them from? Until that time I find myself once again as Robert Neville facing those who don’t have the knowledge I do and so very alone in the world.


28 thoughts on “Television Plus The Web Equals

  1. Serbia too. Even IPTV is not working properly here. And prices are insane.But I remember having opportunity to read about future of TV as some kind of mixture between TV broadcast and Internet and it sounded interesting. Now, I have only ancient old TV which only my grandpa watch – simply because he is too old to understand what is Internet and how it is working. But sometimes I miss watching National Geographic or History channel or Eurosport.

  2. I'm fairly satisfied with the broadband digital television I have. Have this suite-subscription with broadband internet and television and phone in one solution. The set-top box has a really heavy harddisc allowing me to tape just about everything that has the slightest interest. It even has a tape all episodes of a series function. It easily stores fifty standard movies. All my hardware, except the set-box is Sony. The Sony sync functions are really handy. This way, I can use the PS3 as DVD-player without having to use the controller as a remote – all functions are in one remote. It even controls my seriously obsolete surround system which is nice, because I don't want to buy a new surround system, because all the new ones make good music sound like kitchen ware in a tin drawer being thrown down a flight of metal stairs. I very rarely watch television as broadcasts – I tape the lot and watch it when and if I want to, fastforwarding through all commercials.However, I have been drooling over the Samsung plasma smart-tv that has just come into stores a couple of weeks back. It was scheduled for release around Christmas, but as always they were slightly late.

  3. For me, it has to be a seperate box and not built into the television. This is something I'm planning to not only boost what I currently have but to be available for quite a while and be built on. If it were built into the television then it is too easily gone when the set has to be changed and the service too easily lost or the consumer pointed towards products that may not entirely suit them.

    This is one of the reasons I believe that manufacturers like Sony and Samsung have got this tech in the bag and wont be beaten by people like Apple (although the simplicity of iTunes may appeal to some people who don't mind more limited content) and Google (Google TV is the framework behind the Sony system now that I think on it). By building these services into their devices and ensuring that any one device will bring the same service layer, they're saturating themselves more widely. The final battle between which service gets the most use in a household that has multiple different manufacturers devices may well come down to how attractive the remote is.

    Okay, I'm being facetious there. The service layer itself will determine that, both by the services offered and how well they are integrated into the system, and how easy to use and attractive the user interface is. Given the choice between the Sony, Samsung and LG Smart TV systems I opted for Sony, not because I like their products (I prefer the Samsung build quality) and not because they were cheaper (LG has them beat there) but because their version of iPlayer has been commended while the others have some problems with theirs according to early reviews.

    You guys think you'll have to wait that long for Smart TV? Well how about Chromebooks where the entire operating system as well as all of the data you're accessing is online and, without a connection, you can't do a thing with them? I wouldn't buy one of those due to the sheer amount of times web access goes down here so I can't see them doing well in countries where the web is even less stable.This is one of those examples of humanity trying to fool itself that technology has come further than it has. The people who came up with this idea are absolutely sure that every single person in the world has secure and stable web access with broadband speeds. They can't conceive of the notion that some people have shite connections and some are still on dial-up (yes, in this country) while others still aren't connected and wont be for years yet.That's one of the reasons I like the idea of Smart TV as it's an extra service layer rather than trying to repackage the original through the web connection.

  4. You have to be a hardcore Internet enthusiast like me to watch anything online in this Country. And technically, I don't watch anything online, I download it and watch it offline as streaming is extremely dodgy here. :irked:.The data costs are usually more than the 'modest' fee that legitimate content providers charge making it literally cheaper to buy the dvds :rolleyes:.

  5. It's an extremely good idea to keep hardware seperated. The TV with build-in everything might be a good idea if you are living in a closet, but it's too risci. If the set dies, everything dies, and you have to replace everything at once. And it becomes difficult to update the seperate functions, especially if you want inconventional updates, like non-firmware related updates. Sound system, media player, tuner and screen – keep them seperated. As mentioned I have a combined broadband solution which is also tricky. About a year ago everything died, because some builders had cut the lines somewhere down the block. No television or internet (including in-house wi-fi) for two weeks. Fortunately I had a mobile broadband dongle at that time, but I had to live without television.Combining everything might sound cool, but it has its flaws.

  6. I have the same (or similar) solution as Martin. TV, phone and internetz through the same provider. Just got a mail yesterday from them saying they are upgrading the HD PVR box with new user interface plus the possibily to actaully be able to choose to subscribe to single channels. Today, you have to buy ready packs (most channels demand this).I also have an original Philips app on my droid for those times when the remote is just too far away… ๐Ÿ˜€

  7. Originally posted by rose-marie:

    I also have an original Philips app on my droid for those times when the remote is just too far away…

    You are calling your TV? :left:

  8. Darko, the application uses the Wi-fi connection that the internet TV solution is also using. As this is a bridge between them, the phone can be used as both a remote control, secondary screen and many other forms of interaction with the device.

