TV’s smarter future


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Launching the RTÉ Player app on Samsung's smart TVs are Samsung Ireland's Brendan Carr and RTÉ Digital's Marcus O'Doherty

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One of the most exciting revolutions in technology today isn’t just with smartphones and tablet computers, it’s happening on the living room TV.

Since it first took hold of Ireland’s attention in the Sixties, television has grown to become a staple in any home in the country, more often than not the focal point of the living room.

Screens have gotten larger but flatter; the picture has gone from black and white to colour to high-definition and, now, 3D; broadcast channels have grown from a minimal terrestrial package to the hundreds offered by cable and satellite providers; and, later this year, analogue TV will be turned off as Ireland’s digital switchover is completed.

As television gets older, it’s also getting wiser, with the introduction of smart TVs. These internet-enabled sets are seeing encouraging take-up across Europe. In France, nearly 3m homes had a smart TV by the end of Q1 2012; nearly half of all new TV sets sold in Germany are connected sets, with one in six homes possessing one; and a recent study by YouGov predicts that 14pc of UK households will have smart TVs within the coming year.

Smart TV stats

Just because the TV is smart doesn’t mean the owner is, and YouGov also reported that more than half (53pc) of smart TV owners realised the full capabilities of their fancy new set. A study by Futuresource Consulting, which surveyed more than 4,000 consumers in the US, UK, France and Germany, revealed that people in the UK were the least likely to connect their smart TVs to the internet at 56pc, while French viewers were well ahead of the curve with 71pc of users connecting their sets.

HbbTV devices (which bring together satellite, cable and terrestrial broadcast, IPTV and broadband delivery of television through TVs and set-top boxes) are also becoming more popular. In Germany, hybrid TV penetration grew from 35pc of new sets sold in 2011, to 50pc in 2012.

The pan-European HbbTV consortium – made up of standardisation bodies, broadcasters and manufacturers – are working hard to encourage take-up of this hybrid format and establish an industry standard. NorDig, the parent broadcasting organisation for the Nordic countries and Ireland, recently adopted the HbbTV specification, and the standard is already in place in Spain, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Where HbbTV differs from smart TVs is the provision of content direct from broadcasters. With a smart TV, users get access to a suite of apps specific to their set, as provided by the manufacturer. With HbbTV, viewers can also access interactive content created by specific channels, much like ‘red button’ services operate now.

Establishing the HbbTV standard in Ireland is just the first step, but trials will be taking place elsewhere first.

The role of sport in broadcasting technology

CONNECTED TV: IT’S THE BIG PICTURE FOR THE SMALL SCREEN

  • 3m: Number of homes in France that have smart TVs
  • 1 in 6: Homes in Germany have a smart TV
  • 50pc: Of new TVs in Germany are hybrid TVs
  • 25pc: Of smart TVs in the UK have never been online
  • 1 in 3: Irish people will watch Euro 2012 on a mobile device

Sport has played a huge role in popularising the latest in broadcasting technology, from HD sports channels to impressive 3D showcases. As millions of fans worldwide tune in, it’s really the TV that’s taking centre stage.

Broadcasters know how to capitalise on this opportunity, with Polish public broadcaster TVP demonstrating its new HbbTV app for UEFA Euro 2012 on the eve of the tournament.

The 2012 Olympics are being cited as the first truly digital TV games and up to 24 live HD streams amounting to 2,500 hours of coverage will be made available on TV, online and on mobile devices. More than just a linear live broadcast, the BBC’s coverage will be enhanced by in-depth data, social features and 3D broadcasts.

Mobile content is particularly driven by sports fans. According to Aertv, one in three Irish people will use mobile devices to watch the UEFA Euro 2012 tournament live, while last month’s Champions League final saw a spike in views from smartphones and tablets to the online streaming service.

Panasonic is the official partner of the Olympic Games in London. According to Tony Duggan, sales director for Panasonic in Ireland, engineering TVs to work better with mobile devices rather than see them as separate entities is key. The latest Viera smart TVs feature a technology called Swipe and Share. “Literally any touchscreen device running Android or iOS can be used. You just put your finger on an icon of whatever video content you’re looking at on your touchscreen and simply swish it in the direction of your TV and it’s up there on the big screen.

