Paritosh Joshi: When is a TV no longer a TV?

21 Feb,2013

By Paritosh Joshi

 

The arrival of a new mobile device has triggered a dramatic transformation in the TV viewing experience at La Casa Joshi.

 

What does a mobile device have to do with the television? In these technomorphing times, everything. The mobile device possesses a remarkable capability – it functions as a WiFi router (aka mobile WiFi hotspot). In the process, the wireless internet connectivity it accesses can be shared with up to as many as five other devices. This is what I did. I activated the smart television features of the set. It asked for type of connectivity. I indicated a preference for WiFi. It searched, and promptly found, the mobile device. I entered the passcode that enabled the connection and presto, I was off unlocking a side of my own television’s personality that I had known nothing at all about.

 

Initial exploration, and I’ve only spent half an hour fooling around with this shiny new toy that popped out of a TV that had graced the wall for a good year before this moment of epiphany, reveals the following:

 

1. The television has operating software that runs quietly in the background staying on top of whatever is going on. How do I know? Soon as I connected it all up, there was this little prompt – popup box and everything, that indicated that new software was available and sought my permission to download and install it. I agreed and the usual download bar started filling up left to right as it always does (but not on TVs, or at least not until now).

2. Once the menus are up on the screen, there’s a whole frame with ‘Apps’ and when you navigate to it, you open a drop-down menu with a whole range of choices, “Humour & