Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Connected Home (2) - smart android boxes the possible winner

As part of an experiment to try to get a handle on the likely future trends in digital media I have set up a mini test to determine what actually works from a consumer perspective. The ingredients are BT infinity broadband (@25mbps downstream, 7mbps upstream), 1 smart TV, 1 non smart TV, 1 internet enabled blu-ray player, 1 PC, 1 encoder with Osprey card, 1 monitor, 1 keyboard 1 Wii, 1 DVD player, 1 Google TV box, 1 Sky HD box, 1 pre-amp, 1 power amp, 2 Saturn 10 speakers, 1 brennan and loads of cables and connectors.

The lab rats are myself (40's) my wife (30's) and son (under 10) plus anybody else who happens to pitch up.

Conclusions so far are

1. Only someone with a real interest would bother to connect all the equipment up.
2. The smart TV and internet functions on the Blu-Ray player only work with specific apps such as BBC I-player. The browser capability is hopeless.
3. Copying and re-streaming for piracy purposes remains as possible across every device - if it can be played it can be copied. Much of the work in piracy is in tracking and reporting. Some enforcement exists but is seems to fit into the category of the "nuclear option" which can appear disproportionate. 
4. The Google TV box is awesome and the browser capability and track pad on the remote work very well. My son really enjoys Annoying Orange at 42" blasted through a power amp. So a non smart TV with a smart box is much better for websurfing than a smart tv at this point. Signing up to NetFlix via the Google box was 1000% easier than signing up to Lovefilm via the Smart TV which took 2 weeks even though we were existing subscribers. Without this test I would not have bothered to persist. The Android market is very easy to work with and provides lots of opportunity for creative ways to access 3rd party content.
5. The Sky box as opposed to Sky content seems dominant - often it is used to watch 3rd party content as it is just "easy".
6. Internet capability on the Wii is used very rarely although the Wii gets about 40% of entertainment time as far as my son is concerned.
7. Picture quality of IP delivered content matches or exceeds satellite pictures on your average TV.

Possibly the issue is one of culture rather than tech. Open access to the web will always be an "enemy" of the old style TV business which are based on exclusivity and control of distribution. Hence smart TV's don't favour open web access even though it is possible. Google do web access brilliantly but struggle to recognise value in other peoples content - hence the browser in the Google TV box plus the ability to store all content on external storage devices such as movies - legit and otherwise.

Therefore what ? Given current economic headwinds it seems likely to me that a smart box may be a lower cost and better route for consumers who want internet on the TV. Some would argue that Boxee and Roku have achieved limited penetration with a product of this type but perhaps the marketing and product was not quite there - as Apple proved with the Ipad. Microsoft had pushed the Tablet before with no success but the principle was correct.