by Simon Hunt, Director of Strategy and Business Development, Digital UK
posted on January 23rd, 2017
Simon Hunt reviews his TV highlights from this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas
TVs get thinner and brighter (and really need a sound bar)
Another year and another raft of new TVs that are thinner, brighter and better than ever. LG took both the official Best of CES TV Product and Best of the Best awards for its W series of OLED TVs, which are so slim that you can hang them on the wall with magnets. Panasonic's second-generation and Sony's first-generation OLED TVs also looked fabulous, while Samsung's next-generation Quantum Dot TVs - QLED - won the brightness war.
All of the major manufacturers featured demos on their booths with outstanding picture quality, showcased by specially commissioned content. Other screens were harder to assess, featuring much lower bitrate canned 4K satellite feeds or Netflix, but many are very, very good indeed. Proliferating HDR standards will create some confusion with consumers, however, with LG taking the crown for support for supporting four versions HDR10 and Dolby Vision, Hybrid Log Gamma and Advanced HDR from Technicolor.
Over the top goes over the air
The number of OTT platform providers integrating over-the-air content increased significantly this year. Amazon showed its Fire TV 'TV' (what will it be called?) on sets from Tong Fang, with OTA built-in via a grid based TV Guide, and was also the only platform at the show to integrate video promotion into the top level of the UI. And of course this also featured voice recognition from Alexa (more on that later).
Meanwhile, my old Sling TV colleagues launched a multi-award winning AirTV box with OTA local channels seamlessly integrated into the channel line-up and creating a similar subscription-free level to Now TV Roku. There's no cloud PVR on the AirTV device but this could be seen elsewhere on a Roku 3 (it's in beta and just on Roku devices for now) and it's not clear if or how Sling TV would extend this to OTA channels.
The OTT streamers' challenge to the traditional recorders and zappers with OTT apps will be fascinating to see played out in the US. They bring real benefits to US OTA viewers and cord cutters, with slick next-generation interfaces and (unlike the Roku Now TV boxes) decent integration of linear TV. Amazon's Fire TV and Dish's AirTV will be a revelation to current OTA viewers who's very rudimentary over-the-air EPGs are spoiled by poor schedule data. It won't be as easy for them in the UK, where TV manufactures already work closely with the broadcasters to bring rich metadata and seamlessly integrated catch- up into innovative TV guides, as on Freeview Play.
Amazon's over-the-air TV Guide features rich metadata and images.
Take over TV
Samsung continues to leverage its position as the market leader in TV sales to push the boundary for content disaggregation and disintermediation in a television's UI. The Tizen UI already provides US cable and satellite box control using the Samsung TV remote or companion app. At the show, Samsung launched three new Tizen smart TV services - Sports, Music and TV Plus - supporting preference-based personalisation through both its Smart Hub UI and Smart View companion apps.
Sports offers US team or sports discovery across several channels and apps for MLB, NFL, NBA and UFC - with the option to an alert for upcoming events. The Music app is available in the UK and as well as offering discovery in apps like Spotify and Vevo, includes content detection using Shazam. Meanwhile, TV Plus adds IP channels to the EPG, including TVOD from Wuaki TV for Europe and AVOD from Funke in Germany. Samsung's TV head is a data and advertising guy from Google so you have to wonder about its ambition. Multitasking introduces a widget-style version of apps like Twitter that are overlaid of the current TV or streaming video.
Samsung's cross-channel sports finder offers alerts on theTV and on the mobile app.
Alexa in everything
Finally, voice activation was the possibly the big feature for this year's CES, with Amazon's Alexa integration on Dish's latest Hopper satellite PVR just about every other household device from fridges to baby monitors. Google Assistant was on Sling TV's Android-powered AirTV box, Siri on Apple TV and Microsoft's Cortana on both Windows 10 and Xbox One. Dish appeared to have replaced its existing voice partner with Alexa. Of all the companies attempting to insert themselves into the content recognition space, Amazon may actually be best positioned for success. No other content recognition companies have managed to offer the consumer utility that Shazam has achieved on mobile for music for television. It may not be just the TV manufacturers that look to disrupt the TV ad market and perhaps these new class of virtual assistants are an even bigger threat.
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