The evolving living room TV experience

With the pace of change in living room technologies now moving so quickly it’s hard to imagine what the next 5 years will bring to the television. What is certain is that content will remain key and we’ll see significant growth in on-demand service delivery. Although content is likely to remain king, the TV viewing experience is about more than that alone. We’re seeing new platforms, applications and services for TVs launched virtually every month (particularly around this time of year as we gear up for CES) but if the content is difficult to find or use for the consumer, the effort spent on service enhancements will be lost. We spoke to industry expert Chris Painter this week who agreed, he said: “Having to sift through multiple apps to get to one provider’s content is not a great experience. The industry today is replacing channels with apps and people already complain about having too many channels”.

With this in mind, a complete revision of the traditional TV user interface  and EPG needs to happen. The conventions of the existing user interface, such as the traditional control device, is the biggest current hindrance to the improvements in experience that users should get from having new services and content on the TV. Indeed Painter argues that the lifecycle of the TV is too long to take full advantage of the ‘smarter’ applications that are gradually being added to it. In fact, in the US most value-add services still come via peripheral devices like the STB and OTT so in order for the TV to retain its position at the heart of the living room, the way in which we discover and navigate content on it, whether traditional live broadcast, on-demand programming, games or apps, will need to change.

At Philips we believe that different control functionalities will need to exist simultaneously to retain the innately ‘relaxing’ experience associated with TVs. Painter agrees that voice input may filter into our interactions with the TV, telling us: “Roughly 50% of the time people know what they are looking for when they sit in front of the TV, and with simple voice command, they could have it in front of them in seconds”, but we would argue that voice command technologies are not without their difficulties, however. Those consumers that have experienced Siri and comparable technologies understand where some of the technology’s limitations lie and whether such a concept would work in the ‘lean-back’ setting of the living room remains to be seen because they don’t allow for viewer inactivity. Painter suggested that while none of the voice demand services currently on the market are perfect “they will only continue to get better”, but we would argue that voice control is not a solution for casual gaming on the TV either, instead pointing is best placed for enjoying simple point and click games and navigating the EPG.

To understand how the TV viewing experience, and how we interact with the TV, may develop in the future however, the gaming industry does provide a useful point of reference. Painter said that “new ways to interact with the TV and the content coming through it have evolved from the games industry and will continue to evolve”. He believes that devices including the Wii and Microsoft Kinect have brought gesture control technology into the mainstream market and many living rooms, meaning consumers are becoming physically connected to their game consoles because their movements are acted out on screen.  We agree with Painter when he says he doesn’t see full gesture control, like Kinect, becoming mainstream for all devices, and that includes the TV because users will not want to ‘actively’ interact with their TVs every time.

So it is clear that familiarity with directly interacting with devices is growing among consumers. Touchscreen mobile phones and tablet devices, as well as gesture controlled games consoles, are mainstream products today, however it remains to be seen which form of direct interaction wins out when it comes to experiencing content on our TVs. Technology already exist that provides a similar touchscreen experience to TVs without having to get up to physically touch the screen. This includes the ability to switch channels, adjust volume or manipulate photos on the screen with just the flick of a wrist.

While I’m sure the future could see anything from TVs that pause the second you leave the room, or switch on once you’re sitting comfortably on the sofa, before then it’s the traditional user interface and the remote control that need modernising to allow them to cope with the new ‘smart’ services on TVs.

N.B. Chris Painter is senior product manager at Comcast. All views in this article are his own and do not reflect that of Comcast.
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About Navin Natoewal, General Manager Philips uWand

Navin Natoewal is General Manager of the Philips uWand team. uWand is a direct pointing and gesture control technology for remote controls. uWand offers fluent 3D gesture control and direct pointing capabilities with the same intuitiveness as a multi-touch screen. uWand, a result of 80 man-years of research and development, can be implemented in remote controls and interact with multiple electronic devices such as PCs, TVs, set-top boxes, DVD players and game consoles. Users control the devices simply by pointing in the appropriate direction or making specific movements in all three dimensions. For more information please visit http://www.uwand.com
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