Posted on February 1, 2012 in ATSC News
Navigating the crowded halls and sights and sounds of the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, I didn’t exactly have an epiphany. After all, I expected most of the new products introduced at the show to be more or less incremental advancements, not obvious harbingers of any game-changing revolution in the consumer media experience.
But over the days and nights of the show, a realization did slowly settle in on my sensory-overloaded mind that something significant in the media world is happening with fundamental ramifications, and better yet, synergy with ATSC’s direction for current and future programs. As a member of the broadcast industry and an ATSC Board member, it happily dawned on me that the trends are beginning to align.
“Smart” or “Internet-connected” TVs were first introduced at CES a few years ago but at this year’s event it seemed that the “smart” category was everywhere. The major TV manufacturers all had “smart” in their principal marketing taglines and new products all had “smart” functions as part of their basic core operation (I wonder, though, whether I really want to be “out-smarted” by my refrigerator). With at least one manufacturer claiming more than 1,400 available apps for their TV line, it might not compare yet with the more than 500,000 apps available for the iPhone, but the new content that can be brought to the TV set via its broadband connection is definitely becoming a major selling point for TV sets, in addition to the usual cable, satellite and broadcast antenna program sources. It’s abundantly clear that ATSC 2.0 has a lot to offer in this space for enabling broadcasters to “appify” their services and bridge the broadcast and broadband worlds.
ATSC A/153 Mobile TV at the OMVC-sponsored Mobile DTV TechZone showed that the technology has moved to a different stage of market readiness, with offerings from Mobile Content Venture (MCV), the Mobile 500 Alliance and demonstrations of advanced emergency alerting, among other exhibits at the TechZone:
Of special interest to many ATSC members was 3D technology shown in full force on the exhibit floor from all the major players, despite its relatively slow start in the marketplace over the past year. With 3D glasses literally littering the floor, glasses-less 3D displays had also been heavily hyped leading up to the show and were evident from several exhibitors. Suffice it to say that while advances are being made, auto-stereoscopic TV still won’t be ready for prime time for at least a few years. Nonetheless, ATSC’s standardization activity in 3D transmission will provide future-proofing for broadcasters, if and when 3D over-the-air broadcasting becomes a feasible and attractive market opportunity.
Better picture quality has been a continual theme at CES since the introduction of HDTV. This year, OLED TVs, thin as pizza crust and with better performance than LCD or plasma in almost every category, probably stole the show. With 55-inch displays shown by both LG Electronics and Samsung (and a 2012 market launch promised by LG) this display technology will be ready for its close-up this year, although the first units will probably have five digits in their price to the left of the decimal point.
With HDTV getting close to its asymptotic best potential quality, resolution beyond HDTV is now a logical next step for consumer media experiences. While Toshiba, LG and others showed giant so-called 4K “ultra definition” sets, the lack of any available true 4K programming source probably caused some confusion in many at the consumer electronics event focused on the near-term. Sharp’s demonstration of an 85-inch 8K LCD display, compatible with NHK’s Ultra-HDTV at 16 times the resolution of HDTV, provided a clear future goal post for those seeking visual clarity nirvana in the living room. As the ATSC 3.0 activity defines requirements for standardizing next generation broadcasting, the 4K and 8K demonstrations and products will be strongly influential.
One last set of product and technology trends that impressed me at CES was making content available in the home also available to other devices. Examples include Syncbak, whose distribution platform enables rights-controlled access of local TV signals to authorized devices on the Internet, showed their first public demonstration of the technology in action using a live Las Vegas television station.
Other examples: Through automated content recognition (ACR) techniques, Audible Magic demonstrated that program-related and other interactive second-screen services on laptops and other Internet devices could be seamlessly provided when the devices are within “earshot” of a TV set’s speakers. Samsung, in conjunction with DIRECTV, showed how recorded programming selected from a DVR could be streamed directly to other smart TVs in the home, no additional set top box required. Comcast and Intel similarly showed a demo of wireless program streaming from cable set top box to Internet devices in the home.
Another interesting content example was Boxee’s announcement of a new Facebook app that integrates the company’s Live TV service (via the previously announced USB tuner Live TV tuner stick) with a user’s Facebook Timeline, sharing what you’re watching on Facebook as well as letting you see what your friends are watching—don’t worry, it’s an opt-in feature. Taking the streaming interface a step further, and directly relevant to broadcasters, simple.tv showed a new low cost device for access and DVR storage of over-the-air and clear QAM cable signals, but with only an Ethernet port for output, with apps developed for iPad, Roku, Boxee or Google TV. Slinging around TV signals from different devices onto other different devices is definitely a frontier that’s expanding.
All in all, the 2012 International CES was the usual expansive, eye-opening and utterly draining event it always is. Time will tell which technologies shown there will ultimately be successful under the harsh judgment of the marketplace. In the meantime, the future possibilities are bright, and based on the record-setting 152,999 people that attended besides me, the interest level in consumer electronics is at an all-time high, and that just can’t be a bad trend for digital media standards setting organizations like ATSC.
Posted in ATSC News
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The Advanced Television Systems Committee, Inc., is an international, non-profit organization developing voluntary standards and recommended practices for digital terrestrial broadcasting. ATSC member organizations represent the broadcast, broadcast equipment, motion picture, consumer electronics, computer, cable, satellite, and semiconductor industries. ATSC also develops digital terrestrial broadcasting implementation strategies and supports educational activities on ATSC standards.