Smart TV could be the most significant change in television history.
I don’t mean intrinsically, but rather, because of the new possibilities it enables. Even intrinsically though, smart TV finally delivers the utopian blend of online entertainment (in all its many forms) with the beautiful big screens we have in our living rooms – and the comfort of the sofa. And that’s been a long time coming. Curiously long, given so many of us now regularly watch video over the internet on small-screened devices.
20th century Comedian Ernie Kovacs joked that “television is a medium, because it is neither rare nor well done.” In saying so, he reminds us that TV is not necessarily just the device with the screen. It is the way content is delivered to us. This helps us conceptualize that smart TV is also a medium – and a more advanced one than traditional TV. And its very raison d’être is to make TV “well done”.
Confusingly, some manufacturers have launched TV’s with the actual name “Smart TV” (with a capital ‘S’), so it’s important to distinguish between these products and the generic category of smart TV devices (which incidentally could be Blu-ray players, set-top boxes or anything else which delivers the picture to the TV screen).
So what characterizes a smart TV device?
When you put a powerful processor which has the capabilities to run conventional software code into a television or inside a device which displays on the television, you have the ingredients of a smart TV platform. Of course, putting a cow and a sack of potatoes in a kitchen doesn’t automatically result in steak and chips: there also needs to be considerable thought into how those ingredients are used so that we end up with something desirable. Intel has the research and expertise required to do just that – specifically without leaving the TV feeling anything like a computer.
Intel might seem a surprising company to step up and drive this ‘smart TV’ category. But actually, having the powerful processor is the fundamental change which enables everything else. Until now, processors in traditional TV’s or set-top boxes were designed to process images. But Intel’s smart TV processors are capable of far more than that: they allow complex software programs and rich graphics to run directly on the TV.
Fundamental limitations of the TV now disappear, then. And there are immediate benefits: smart TV provides the technology to unlock every source of content and entertainment, and bring it to us through that screen we love most. Yes, they are technically capable of rendering all of the content available on the internet: this is not just the web, and it is not just the customized – and often diluted – versions of YouTube or Facebook which are proprietary to most “Internet TVs” today. Furthermore they can run rich games and apps, and even be feature upgraded “over the wire”, transparently to the user.
There are some not-so-obvious benefits too. Smart TV will propose content based on our interests, preferences or social networks. It promises the ability to offer immediate information about a car/restaurant/handbag etc, simply by pointing at it. If we like what we see, we can buy it or book it there and then. Adding a camera will change the nature of telephony. And gesture recognition has the potential to send information about our body shape and size to online clothes shops, generating onscreen models so we can see exactly what the clothes look like on us before we buy.
Not all of these new usages are ready yet, but it’s just a matter of time now that the platform is here. This will be fun to watch – literally. First smart TV products like Google TV and the Boxee Box by D-Link are already on the market. Some countries in Europe can even get products based on Intel’s smart TV processors from service providers like Free or Telecom Italia.