Saturday, February 22, 2014

What Is A TV ?

Seems like an obvious question, doesn't it?

It's something the vast majority of us consume. In fact we probably spend more time interacting with it than we do with our partners, children or colleagues.

But the face time is being threatened. As Mobile World Congress kicks off in Barcelona this week, the upstart screen in your pocket is making a serious play at that time. After all, it's pretty difficult to lug your 42" screen around with you.

So, we live in a world defined by screen size. From wrap around 360 degree 3D experiences down to your smartphone, they're all TVs now. Live events from opera to rugby games are broadcast on all these devices. I named a company after this effect -TV Everywhere.

The trade off here is quality against convenience. You can watch pretty much anything anywhere on your mobile now, but you might have to compromise quality. I remember being on the tube travelling between events at the 2012 Olympics watching the events that I wasn't attending.

Segueing from this is the screen v processing issue. A screen displays the video signal, but something has to process it. Traditionally this was built into the circuitry of the TV set, then it became processed in software, now it is decoded on almost any device. The irony is that the devices doing the decoding are phenomenally powerful. The smartphone in your pocket has more processing power than was used to send men to the moon.

But this means that the move from one device - a TV - to two devices, a screen and a box, has now again become one device, with the screen itself offering a huge amount of processing power.

The way the video is received has also fundamentally changed, from over the air from a transmitter using a broadcast signal, to cable and satellite distribution to IP based distribution where the video becomes packets that represent live or in demand streams.

And now we're moving into a new era, where TVs become wearable with products such as Google glasses (it should be pointed out that companies such as Panasonic have had wearable screens available for a long time.

The way that we interact with television has fundamentally changed as well, from a social interaction where the whole family watched the same screen and programming, we now have a splintered experience where cohesion is provided via social networks: a substantial amount of Facebook and Twitter activity is around TV viewing.

So, what is a TV these days - a screen, an experience, a device, a service ? It's all of the above and it's therefore more creatively and technically challenging than ever.