The State of Smart TV @ CES

If one thing was clear at CES 2013, it was that Smart features on top-of-the line TVs had advanced substantially over those found on last year’s models.

Screen interfaces now sport multiple panels and customization capabilities to make them more useful and less cluttered. Voice and gesture control have been improved to the point where you might actually want to use those features in place of a standard-issue remote. And synchronized “second-screen” applications for browsing content and program guide data on a tablet or phone and “throwing” it to the TV for instantaneous viewing are now widely available and easy to get up and running.

I had the opportunity to serve as the moderator of a panel at CES called The Latest and Greatest in Smart TV, which included reps from Panasonic, LG, DirecTV, and Skype. While the general consensus seemed to be that TVs have now moved well beyond the merely “connected” state, the question lingered as to whether users are taking advantage of all the cool new features on offer — and whether or not manufacturers should offer them at all.  Click this link to watch the panel discussion in its entirety.

Some key points to emerge from the panel:

  • TV-viewing remains a lean-back experience: Your TV is not a computer.
  • The second screen is the appropriate hub for social media and other forms of interaction, not the TV itself. The second screen is also a vital extension of set functionality for EPG browsing, recommendation engines, and remote control.
  • Cloud-based gaming is a growth area for Smart TV.
  • Integration of the Smart interface within the set itself is the more ideal scenario from both a hardware manufacturer and an app developer perspective.
  • The RVU protocol, which allows viewers to both browse program guides and stream premium content to a connected TV without a set-top box, will be a vital feature for Smart TVs going forward. (Both Samsung and Sony showed sets with RVU capability at CES.)
  • The TV replacement cycle is trending downward to 5-7 years for most consumers. The upside here is that any Smart TV you buy should be compatible with forthcoming apps and services during that time span.
  • “Personalization” is a linchpin for Smart TVs — what makes them Smart as opposed to merely connected. The main features of personalization include custom home screens, face recognition, and voice recognition.
  • Built-in Web cams are a key component to Smart TV innovation, but may also represent a privacy threat.
  • "Content Throwing," or wireless network sharing, is being made considerably more user-friendly by new developments like Miracast, Wi-Fi Direct, and NFC tags. 
  • Consumer feedback to TV manufacturers indicates an increased interest in advanced remote control options, including apps and voice/gesture control.