    Rosie, it's the package system that puts me off television as is. Over in the UK we have to pay a couple of hundred-ish quid every year just to be able to receive broadcast programmes at all. Anything else we pay is on top of that cost. If we could pick and choose single channels and only pay for those, creating a comparable package to the ones they create themselves then I'd be all over it, only picking what I'd use and not feeling I'd be paying for things I don't. However they force you to have twenty things you wont use and that have never been watched by anyone sober in the history of time just for access to that one channel you would watch. I may come back to this comment later with the list of channels I'd want to watch on Sky and the number of extra channels I'd have to pay for access to just for access to those few.

    Martin, I fully agree. We'd never buy a television with a DVD player for that reason and it's the reason my plan (which also includes some connected hard drives containing the most watched of our DVD collection at some point) is a collection of separate boxes that link together to form the package I want. It's also the reason the last thing I'll be activating is the one that means I'd have to pay television licence.

    Aadil, I too prefer to download and watch offline than to stream. Sometimes the web is fine for streaming, but if you've downloaded it then you know you can watch it whenever you want. My current television is a mixture of iPlayer, downloadable videos from sites that do shows and some higher quality vodcasts, all being downloaded as our main consumption. There are a load of things I watch on online services though and the fact that the solution I've chosen is Google TV powered means I should be able to record that stuff on a DVR like you can with regular television programmes, even setting up a series record and doing the same with the vodcasts. Much more of my own time will be freed up as I wont have to manually download these items.

    Nick, this country is allegedly going digital this year although I think it'll be 2013 before the entire switchover is complete. They keep talking it up as if it'll bring so many new features to television, but the fact is that it'll only standardise those features that are already in pretty much every household anyway and the new features will be coming from advanced solutions like this. The new infrastructure will more enable channels to take better advantage of these solutions than give them advanced features.

  9. And still I don't have a TV, haven't had for over a year now – nor am I bothered about getting one – I'm moving soon, and maybe then I'll think about it :)Honestly, apart from Dr Who and a few comedy things, I can't say it's been anything but beneficial, living without TV and all the constant outpourings of drivel that it delivers to the living room :)Mind you, I'm talking about NZ TV, which is driven entirely by advertising revenue, therte's no BBC2 or non-commercial channels – and all channels deliver the cheapest possible programming, i.e. crap shows in the first place as the norm, then repeats for the next 5 years. Way worse than anything I ever experieneced in UK (altho' I left there in '95, things may have changed for the worse).Technology is great, but content is the thing ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Originally posted by Furie:

    the phone can be used as both a remote control,

    :sst: I was teasing :whistle:

  11. Originally posted by Furie:

    Over in the UK we have to pay a couple of hundred-ish quid every year just to be able to receive broadcast programmes at all.

    It's the same over here. First, we have the license fee for the public service broadcaster. I have no problems with paying that. But then there's the package price from the provider, and I totally agree with you – there are lots of channels I never watch and I would never pay for them if I had a choice. That's whay it's verging on revolutionary here now with the abitlity to pick single channels (launched just yesterday, actually, and for the moment only with my provider). However, they haven't opened up for the possibility to exclude certain channels from the ready package yet (apparrently, many channels prefer being in a package), but they say it will come and I wait for the day. Norway went digital last year, I think.Side note: I discovered that my TV actually has a version of Opera in its browser.

  12. In DK the new laws of broadcasting demands that after March 2012 the companys have to deliver custom solutions. It will not longer be possible for them to push those channels that nobody watches. Every customer can choose the content of his/her package. The politicians finally developed the guts to establish a fair media legislation. We went digital last year, and it was very well recieved by customers. The companies, however have the nervous shakes about this development and this causes some oddities – like companies outsourcing activities to other countries, broadcasting from places where there is no laws and such. This will die out slowly, leaving the market to the companies who know what they are doing. Hopefully.

  13. It's interesting just how similar yet different the different television systems are throughout the world. I wonder how the networks are coping with the changing ecosystem.

  14. my shows consist of dvds. Unfortunately in South Africa when you have a tv you need to pay for a licence even though you don't watch those basic channels. :doh:

  15. The same here. The new media laws says that if you have internet access you have to pay licence. Which basically means if you have a 3G telephone, you will have to pay. Even people who have mobile broadband work devices in their home and otherwise nothing have to pay. This means that even homeless people with a telephone pays the licence. Only good thing is that you can have as many devices as you want and still only pay one fee. Still, it is better than before the new laws, because some four years ago, if you wanted digital television, you had to pay your subscription to the provider, licence for DR (national broadcast, otherwise free), rent for set-box, cable fee and broadband fee. Most of these are now one licence, since the whole thing is now digital.

