Measuring The Real Impact Of Smart TVs

Skype-For-TVSince the introduction of “Smart HDTVs” a couple of years ago I’ve been wondering just how much impact the built-in applications have on the purchase process, and the user experience. A new report from NPD Group sheds some much-needed insight into this area.

The headline of the report states very plainly that, “Internet Connected TVs Are Used To Watch TV, And That’s About All.” Beyond the traditional role of TV the leading role of the smart HDTV seems to be for using “Over-the-top” services like Netflix. Fully 60% of smart TV users report taking advantage of this feature.

The next most common use of the Smart TV is for listening to OTT music services, but that’s only reported as used by around 15% of the installed base. All other applications, including “video calling” services like Skype and Google Chat see use by less than 5% of users.

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Revisiting Video Calling To The Living Room, Yet Again

This is a topic that seemingly will not go away, yet it’s not clear that there’s much uptake by customers. Going back two years, the first wave of “Smart HDTVs” were capable of running an embedded Skype application. With the addition of an optional camera/microphone module HDTVs from Samsung, Panasonic and others were able to provide 720p video calling from point-to-point.

While a curiosity, this capability was initially limited to the high-end models that priced around $3K. Then you had to add the optional camera module, which cost an additional $200-300. In addition, there were reports of interoperability issues with other types of Skype clients. Your pricey HDTV might not be able to call a Mac or  PC-based Skype client.

To be sure, the cost of smart HDTVs has been falling, making such capability available at prices closer to $1K. Even so, it’s just not clear to me that embedded video calling in smart TVs was the revolution that some expected. Asking around I’ve yet to find anyone who found the Smart TV apps a compelling argument for replacing their existing HDTV.

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Inflexibility: TelyHD, Biscotti & Microphones

This is a semi-rant on a somewhat common theme for me, getting the best audio quality. In pondering these two new video calling devices from Tely Labs and Biscotti one thing stands out as unfortunate…they both rely exclusively upon an array of microphones built into their respective device. I find this to be short-sighted and unnecessarily inflexible.

Consider of you will the sample video that Jim Courtney recorded speaking with a gentleman from Tely Labs. The video quality is good. The audio quality is good…but it could be a lot better.

At both ends of the call there’s considerable room tone. In particular you can clearly hear that the conference room at Tely Labs is a simple drywall box. It sounds boomy and reverberant.

As I have described elsewhere, I find that the use of a speakerphone is always a last resort. It’s really only appropriate when you have a group of people collected for a call. To use a speakerphone when the call is just on-to-one is to permit the ambient noise and nature of the room to have undue influence in the audio quality.

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Video Calling On Your Home HDTV: Take 2–TelyHD And Biscotti

biscotti & tv-250 It seems that there’s a new wave of devices emerging that aim to provide high-quality video calling by way of the family TV.

This is not unfamiliar territory as both Cisco and Google have been in the space for some time. Cisco had their UMI device and associated service. Google had with the video calling capabilities built into Google TV, as exemplified by Logitech’s Revue.

It very clear that none of these prior efforts have made the kind of inroads that had been expected. Umi is no more. Logitech admitted that they took a bath on the Google TV and killed off Revue. Google seems to be continuing the Google TV effort, but it’s unclear where it’s heading.

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