Since the television was introduced to mass distribution the U.S. family was forever chained. It became the centerpiece of the family, not the kitchen table, not the parlor piano and not the people living in the house. All encompassing, it enveloped the entire structure of interpersonal relationships to create new kinds of couch potato people while it crept into our eating (tv diners), our bathrooms (tv in the shower), and cars (head rest tv). It became inescapable as it integrated to our hi-fi, to our gaming console, to our computers.
Lap tops hinted at the phenomenon of a second screen but with the advent of smart phones and high speed wireless connections our attention drifted to a second screen even though the huge flat panel lifelike display screens were dominating our living room walls. Mobile was all the rage and tablets, net books and other portable devices began rounding out the multi screen experience of consuming content.
Life doesn’t imitate art, it imitates bad television. – Woody Allen
The television had become an octopus and that was weighing it down. Because it was connected to everything awkwardly it struggled to continue to stay integrated to our lives. Even though we want to witness the action larger than life the multitude of connection points feels old and dated, unintuitive and confusing and an eyesore compared to the sleek lines of the rest of our technology. TV became the metaphor for the chaos of our (wired) lives.
Smart television are the first real chance to change all of this and to get back to doing what its always done best in simultaneously augmenting and destroying our living space.
From a fairly obvious standpoint, anyone who’s tried to cut the chord on cable and satellite discovered the same basic premise: you pay for the convenience of someone curating content with cable. Connecting internet to your TV usually leaves a lot to be desired navigating the number of different streaming portals and distinguishing which content is full length or high definition and which is not. Set top options meant to assist with this thus far have fared less-than well in their adoption for a number of reasons. However, the advent of built in navigation in the new generation of smart TVs takes some of the inherent browsing complexity out eliminating additional peripheries (including that of a second screen in some cases) and opens the possibility of better curiation strategies more suited for how consumers are used to browsing their content.
Additionally, as smart TV hardware becomes more robust adding a dedicated media drive to the system without needing to run a intermediate processor means eliminating all that additional hardware to play your favorite movies, music videos as well as all the pure audio accumulated from the mp3 days. Organizing and accessing existing content fits within the natural experience of technology as opposed to the disorganized experience it is for most users negotiating peripheries to manage it.
This is where integrated connectivity, processor power and navigation become more interesting as it consolidates and replaces peripheries. It pushes up against one of the biggest complimentary industries to its existence, the gaming console.
Moreso than the VHS/DVD player and cable box the gaming console transforms the television from a passive experience to an immersive and dynamic entertainment station. It coalesced a number of family type activities into one place cementing the television as the center of activity for the next several decades to come.
Unlike other television content providers where the integration to a smart TV seems reasonable and almost obvious the expectation that gaming consoles are replaceable seems further fetched for many people. They associate the now complex games with that of the proprietary hardware that delivers the experience.
Most of the elements though are completely replaceable right now. Many games integrate an cloud based element and online community integration that is anything but proprietary since the majority of mobile games make use of many of the same elements. The underlying software of most games is just a gaming engine which is technical portable cross-platform with some code tweaking. And even the controller which traditional represented one of the biggest differences between consoles is replaceable either using a mobile device (such as your smart phone) or the TVs built in camera.
The controller mechanisms are already beginning to gain the interest of programmers as they look for new and innovative ways to compress screen fragmentation. There are a number of games where the user will navigate to a web site within two devices where it will assimilate one to become the display and the other to be the control taking advantage of the second device’s natural buttons and touch screens along with its accelerometer to simulate a more typical video game controller. Passing that information via the cloud to the display site the user can play a range of games from simple bowling and skeeball to more complex first-person shooter style games. At this point some of the game play is not as smooth or robust as what many gamers have become accustomed to on their console but these games are moving well beyond the proof-of-concept stage quickly and this type of game control is very easily integrated to smart TV settings in addition to the current laptop fare.
Secondly, using the smart TV integrated camera the person themselves becomes the controller for the game. Although this style of gaming is not as common in the console world there continues to be greater adoption and adaption to it as more interesting games are distributed and the technology becomes smoother and as this occurs using the smart TVs natural human-animated control as a game play mechanism is inevitable. Like all camera operated controls there’s still some kinks to be worked out for smart TV in both its own navigation and within the context of adapting that for more robust game play control but there’s nothing that predisposes it from being impossible. More likely it will function better than it’s periphery counterparts because it can be calibrated through integration in ways that peripheries suffer from inter-connectivity problems with.
Taking the gaming attributes one step further and Jetson’s style video conferencing is the new reality. The integrated camera and microphone along with the lifelike display connect people in ways mobile video simply cannot accommodate within its smaller screen and dependence and mobile network latency. It isn’t just going to be about dialing up your friend or family member for the sake of simulated face-to-face conversation, it provides the opportunity to truly expand upon that experience to encompass a greater range of the physical space and tie into the other aspects of the TV, such as gaming (for example so that you can play along remotely as if they were in the same room)
Beyond just consuming third party content or interacting with games or using it for video chat, the smart TV contains one more slightly creepy way of interacting as the centerpiece of the home. Advertising changes completely within its internet connected existence. Like web browsing tracks your every move online, your connected TV has the possibility to do the same, knowing what content you consume, what games you play and so on. It can go one step further though by taking in some additional user information through the camera and microphone inputs and processing the ambient information about you for advertising engines to then parse out appropriate ads based on your physical existence in addition to your digital one.
Privacy advocates already lambasted some cable providers for attempting to integrate this technology into their set top boxes which slowed down adoption but when technologies converge so strongly as in smart TV it will become impossible to stop the occurrence as convenience and personalization will overtake most concerns as they have with web browsing and mobile device use. There will be a few mechanisms for instilling privacy such as blocking cookies and the camera and microphone but the reality will be that few will if it means they can trade their personal information for free or discounted access and what seem to be more interesting ads and related marketing experiences.
Once this happens your TV will translate what you’re doing into what you should do next. In the kitchen considering what to make for dinner? It will recognize your location and contextually serve cooking shows along with ads for processed food and cutlery. Pull up a dance game to play with friends and it might recognize you’re going to need post-workout food and suggest ordering from a particular local deli some energy drinks and protein snacks. Decide to sit back and take in a game of football with your crew and it can find the game based on the dominate jersey worn in the room as well as follow some of the conversations and when people mention home improvement it targets the ads to that during the game as well as pet food for you dog who barks along with every touchdown induced cheer. It could even follow along to a video chat to discover your car not working and help link your calendar to that of the local mechanic to help schedule your next service including displaying a coupon for discounted parts.
Using a little more imagination and you can begin to come up with an unlimited number of ways that the first screen could easily return to dominance in our lives within a relatively short amount of time.