HOME Technology Dec 2011
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Merging digital screens

“The latest digital TVs already connect to broadband internet and with a high resolution camera can use Skype, for example, to video conference.”

Broadcast television as we know it is about to change forever, replaced by a hybrid of on-demand programming, interactive services, internet content and traditional free-to-air fare across a range of screens.

Almost every home has a TV set and we spend an average of three hours a day in front of them and the choice of what to we can do beyond passive viewing is expanding by the month.

Today’s sets are lighter, thinner, less power hungry in their delivery of full 1080p digital resolution. HDMI and other interfaces for surround sound, cameras, laptops and USB devices have opening up a world of possibilities.

The latest models already connect to broadband internet and with a high resolution camera can use Skype, for example, to video conference.

Smart streaming technology already enables viewers to catch up on missed programmes through broadcaster’s websites and deals with ISPs for unmetered access are already giving some viewers a taste of the future.

The arrival of Blu-ray HD-DVD players, personal video recorders (PVRs), 3DTV – although still in its infancy – and the ongoing roll out of HDTV broadcasting by Sky TV and Freeview and are all game changers.

Forced upgrade

Perhaps the most tangible incentive for change is the imminent shut down of analogue TV over the next two years, starting with Hawke’s Bay in September 2012.

All viewers will have to migrate to a Freeview enabled set, add a Freeview set-top box to their old school TV or subscribe to Sky TV or another pay-TV provider.

That deadline and a 17 percent drop in electronic equipment prices in the year to March have stimulated the sales of digital TVs.  According to StatisticsNZ, 70 percent of us have at least one digital set, and nine percent have access both Freeview and Sky or TelstraClear.

Prices have plummeted as much as 90 percent in the past three years with sales doubling to 400,000 compared to 2007. Frequent discount offers and interest free deals from the big chain stores suggest the trend is ongoing.

In fact flat screen TVs have become so affordable many households are now buying second and third units, creating a bright spot in otherwise tough retail times.

Online TV challenge

Research firm comScore found more than 1.7 million New Zealand internet users aged 15-years and over watched 81.6 million videos online – an average of one a day – during its February survey.

Over half were viewed on YouTube, followed by Facebook (2.4 million videos), while TVNZ (TV1, TV2, TV7) and MediaWorks (TV3, TV4) ranked among the top 10 sites reaching 201,000 and 149,000 viewers respectively.

Another major shift in our infrastructure, the dawn of ultrafast broadband, will also challenge our viewing habits over the next five years, opening the way for IPTV to stream new channels and interactive services over the internet.

Broadcasters, content providers, internet and phone companies will compete and co-operate in the battle to deliver triple-play services; mobile and landline phones, broadband and TV from a single account. Telecom and Sky are early players.

In a recent worldwide survey, telecommunications analyst Ovum found three quarters (74%) of broadband consumers surfed the internet while watching TV, half in order to access further news or information about content they were viewing

Another 38 percent – mainly 16-23-year olds – engaged in ‘social TV’, discussing content on social networking sites.

While tablet and smarphone devices using internet applications tend to draw viewers away from the TV, the industry is now being challenged to more tightly integrate TV and social networking sessions, with a more full and interactive experience across a range of devices.

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