How do you Keep a TV Smart?

Well, we got the IBC report done and had, partly as a result, some shorter issues alongside it. However, there was not a lot of big news this week and this was one of those weeks when it might have been better not to have a front page!

I talked in my Display Daily about the arrival of SmartTVs that have integrated content protection (from Vestel and, in 2019, from Samsung). Philips has added content protection to its hospitality TVs. These features allow fully protected Pay TV services to be delivered without the need for STBs. However, adding more ‘smarts’ to the TV may not always be the solution. We’ve had a couple of other stories in the same area. First, we noted that the Dutch consumer authorities are starting to take action because of services disappearing from smart TVs. In addition, Samsung has said that it will produce another update module for the modular upgrade TVs that it produced. Samsung originally said that it would create updates each year, but it found that few consumers actually bought the modules.

One of the challenges is that updating the ‘smarts’ is not always enough. To properly update the functions of the set, you probably have to update the interfaces to support new protocols and standards. If you don’t update the inputs, the degree of improvement may be quite limited. In the end, it may be better to use the kind of ‘two box’ architecture that Samsung now has in its high end sets, although I’m not sure that Samsung has said that future versions of the box will be available to consumers, or that they will be backward compatible with current displays. Without this kind of assurance, I would be very nervous about buying the new 8K TV that Samsung has launched (it’s not yet listed by Samsung so we don’t know if they will make some commitment on this). There is much still to be decided on how 8K will be delivered and so it seems almost inevitable that anyone buying the set is likely to get “buyer’s remorse”.

The problem is really because of three factors:

  • The cost pressures in the TV market are so intense that your Smart TV is about as clever as your three year old PC
  • Your smart TV today is your stupid TV in three years time. The replacement rate on smart devices such as phones is two or three years, but six or seven for the display, so by half way through the life, however good it was at the start, it’s going to be like a 10 year old PC by the time you might want to change the display
  • The rate of change in technology in the chip business is much higher than in the displays.

It’s hard (or probably impossible) for a SmartTV maker to guarantee forward compatibility with all apps. So much changes in the world of online video, and judging by what we saw at IBC, the rate of change will get even faster as everything moves to the cloud. I’m sure that vendors have something in their Terms & Conditions that covers them for services going away, but these days, the upgradability of most devices means that consumers expect to get more as they go along, rather than less.

A few years ago, I was a keen advocate of using the cloud to create the experiences for the consumer and then streaming them to the set, as this kept the control with the set maker. Unfortunately, to do this well, you need a content delivery network (CDN) and it has never been clear how you could pay for this. Perhaps someone could try the idea that we suggested to a brand around ten years ago, to adopt the idea of TV as a Service, with the set free in return for a monthly fee? We have seen occasional projects like this, but nothing, so far, from a major brand. Perhaps it’s time?