Exploring four trends that could transform TV as broadcasters meet at NAB 2015
1. Why your TV should talk to your toaster: connected-TV and the 'internet of things'
One of the big draws at television technology shows such as NAB in Las Vegas is the "living room of the future", with its wall-filling, multi-image, interactive TV screen. Such "wallpaper displays" are still, largely, mock-ups, not demonstrations of real services.
But the "internet of things" (IoT) – the multiplication of connected devices, body-worn sensors and Cloud data services – could soon make such TVs a reality.
Analyst IDC optimistically reckons the global IoT market could be worth $7tr in five years' time.
Consumer gadget vendors such as Apple and the online information giants Google, Facebook and Amazon are keen to connect the personal data they already hoover up to your electronic devices in the home, car or outdoor environment.
But pay-TV and telco operators could be poised to steal a slice of that IoT pie, if they can capitalise on their long experience of in-home customer service.
They already possess a "home gateway" in the set-top box and existing billing relationships.
"Advanced services, such as home security, home safety, home automation and energy management... usually require an installer to come on site and handle 'the last mile' of the service," points out Simon Trudelle, Senior Product Marketing Director at broadcast technology company Nagra. Broadband and pay-TV suppliers, such as BT, Sky and Virgin "are very well positioned", he adds.
Customer relationships, security and trust are part of the equation but so, too, is the interface that will have to seamlessly and efficiently handle both entertainment and "in-picture" IoT services on the big screen.
2. Ultra-high-definition TV needs agreed standards for better colour and contrast
Broadcasters have been telling consumer electronics manufacturers for some time that simply cramming more pixels into a picture does not make Ultra-HDTV a compelling proposition for viewers.
However, pictures with a wider colour range and greater brightness levels – collectively called High Dynamic Range (HDR) – might sway consumers.
Recognising the need for HDR is one thing, agreeing a standard for it is another. Every major manufacturer has been marketing its own technique for raising brightness in TVs.
"Manufacturers would like to increment Ultra-HD technology every year in order to sell new TVs. But pay-TV broadcasters want Ultra-HD to be a significant step change in quality so that they can charge more money for it," says Simon Gauntlett, CTO of the Digital TV Group. "In the middle is Netflix, which likes the idea that it can move a bit quicker than broadcasters to implement any new technologies as they develop."
Even if an HDR standard is agreed, its implementation is far from solved. Broadcasters want an HDR-augmented broadcast stream to work without compromise on the majority of existing HDTV screens, as well as on new Ultra-HD sets.
While the incorporation of HDR into the current Ultra-HD 4K television specifications is being considered, there are calls for HDR and Ultra-HD to be separated entirely. The reason for this is that when HDR isapplied to a 2,000-pixel-wide HDTV picture, to some eyes it looks far superior to a basic 4,000-pixel-wide 4K image.
Which rather calls into question the whole Ultra-HD project.
3. Unburdened by the hype carried by 3DTV, virtual reality is taking stealthy strides
No one expects immersive virtual reality (VR) programming to supplant conventional viewing any time soon. It will prosper as a second-screen adjunct to cinema and TV programming until someone comes up with a killer entertainment app.
There's no need to buy a new TV set – anyone with a smartphone can watch VR content on it if they pay around £10 for it to be temporarily converted into a headset, using Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR.
Broadcasters have taken a scattergun approach to trials: Sky has shot dozens of VR shorts, including scenes from Fortitude and Critical.
The related technologies of panoramic image capture (especially of live events) and "mixed reality" (which still requires the viewer to don headgear) are also attracting interest from video content creators.
4. Mobile TV may finally take off thanks to the arrival of LTE Broadcast
Excitement is building around an emerging technology, LTE Broadcast, which the mobile phone companies' Global Suppliers Association hails as a "game changer".
LTE Broadcast supercharges existing 4G networks by delivering the same content – such as video or music or software updates, or even severe weather warnings – to multiple users, rather than deliveringeach user their own individual stream.
The system could come into its own at sports venues, where there is often heavy demand for the same live video stream from crowds of fans. The application could easily be extended to other live events and catch-up TV.
LTE Broadcast even promises to end the war between the mobile industry and Europe's free-to-air broadcasters over scarce spectrum.
Six of the best
Gavin Mann, Global Broadcast Lead at Accenture, selects the six solutions most urgently sought after by broadcasters and online video providers.
1. Monetising live events
Despite the fragmentation of viewership, live events – especially sports – give broadcasters access tovaluable mass audiences. The India vs Pakistan World Cup cricket match in February was seen by about 1billion people worldwide. The cost of rights to such events is rocketing, as broadcasters chase the top-tier live events that will give them the edge over their new, digital competitors. This is boosting interest in technologies that integrate social media, online video and tools for monetising the live experience.
2. DIY bundling
Consumers want a 'post-bundle' world, where they can choose content quickly and easily. So look out for pay-TV and internet video providers working more closely to create joined-up interfaces that cut back on the profusion of devices, remotes and subscription plans that users currently have to cope with.
3. Flexible streaming platforms
This is a new battleground. Local internet video service providers are having to fight back against global online video distributors, such as Netflix and Amazon. At NAB, a lot of interest is focusing on new, flexible streaming platforms that can be adapted to the needs of local service providers.
4. Cloud services for broadcasters
The Cloud offers a faster time to market for new services, the ability to scale service costs according to demand and greater access to customer analytics. The Cloud is fundamental for service providers such as Amazon, but increasingly important to broadcasters, as well.
5. Understanding the audience
Audience analytics have become essential for broadcasters and advertisers seeking to understand consumer behaviour, trends and dynamics over a wide range of devices. NAB features many new tools for collecting and analysing statistics in real time to guide ad-servers and content recommendation engines. This relentless focus on consumer optimisation will have an impact on all aspects of broadcasting: from decisions about content to implementing new services for viewers and advertisers.
6. Future-proofing with Ultra-HDTV
Relentless, global competition is driving broadcasters and video service providers to stand out from the crowd. Ultra-HDTV in its 4K incarnation provides the next logical step. But providers are looking for technologies that will allow them to offer 4K content without the need for massively increased broadband capacity.