TV or not TV: a big ques­tion

Tel­lies are set to be­come more than one-di­men­sional boxes, writes Paul To­masch

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TV -

FALL back on your couch in five years’ time, snap your fin­gers to turn on a TV that’s as thin as paper and stretches across a wall, then ask it to switch to your favourite sports chan­nel so you can watch the day’s sport in 3D – no glasses re­quired.

This is a por­trait painted by top ex­ec­u­tives when asked about the fu­ture of tele­vi­sion.

Not all agreed on de­tails – some, like Vi­a­com chief ex­ec­u­tive Philippe Dau­man, warned big changes could take more than five years given that peo­ple tend to have “a very op­ti­mistic view of how quickly and widely de­vices will be adopted”.

But there was broad con­sen­sus that the act of kick­ing back in the lounge to watch TV was not about to go away.

In­deed, ex­ec­u­tives said the ex­pe­ri­ence would only grow richer, and hope­fully sim­pler.

“You don’t want peo­ple to have to have a PhD in de­vice man­age- ment to use their me­dia prod­ucts,” said Time Warner Inc chief ex­ec­u­tive Jef­frey Bewkes.

Speak­ing in Paris, Fred­eric Rose, head of French set-top box maker Tech­ni­color, said that in five years’ time he hoped the lounge would fea­ture one big-screen TV, one re­mote and one set-top box that al­lowed view­ers to con­nect to the in­ter­net, watch live TV and search for video and movies.

“To­day it can of­ten take a dozen clicks to find one news pro­gramme,” he said. “There are too many boxes, too many re­motes and too much hard­ware.”

Frus­trat­ing, con­fus­ing re­mote con­trols are the most fre­quently men­tioned prob­lem with the cur­rent TV ex­pe­ri­ence – and that is dur­ing a time when the re­mote is not ex­pected to do much above the ba­sic func­tions of ad­just­ing vol­ume, chang­ing the chan­nel, fast-for­ward­ing or scrolling through an in­for­ma­tion guide.

“The typ­i­cal re­mote con­trol is not use­ful for play­ing video games. The video game con­troller is not use­ful for watch­ing films. Nei­ther of those is use­ful for search. They are dumb con­trollers,” said Bobby Kotick, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Ac­tivi­sion Bliz­zard Inc, the video game com­pany be­hind Call of Duty.

He and oth­ers said that would have to change if the TV was to blos­som into a screen where con­sumers could not only watch shows and play games, but could also write e-mails, video chat with friends, read the news­pa­per or shop on­line for gro­ceries.

For all of that, con­sumers would prob­a­bly want a sin­gle re­mote con­trol that would al­low them to nav­i­gate across me­dia – even if that re­mote con­trol was not any­thing that could be held in your hand or flung across the room.

Anne Sweeney, chief of Walt Dis­ney Co’s ABC, said her own ob­ser­va­tions – what she calls “kitchen re­search” – of­fered some clues as to what con­sumers ex­pect down the road.

“I’ve seen more than one kid go up to the tele­vi­sion set and try to move some­thing, or I’ve seen them try to change the chan­nel by swip­ing their hand,” she said. “You re­alise these be­hav­iours are so quickly learned.”

An­other gam­ing ex­ec­u­tive and me­dia in­dus­try vet­eran, Strauss Zel­nick, chair man of Take-Two In­ter­ac­tive Soft­ware Inc, said one crit­i­cal fea­ture for con­sumers was that all their en­ter­tain­ment de­vices be “wire­less, synced, com­pat­i­ble, pretty seam­less and plug-and-play”, mean­ing they did not re­quire con­stant calls to a helpdesk.

“That’s ide­alised, be­cause the per­sonal com­puter revo­lu­tion started in the late 1970s and it still isn’t plug-and-play,” he added.

As for the tele­vi­sion it­self, he pre­dicted that “you’ve got a very large-for­mat flat-screen tele­vi­sion in the liv­ing room that is al­most like wall­pa­per, not quite. Very high­qual­ity, very high-def­i­ni­tion”.

In­deed, few could see any rea­son why the big-screen TV would be made ob­so­lete by the pop­u­lar­ity of mo­bile de­vices along the lines of Ap­ple Inc’s iPad.

“The big TVs aren’t go­ing to go any­where. It’s like the car. We’re a coun­try that just likes big tele­vi­sions,” said Robert Bow­man, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Ma­jor League Base­ball Ad­vanced Me­dia. – Reuters

SETPOINT : Soon you could be watch­ing a paper-thin TV that stretches across an en­tire wall, in very high def­i­ni­tion – and it could in­te­grate games, web surf­ing and 3D.

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