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Smart TVs and Video Devices: Vendors Place Their Bets

12/19/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Expect video to keep blooming on more
screens in the Las Vegas desert.

Once again, new video services and devices will be
prominently on display at the 2012 International Consumer
Electronics Show, set to run Jan. 10 to 13. The Consumer
Electronics Association expects CES — the largest trade
show in North America — will draw more than 140,000 attendees
from around the globe. The event’s 2,700 exhibitors
will be splayed across 1.8 million net square feet of
show floor space.

Key trends and announcements to watch for from Sin
City:

BRAINS OF THE SMART TV

TV makers have been selling Internet-connected sets for
several years, cramming in as much content as they can
get their hands on. But the industry is at a crossroads,
according to analysts: What will emerge as the dominant
“smart TV” platforms?

“Right now, all major TV vendors are using their own
platforms, which creates the fragmentation issue,” Strategy
Analytics senior analyst for connected home device
Jia Wu said. “The industry is waiting for an open platform
to ride on in order to reduce the complexity of the current
market.”

The smart-TV world will
likely boil down to Google,
Apple and Microsoft — the
same players in the smartphone
market, Wu said.

Google is expected to
double down on its TV
software strategy, with LG
Electronics among those
expected to debut a Google
TV-based set. Th e software
giant, which is in the process
of acquiring Motorola
Mobility, this fall released
a second-generation version
of Google TV designed
to simplify the interface and
improve searching for content
on TV and the Web.

But given the lackluster
sales of Google TV version
1.0 products — and Intel’s
recent decision to stop developing
chips for the software
— numerous questions
remain about whether the
Web-enabled platform will
pick up much momentum in
the coming year. “Will it be
as standardized as Android
in the smartphone world?”
ABI Research senior analyst
Sam Rosen said. “Or will it
be pieces and parts?”

Rosen was skeptical of
Google executive chairman
Eric Schmidt’s claim that
Google TV will be on more
than half of all televisions
that ship by mid-2012. While Google TV may be available
on high-end products, to become a mass play it will need
to trickle down to models with lower price points, he said.

Sony — which remains a Google TV partner — may use
CES as a platform to deliver a subscription-based video
service that would span connected TVs, mobile phones
and its PlayStation 3 game console, according to The Diffusion
Group senior analyst Colin Dixon.

“In one fell swoop,
they can take a swing
at Apple and Samsung
and also start to establish
an alternative delivery
mechanism for
entertainment content,”
he said.

Meanwhile, it’s safe
to wager that Microsoft
CEO Steve Ballmer
— who again is slotted
to deliver CES’s kickoff
keynote the evening
of Monday, Jan.
9 — will dwell on recent
enhancements to
Xbox 360, which lets
users control their TVs
by barking commands
or waving their hands in the air through the Kinect attachment.
Ballmer also is likely to tout the game system’s
newest TV partners, which include Comcast, Verizon
Communciat ions, HBO
and NBCUniversal’s Syfy
(see “Microsoft Talks Up
Xbox’s TV Game,” Dec. 12,
2011).

WI-FI FIESTA

Just about every new gizmo
with a screen has a wireless
connection. To serve that
thirst for Internet connectivity
in the home, Wi-Fi
router makers such as Cisco
Systems and Netgear are
expected to launch products
at CES that are better
at slinging HD video to tablets,
smartphones and other
devices, Dixon said.

But it’s still fairly complicated
to get connected to
Wi-Fi. According to a November
2011 survey by chip
supplier Broadcom, about
28% of consumers said
they’ve had to wirelessly
confi gure and connect a
device in the last month —
and only 46% were happy
with the experience, indicating
much room for improvement.

“We will hopefully see
products that make it easier
to connect to Wi-Fi,”
Dixon said.

For content owners and
TV operators, the rise of
wireless in the home represents
an opportunity to capitalize on “second screen” content
and advertising, Rosen said.

“People have these tablets and phones on their laps
while watching TV,” he said. “You’re seeing some apps [to
complement TV viewing] … but they’re very fragmented
and so audience sizes are very small.”

This fall, Hollywood’s premiere of the Ultra Violet digital-
locker system was a flop.

The promise was that
consumers could purchase
a movie — on Bluray,
for example — and
then be able to watch it
on virtually any device,
through a compatible
service. But with the
initial UltraViolet titles
from Warner Bros., users
were frustrated by
a glitch-ridden signup
process and found
that initially they could
stream the movies only
through one service
— Time Warner Inc.’s
Flixster — and only on
certain devices.

At CES, Ult raViolet’s
backers are expected to detail expanded options
for how to access content. Members of the consortium
behind UltraViolet include Comcast, Cox Communications,
Best Buy, Dish Network’s Blockbuster, Wal-Mart’s
Vudu and Netflix.

“Getting new platforms and partners that tie into Ultra-
Violet would help a great deal,” Rosen said. “You need
more partners in the ecosystem and more ease of use and
interoperability.”

THE 3D QUESTION

Two years ago, 3D television was the crackling firework
that lit up CES. Major manufacturers were betting on the
format to drive TV sales, while DirecTV, Discovery Communications
and ESPN hyped plans for new 3D services.

But since then 3DTV’s fuse has fizzled. For the first nine
months of 2011, only 2.4 million 3D-enabled sets were sold
in North America — just 8.5% of total unit shipments, according
to DisplaySearch. DisplaySearch cited consumers’
unwillingness to pay any significant premium for 3D,
and said retailers will focus instead on larger screens sizes
and “strong value pricing.”

ESPN 3D will land in Vegas next month, with the sports
programmer hoping to reignite excitement in the third
dimension by showing a live 3D telecast of college football’s
title-game matchup between LSU and Alabama.
On the show floor, CE makers will demo their latest 3D
wares, though they’ll probably focus more on Internet
connectivity.

The 3DTV ecosystem is simply taking time to mature,
according to Richard Buchanan, Comcast Media Center’s
vice president and general manager of content operations
and engineering.

“Prices [of 3D sets] are coming down, and there’s more
content coming out — that’s a good foundation to build
on,” he said.

SHOW HIGHLIGHTS

Dish Network is slated
to announce “new offerings
from Dish designed
to enhance entertainment
throughout the home and
on the go” at a Jan. 9 press
conference with CEO Joe
Clayton
.

Verizon CEO Lowell
McAdam
will be part of an
“Innovation Power Panel”
Jan. 11 along with Xerox
CEO Ursula Burns and
Ford CEO Alan Mulally. CEA’s Gary Shapiro will lead the
discussion.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski (pictured) on Jan.
11 will sit for a one-on-one interview by Shapiro.

ESPN, keeping the stereoscopic flame alive, will host
a 3D viewing party of college football’s Bowl Championship
Series title-game matchup between LSU and
Alabama Jan. 9 at the Las Vegas Hilton Theater. That
will be followed by the 3D debut of SportsNation Jan. 11
from the show floor, and a 3D telecast of Friday Night
Fights
(on Jan. 12).

Scheduled keynoters include: Microsoft CEO Steve
Ballmer
; Intel president and CEO Paul Otellini; Robert
Kyncl
, YouTube’s vice president of global content partnerships;
and Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs.

SOURCES: CEA, Multichannel News research

September