If you’ve been following Display Daily postings closely this year, it’s pretty clear that eBooks using electronic ink technologies are a "hot and getting hotter" trend. (My esteemed colleague Ken Werner had a detailed post on this very subject the other day)
But there’s another "hot and getting even hotter" trend that hasn’t received quite as much editorial coverage. Even we at DD haven’t accorded it the attention it deserves - but then again, not many analysts figured the trend would pick up so much momentum as 2009 wound on.
What is what trend, exactly? Why, it’s the popularity of Internet-connected HDTVs. You’ve read about ‘em; you’ve seen ‘em at trade shows, and you may have even given one a test drive. Did you know that over 400,000 Internet-connected TVs are going to be sold this year, according to a recent report from Ernst and Young? And that the same report states 13.8 million them will be in American homes by 2013?
13.8 million of any CE product is nothing to sneeze at, particularly as we continue moving through a slow economic recovery. And that kind of growth rate rivals some of the most popular CE product introductions, including the iPod and DVDs.
Internet connected TVs - or, NeTVs, if I can coin an acronym here - are the better mousetrap, the tastier waffle, the "can’t miss" product going into the next decade. Bill Gates had it all wrong: You don’t try to turn a TV into a computer. (Recall the late, lamented WebTV.)
Rather, you set up a TV to surf the Internet as another bunch of TV channels. And consumers love it! According to Nielsen’s A2M2 Three Screens Report, Internet video viewing is up 45% from Q2 of 2008 to Q2 of 2009. And Leichtman Research Group reported last month that DVRs now reside in 36% of all U.S. homes. Both products play a key role in the world of NeTV.
Manufacturers have been quick to jump on this trend, with Samsung’s announcement last week that Amazon Video On Demand will now be available on selected Series 650 and above LCD and plasma TV models via a downloadable widget. (Series 7000 LED-backlit LCD TVs will also support the widget.)
Movies and TV shows are rented or purchased and reside on Amazon’s server for streaming. Samsung and LG also support streaming through Netflix on certain models of Blu-ray players.
The devil in the details is that all programs that are streamed are only offered in SD - not HD. HD downloads must be stored somewhere for playback, something none of the NeTVs are ready to do just yet. Broadband speeds just aren’t fast enough on a consistent basis nationwide for HD streaming (at least in the US).
On another front, TiVo just launched its partnership with Blockbuster Online to download SD and HD movies and TV shows to Series 2 and Series 3 DVRs. TiVo also has similar partnerships with Netflix and Amazon.
SDTV through a streaming Internet connection isn’t exactly prime quality. At CEDIA Expo, Sony showed streaming video on a 46-inch Bravia LCD TV, and it had serious issues - there were just too many compression artifacts in the scaled-up image. Will this stop consumers from streaming video anyway on their new HDTVs? Not at all! (Can you say "novelty?")
By the way, there’s more potential to that Ethernet port than simple video streaming. In two weeks, I’ll present a paper at the SMPTE Fall Tech Conference in Hollywood on the future of digital terrestrial broadcast TV. Obviously, the new ATSC mobile TV standard will play a big part in that future.
But so will NeTVs, particularly if terrestrial DTV stations wise up and develop their own widgets and unique NeTV services…and also figure out a way to create a return path through that same Internet connection, providing better audience tracking for advertisers and regaining some of the revenue that has been lost to cable and satellite MSOs.
We’ll know the NeTV trend is getting hotter when content aggregators like Hulu make their widgets available to TV manufacturers. Cable MSOs like Comcast and Time Warner will have to get on the bandwagon too, particularly if they want to attract younger viewers.
The buzz being generated by NeTVs is even overshadowing that of LED illumination technology. In fact, I’d venture that potential buyers care more nowadays about the presence of an Internet connection on a particular LCD TV than whether it uses a CCFL or LED backlight.
My colleague Chris Chinnock may disagree, but I believe Internet TVs will turn out to be an even bigger deal than 3D HDTV. 3D still has many obstacles to overcome as it finds its way into the home, such as the delivery and sequencing methods, bandwidth requirements, the choice between active and passive glasses, viewing distances, and screen sizes.
On the other hand, Insight Media sees LED backlights and NeTV as exactly the features that a 3DTV will desire, so in fact, the trend is positive for 3DTV.
But one of the biggest problem NeTV manufacturers face is adopting wireless 802.11n protocols quickly enough. Those wired Ethernet ports aren’t very popular in today’s wireless homes!