“It also works in reverse so if you want to go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea you can pull whatever you’re watching on the TV screen down on to your mobile phone or tablet and continue watching.”

Smart TV not just about films and broadcast television

So TV’s got smarts, it has developed into a hybrid, and it’s bringing more entertainment on-demand to your living room – and it doesn’t stop at broadcast television and movies. At the recent E3 expo in Los Angeles, both LG and Samsung unveiled cloud gaming services for their smart TV ranges, which will allow people to access high-quality games directly through their sets, without the need for an additional console.

In the corner for consoles, however, was Microsoft, revealing Xbox SmartGlass. This new technology claims to turn any TV into a smart TV, connecting multiple devices with the console to create a flexible multi-screen entertainment system. The software giant also stated that a dedicated Internet Explorer for Xbox was in development.

In recent weeks, the connected TV experience in Ireland accelerated considerably due to a number of factors. At the end of May, UPC upgraded its digital TV service with the RTÉ Player and TV3’s 3player, as well as launching on-demand movie services that will compete with Netflix and high-street video stores.

Around the same time RTÉ unveiled its new digital strategy which focuses on making sure RTÉ is available on every device, from the Apple TV set-top box to the PlayStation 3, the iPhone, Android devices and new connected TVs.

Muirne Laffan, MD of RTÉ Digital, said key priorities include social media, and a new e-commerce and merchandising strategy to grow revenue.

Areas of opportunity, Laffan explained, include on-demand services and providing public access to the wealth of video and audio archives.

Laffan said RTÉ’s development process has evolved to keep up with new platforms by building products and getting them to beta as quickly as possible.

“It’s about keeping up with demand and being more scalable so our pipeline of development has to run parallel to our work as a broadcaster.”

Samsung first to offer RTÉ Player app on TV

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Last week, RTÉ revealed Samsung will be the first TV brand to offer the RTÉ Player app on an actual TV. RTÉ Player will join an ever-growing collection of services available on Samsung smart TVs, such as YouTube, Netflix, Muzu.tv, Facebook and Twitter.

The RTÉ Player app will work with all Samsung 2012 smart TVs and smart Blu-ray players, as well as Samsung 2011 smart TVs and Blu-ray players.

Marcus O’Doherty, head of technology for RTÉ Digital, explained: “From an RTÉ perspective, this is a significant milestone for the RTÉ Player, which was first deployed in 2009. It is the first smart TV large-screen deployment and brings the Player right into the living room.”

O’Doherty explained it opens up a new audience for the ‘leanback’ experience of the Player and the development required a new user interface design to operate via the remote control. “Pictures are larger, as are menu structures. Because users will be using a remote control it requires different ways of accessing content. But it’s quite an intuitive user interface design.”

O’Doherty said the RTÉ Player was rebuilt especially for Samsung’s smart TV platform using CE-HTML, which enables back-end streaming to deliver high-quality imagery on large screens. He pointed out that manufacturers’ TV platforms are quite different in terms of streaming protocols, SDKs, etc, but the team at RTÉ has used CEHTML as the basis for which other manufacturers of TV sets will eventually be able to host the Player.

“This is the first step in terms of deployment of the RTÉ Player across hybrid platforms.”

Voice and motion control on TV sets

Samsung Ireland’s product marketing manager Brendan Carr said the manufacturer wants to push the boundaries of smart television in Irish homes and pointed to the new ES8000 LED TV that includes voice and motion control, plus facial recognition.

“It is all about keeping in step with trends. Today’s TV consumer is switched on to video-on-demand, catch-up TV services and we are seeing a significant proportion of activation rates. Popular apps now are Netflix and other movie-on-demand services.

“RTÉ’s Player app is a timely introduction as it is a local app for the Irish market where people need to be future-proofing their TVs, which includes open web browsers, apps and videoconferencing, as well as Facebook and Twitter social networking,” Carr said.

According to Tony Duggan, Panasonic is also in negotiation with RTÉ about putting the Player onto its smart TVs.

“Research in Europe tells us that the indigenous broadcaster’s player is the key driver in every market for smart TV and is often the most-used app on smart TVs.

“Yes, the social media stuff is great, but ultimately people want catch-up TV in the living room.”

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