I agree with the principal argument that this article had put forward concerning the availability of the “smart-TV functionality” in video peripherals like Blu-Ray players or network-media adaptors. There is due to a reality that most of the consumer-electronics industry has been missing concerning how people have purchased and owned TV sets; something I, like most of you, have seen for myself.
The reality with TV purchasing and ownership
Since the 1970s, the typical colour television set has been able to enjoy a very long and reliable service life, thanks to transistorisation. This had been underscored with the gradual introduction of electronic tuner subsystems that were more reliable than older mechanical tuner systems like the old “click-click-click” tuning knobs that were common in most markets or the “push to select, twist to tune” button arrays common on TV sets sold in the UK in the 1960s.
This long service life then allowed for a “push-down” upgrade path to exist in a similar manner to what happens with the household refrigerator. Here, one could buy a nicer newer fridge and place it in the kitchen while the older fridge that it was to replace could go in the garage or laundry and act as extra cold storage space for food and drink, such as the typical “beer fridge”. In the case of the TV, this would mean that one would buy a newer better TV, most likely with a larger screen and place it in the main lounge area. Then the original set which was to be replaced by the new set typically ended up in another room like a secondary lounge area or a bedroom or even in a holiday house.
Usually the only reason most households would scrap a TV set would be if it failed beyond repair or was damaged, Even if a set was surplus to one’s needs, it would be pushed off to another household that could benefit.
Some people may think that this practice has stopped with the arrival of the LCD or plasma flatscreen TV, but it still goes on.
Not all TVs are likely to be “smart TVs”
Not all manufacturers are likely to offer network-enabled TVs in their product cycle. This may be due to a focus on picture quality or the ability to build lower-end products to a popular price point.
It also includes sets like TV-DVD combo units or small-size models that are offered at bargain-basement prices. As well, home-theatre enthusiasts will be interested in buying the latest projector rather than the latest “smart TV”.
Addition of extra functionality to existing televisions with video peripheral devices
The consumer-electronics industry has had success with extending the useability of existing television receivers through the use of well-equipped multi-function video peripherals.
The video recorder as a TV-enablement device
The best example of a device enabling older and cheaper TV sets was the video cassette recorder as it evolved through the 1980s. This wasn’t just in the form of recording of TV shows and playback of content held on videocassettes.
It was in the form of improved television viewing due to the TV tuners integrated in these devices. By model-year 1981 in all markets, the typical video recorder was equipped with a reliable electronic TV tuner. As well, all VHS and Betamax video recorders that implemented logic-control tape transports also implemented a “source-monitor” function when the machine wasn’t playing tapes. This would typically have the currently-selected channel on the machine’s tuner available at the machine’s output jacks including the RF output channel that the TV was tuned to.
Here, this setup gave the old TVs a new lease of life by providing them with a highly-reliable TV signal from the VCR’s tuner. In some cases, users could tune to more broadcasts than what was available on the TV set. Examples of this included cable channels received on an older “non-cable” TV in the USA or Germany; channels broadcasting on the UHF band through a mid-70s VHF-only TV in Australia and New Zealand; or access to Channel 4 on a “4-button” TV in the UK due to more channel spaces.
The ability to change channels using the video recorder’s remote control also allowed a person who had a cheaper or older TV to change channels from the comfort of their armchair, something they couldn’t previously do with those sets.
Similarly, some households would run a connection from the video recorder’s AUDIO OUT to their hi-fi system’s amplifier and have TV sound through their better-sounding hi-fi speakers. This was exploited more with stereo video recorders, especially those units that had a stereo TV tuner integrated in them, a feature that gradually appeared as TV broadcasters started to transmit in stereo sound through the 80s and 90s.
How the Blu-Ray player is able to do this
The typical well-bred Blu-Ray Disc player has the ability to connect to the home network via Ethernet or, in some cases, Wi-Fi wireless. This is typically to support “BD-Live” functionality where a user can download and view extra content held on a Blu-Ray Disc’s publisher’s servers in addition to viewing content held on the disc. As well, the Blu-Ray Disc player can connect to ordinary TV sets as well as the HDMI-equipped flat-screen TVs that are currently in circulation.
Some of the Blu-Ray players, especially recent Samsung, Sony and LG models can also pull down media from the DLNA Home Media Network and show it on these TVs. As well, some manufacturers are rolling out some Internet-ended services to these players.
In the same way as the video recorder was able to extend the functionality of the cheaper or older TV set by offering extended tuner coverage, remote control or access to better sound, the Blu-Ray player or network media adaptor could open the world of Internet–ended entertainment to these sets.
What the industry should do
The industry could work towards achieving similar interactive functionality for the network-enabled video peripherals as the network-enabled TVs. They could achieve this through the establishment of a “platform design” with similar applications and capabilities across a consumer-video product lineup. It is infact what Sony is doing for their consumer-video products at the moment with very little difference in interactive-service lineup between their TVs and their Blu-Ray players.
Here, the interactive-TV software is consistent across the whole lineup of TVs, Blu-Ray players, Blu-Ray-equipped home-theatre systems and other video peripherals. The manufacturer may vary the software according to the device’s function by omitting functions relating to particular hardware requirements like screens, optical drives or broadcast tuners in order to make it relevant to the device class. Of course, there could be support for user-attached peripheral devices like USB Webcams, Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones, UPnP-compliant printers and the like to extend functionality for particular software applications like video-conferencing.
The software may be fully revised every few years to build in new functionality and accommodate better hardware. It may also be a chance to improve the operation experience for the software concerned. Yet this could maintain the branding and skinning that the manufacturer and software partners do desire.
There is a different reality that exists when buying TV equipment and this function should be supported equally in video peripheral equipment like Blu-Ray players and network media adaptors as in TV sets.