Opinion: Television Needs A Revolution
By Alistair Charlton | November 17, 2012 3:19 AM EST
Television needs to grow up. In a world where we can buy fridges that tell us what to cook and order more supplies automatically, light bulbs that change colour when our smartphones tell them to, and tablets that can do just about everything, the TV is getting left behind.
Despite digital, HD, and 3D all claiming to revolutionise television, we still sit in front of the black box, our entire living room pointing at it, jabbing away at a needlessly complex remote control and muttering "there's never anything on" under our breath.
Got Sky+? Doesn't matter, because someone has set it to record Friends and Top Gear on series link and your terabyte set-top box filled up in a single day, so you're still stuck with whatever's on right now, which is probably Friends and Top Gear anyway.
Even that phrase 'set-top box' harks back to the days when televisions were deeper than they were wide and you put your digital TV box on top of it - yet that's what Sky still calls its devices.
TV needs a rethink.
When smart televisions came onto the scene a couple of years ago with their apps, icons and internet connections we thought finally the industry was getting the shakeup it needed.
Soon we had voice commands, integrated webcams and the ability to raise the volume by lifting our hand, but as the historically-dreadful menus of television past had given way to friendly, colourful apps, we are still left at the mercy of the TV channels to decide what we watch, and when.
On demand is full of compromise, with no winner
We're now told that on-demand content is the future, but with each service provider making its TV hardware and software differently, and each content producer deciding which service gets to distribute their latest film or TV series, the consumer is stuck in no man's land, paying for a range of services with varying choice and picture quality.
What we found is that, while £5 per month (or £15 for NowTV) is cheap for the amount of content on offer, it's still a mess because no one service is better than the others.
With the financial clout of Sky behind it, NowTV offers new films a year ahead of other two, but then they offer loads of television, which NowTV misses out on completely.
Until one or all services can offer all the content we want in a uniformly high quality, there is no winner here and instead consumers are forced to compromise.
And then there's the controllers
TV remotes have barely changed since they stopped being tethered to the set with a cable.
In a world where our homes are jam-packed with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 4G signals bouncing off each other, the television is controlled by the humble infrared beam - a technology that has barely changed in decades, needs a clear line-of-sight and is about the only device left in our house running on AA batteries.
Logitech has tried for years to crack the all-in-one remote by combining physical buttons (dozens of them) with a touch screen, but with the most complete remote costing over £200, we're still looking for alternatives.
It's a great idea and works well as a demonstration, but in the real world you've to unlock your phone, find the app, launch the app, and tap the right icon to simply pause the television - it's just not practical and leaves us back at square one, with half a dozen IR remotes littering our coffee table.
While screen technology continues to make leaps and bounds with ultra-high-definition and OLED, the rest of the experience (and the speakers, for that matter) are being left behind.
We've no doubt that Apple, Google and others are working on developing Television 2.0, and it could well lead to a revolution for the big screen as game-changing as the revolution of small screens in our pockets has been.
But for now, we're stuck. Content is there, but not easily accessible; quality can be had, but only if you buy it on discs, and meanwhile Sky, Virgin and BT continue to dominate with their frequent adverts, high prices and years-long contracts.
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