  16. we're still backwards then. For one you need to pay a normal tv licence and then if you with DSTV you pay a separate amount depending on which package you want.With the recent increase of cheap mobile televisions that can receive the basic tv channels it's suprising the broadcasting commission hasn't caught on yet.Well it's probably just a matter of time day we'll be required to show your tv licence to buy a mobile. Crap.

  17. Clever bastards. They'll sell you televisions, PCs, telephone, tablets, whatever, without telling you anything about the licence, and then after two or three years they'll come down on you with what ever they have and charge the pockets out of your shorts. Clever way to make money. Not particularly ethical, though.

  18. we're still backwards then. For one you need to pay a normal tv licence and then if you with DSTV you pay a separate amount depending on which package you want.With the recent increase of cheap mobile televisions that can receive the basic tv channels it's suprising the broadcasting commission hasn't caught on yet.Well it's probably just a matter of time day we'll be required to show your tv licence to buy a mobile. Crap.

  19. Most shops won't sell you a tv unless you produce your SABC licence here. :rolleyes:.But that's what Chinese an Pakistani owned shops are for. :p.

  20. In NZ you don't need a TV licence – it's all funded by advertising, except I think for Maori TV, a channel in it's own right – which is at least partially funded (to the tune of just over nz$20 milllion this year), by the Govt.Perhaps I should be clearer – all the TV channels here are 'free to air' – they obtain *all* their funding from advertising sponsors – and of course in prime time there are ads about every 10 minutes (so it seems. Now I don't have a TV I can't sit down and time it.)Some of the programmes however receive govt. funding in order to be made if they're deemed to 'reflect and develop New Zealand culture'. Which is cool, although the programme makers do have to have a commitment to air from one of the channels, before funding is granted.So – although viewers don't pay a fee (which is just a tax, really) for their TV, they do in fact pay a percentage of the cost through the goods they buy, and via normal tax contributions which are then spent by the govt. in various ways, some of which are grants to programme makers.In the end, it's probably 6 of one, and half a dozen of the other, except there's no channel which will show a production that isn't going to attract much in the way of advertising revenue. And *that's* a shame, I think.

  21. Like many institutions in Denmark, DR (Danmarks Radio), our national broadcast station, is a hardcore player on the market. It is conventional state radiovision, and almost as incorporated as the state church, Soviet style. This means that media laws are more or less based on the demands of DR. As an example: there are laws ensuring that all new players on the market have to submit to the 'puplic service clause', which means that a certain percentage of the air time has to be 'public interest programmes' – primarily news updates and informational/educational programmes. This means they have to have a proper journalistic 'face', which again means they either have to 1)employ proper journalists, produce their own shows and establish an editorial management group or 2) buy other station's news programmes and documentaries. Either way is extremely expensive. Denmark being a relatively small unit (some 5,6 million citizens) means, that the price of the 'air licence' becomes rather large. We all pay about 1,500 DKK – about ยฃ150 quarterly… And what we get is 24/7 coverage of what happens in Denmark… This means that everything gets air time. If somebody falls on his bike it will probably reach the news at some time…

  22. Originally posted by qlue:

    Most shops won't sell you a tv unless you produce your SABC licence here.

    They can't do that here as they have to prove you'll be watching programmes on it as they're broadcast or recording them as they're broadcast. Legally speaking I can buy a neighbour a hard drive recorder and get them to record programmes for me then watch them and don't have to pay. I can and do play games and watch DVDs on my television. I can watch programmes from catch-up services so long as I don't watch them as they're being broadcast (a window blocks viewing as they're broadcast until I click to say I've got a license, which is helpful if I get there early or it's on late).Originally posted by Aqualion:

    We all pay about 1,500 DKK – about ยฃ150 quarterly.

    TV license here is ยฃ145.50 so about the same from the sound of it. Ours pays for the BBC only, with them prohibited from airing adverts (they still do for their own products) and the others completely advert funded. We're not allowed to only tune into everything but the BBC either as I've pursued that route before.

  23. i'd refuse to pay a tv licence on a mobile but if I must it must be in accordance to screen size. ๐Ÿ˜†

  24. The tv licence law previously covered radio as well. The licence is to own and operate rf reception equipment on certain frequencies. Before the demise of vhs, you needed a tv licence to own a vcr, even if you had no means of playing back the tapes. :irked:.Ironically, tv licence fees used to be handled by Posts and Telecomunications. (similar to what used to be called GPO in the UK)then everything was privatised and no one wanted to handle tv licences. So the newly privatised SABC volunteered to collect the fees. :rolleyes:.

  25. By the sound of it media licence seems to be the same scam everywhere. Hidden tax. You can not escape the taxman. You can run but you can not hide.

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