IFA Uncovered

By Decipher Consultant  Philippe Epailly

We at Decipher always stay at the forefront of TV industry trends, a trip to the IFA tradeshow in Berlin this year enabled a first glance at novel technologies before their official launch. The IFA is the world’s largest and most important trade fair for consumer electronics, the big themes this year included the accelerating number of tablets on the market and for a second consecutive year, 3D TV. The development and integration of apps on Smart TVs, in particular the new HbbTV standard (Hybrid broadcast broadband Television) is arguably one of the most influential technologies to impact consumer’s video consumption.

First, let’s have a look at the 3D TVs showcased which were a major attraction to consumers at the fair. Most TV manufacturers had their new range of 3D tellys on display with bigger screens and a higher resolution, but Toshiba certainly had the most spectators with the world’s first glasses-free 3D TV. They claim that up to 9 viewers can watch 3D simultaneously and at 55 inches this TV certainly makes an impression. Having battled the queue to experience the new 3D TV, it appears that the technology is not quite ready yet as the picture quality and 3D effects are not that impressive in comparison to the 3D screens using active and passive 3D glasses we have at our media lab in Chiswick (www.iburbiastudios.co.uk). In addition to this, Toshiba’s glasses-free screen has a price tag of around £8,000 and will struggle to attract more than early adopters.
The innovation in 3D sounds exciting to the consumer but with limited 3D content available in the UK such as Sky’s linear channel, the odd rental on pay platforms and 3D Blu-Ray discs, content providers are yet to find a way to make it mainstream. Apart from the obligation to wear 3D glasses, the lack of 3D content is the main hindrance of the success of 3D in the living room to date and without more content to choose from, the best glasses-free 3D TV will be of no use to consumers.
Amongst all this flashy new technology, the feature which will be more accessible to consumers is the launch of the HbbTV standard and the progress in Smart TV technology lead by the addition of LG to the collaboration of Philips, Sharp and German manufacturer Loewe to establish a common platform for TV apps.
There were quite a few companies, from TV manufacturers to suppliers of set-top-boxes that showcased the newly introduced HbbTV services in Germany. Most German broadcasters including both public and private, have their own service now. The HbbTV standard seems to have done a great job of delivering content to the end-consumer, the service itself looks like a mixture of the old Teletext service and the red button service with the capability to watch catch-up content. It’s a visually rich interface which is congruent among different platforms and makes it easy for content providers to push their content onto multiple platforms.
This is where it becomes interesting for the UK market as the Youview consortium is set to launch its service in early 2012. The new HbbTV services launched at the IFA have clearly shown that it’s capable of distributing content through a visually rich interface with plenty of content but with rumours of Freeview and Freesat boxes using HbbTV technology coming to market soon it will be interesting to see who is able to establish itself over time.
Similar as for 3D, Smart TVs have the problem of content distribution as content providers have to develop an app for each platform which makes it a lengthy process. This means that TV manufacturers often struggle to get content for their Smart TV platforms which makes it unattractive to consumers but a common platform for TV apps is a great start to profit from synergies of various manufacturers working together. This just leaves to hope that the other big TV manufacturers such as Sony, Samsung and Toshiba join this alliance soon which will simplify the distribution of content on Smart TVs and offer a better service to consumers.

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