Monthly Archives: March 2013
You Have Eight Years to Move the Bookcase
By now, you’ve probably heard the long list of reasons why UltraHD television is hobbled, even as it dazzles its way to the starting line. Some already liken it to 3DTV, in terms of non-starters.
This week’s translation examines why it’s a bad idea to dismiss UltraHDTV so soon. Why? Because we’ve seen this movie before. Think back to when HDTV began. Very similar obstacles.
Let’s start with price. Right now, buying a 4K television means finding $20,000 in spare change. But! Ten years ago, the MSRP for a 40-inch HDTV was $30,000. The one constant in consumer electronics is the race to low prices.
And then there’s the matter of an UltraHD signal being too big to move over the digital HDMI cables that connect peripherals (BluRay players, set-tops) to HDTVs today.
Ahem. HDMI cables started lightening our wallets, $50 at a time, when HDTV began.
Speaking of Blu-Ray players: The concern is real that UltraHD will outstrip the technical capabilities of optical disc technology — which would create a need for another form of packaged media.
This one should seem doubly familiar, because of what happens next: Format wars. VHS vs. beta, in the olden days; HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray, in the most recent chapter.
Then there’s the distribution riddle: How to move an UltraHD signal that’s four times as big as a “regular HD” signal, through wired and wireless networks that are already seriously space-challenged.
Remember? HDTV contains 6X the picture information of standard definition digital TV. Bandwidth concerns were (and still are) real. Ten years ago, cable engineers debated whether they’d ever be able to carry 25 HD channels. Better compression and bandwidth management are your best friends (forever!) on that one.
For content creators, UltraHD cameras don’t yet exist that can be deployed at scale. Ditto for editing suite components.
If the upcoming National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show is any indicator, the vendor marketplace for UltraHD cameras, production gear, and editing suite paraphernalia will catch up. It just will. It’s a huge business.
So, don’t dismiss UltraHD just yet. Its barriers are not unique, and will very likely resolve themselves.
No, if there’s one thing that will block the success of UltraHD, it’s wall space. One only notices the gorgeousness of UltraHD displays when they’re huge – 85 inches and up. At the 2013 International CES, for instance, two displays — one “regular” HD, one UltraHD — were shown on side-by-side 55” screens. The picture quality difference was difficult to discern.
This means we have about eight years to figure out where to move the bookcase, to free up a wall for that much better — and much, much bigger – UltraHD TV.
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.
On Talking to Myself: GoogleTV’s new voice control feature arrives on the Sony NSZ-GS7
Well, it finally happened. After months of waiting, our Sony Google TV “buddy box” (or the NSZ-GS7, as we like to call it around here…not really…) finally got its upgrade to the new software version. After the Vizio Co-Star’s update started rolling out, I might add.
To refresh your memory, this update is only for GoogleTV devices 2011 and later — our 1st-generation Sony TV and Blu-ray player won’t ever get the voice control features in this software version. And this latest update isn’t a massive overhaul of the user interface (which is probably what GoogleTV really needs.) Here we’ll highlight three of the changes:
- What was the “TV&Movies” app is now called “PrimeTime.” (Whew. Good thing for that. ??)
- Now, you can send YouTube videos from your Android phone or tablet to the big screen.
- And, probably the biggest new thing in the update: You can tell GoogleTV what to do, although, this depends on your system and setup.
So, post-update, on your GoogleTV, you’ll be able to open web pages, change the live TV channel, and search for a movie just by speaking a few words into your remote control. Sounds great, right?
Here’s how it really works:
In our lab tests, the voice control features are hit or miss, depending on hardware. When GoogleTV project manager Rishi Chandra demonstrates the feature on an LG device in the video embedded here, it works pretty well and actually seems to be something I might use.
Well. We weren’t able to replicate Rishi’s experience with our Sony NSZ-GS7.
For starters, and unlike LG’s Magic Remote, the remote control that comes with the Sony streamer doesn’t come with a microphone. As we learned at CES, that’s “coming” from Sony.
Until then, even though we have the GoogleTV update on our “buddy box,” we wait. (It kind of reminds me of the old Steven Wright line: “I got a walkie-talkie. It doesn’t work.”)
Smart Phone App Option
All is not lost. Turns out the voice control and search features are also available on your iOS or Android smart phone, which gave us a way to run a few simple tests.
Alas. That didn’t work out so well either! Both mobile apps had trouble connecting to our GoogleTV devices, particularly the Sony NSZ-GS7 (which is the only one in the lab to get the voice control update so far.)
On the rare occasions that the app actually did connect to our GoogleTV, we had trouble getting its voice control features to work. While the “Search” feature worked fine, and did a decent job of recognizing speech, we couldn’t get anything to register as a “Command” as shown in Google’s demonstration.
Worse, when trying to issue a voice command such as “Open Netflix” or “Open Facebook,” there was zero feedback on the mobile app to indicate that it did or didn’t go through.
Google says that GoogleTV all about “reducing friction” and making it easier for people to get to the content they want. But as it is now, when used through the mobile app, Google’s voice control just adds another layer of frustration to a user experience that is already too complex.
So, it doesn’t look like we’ll be having a conversation with GoogleTV anytime soon. Connection issues are always a turnoff. Voice control, the main attraction of the update, didn’t work. For us, this update goes into the dustbin that is “most people won’t try that hard.”
We’ll give this another go just as soon as we get that new Sony remote with the built-in microphone.
An Introduction to “Search & Rec”
In the adjoining industrial world of over-the-top video, it was a big deal when hardware provider Roku turned on a feature that lets consumers search across all available OTT services on that device – Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and their ilk.
Example: You’re totally hooked on “House of Cards” (speaking of Netflix), and you want to see what else is available from the Kevin Spacey repertoire. Most OTT video streamers in market today require visiting each service, one by one, to perform the search.
With the Roku update (and to be fair, TiVo has it too, and had it first), a “Kevin Spacey” search would return an aggregated list of titles – what Netflix has, what Amazon has, and so on.
Every time you search, by the way, you’ve informed the “rec” side of the Big Thing that is “search and recommendations.” For instance, it is now known that you like Kevin Spacey. (Especially when he looks at camera with that “told you so” look.)
Next time you search, it’s pretty likely that a Spacey option pops up.
But, if your household is like most others, lots of people besides you watch that TV. And they’re searching for completely different things. Maybe the babysitter searches on “Teletubbies,” while your spouse is more into “Nova.” (And we already know what show you’re binge-viewing.)
Guess what happens? Recommendations get madly skewed. It’s the equivalent of saying “give me something puerile, intellectual and suspenseful.” Uh, okay. (Do elections count?)
Which is precisely where the “personalization” component of the equation snaps in. Riddle me this: For how many years have we heard that consumers will not, they just will not, “log in” to their set-top box? 10? 15? I probably wouldn’t. You probably wouldn’t. This we know.
“Personalized video” is not that. It’s using your tablet, computer, or phone to go into your account and setup the “who’s who” of your household. Because there’s a keyboard under your fingers, not a TV remote, it’s way more doable. I’d market it as “don’t let your spouse’s, shall we say, tastes, gunk up what we can find especially for you.”
The tech-talk around search, recommendations, and personalization is predictably web-ish: RESTful APIs. EIDR. Hadoop. Here’s an example from a recent batch of notes: “We surface everything with RESTful APIs.”
How might cable respond to this particular feature set – searching across services? Being able to search across linear, on-demand and streaming inventory would be a fabulous start. Hint hint…
This column originally appeared in the Platforms section of Multichannel News.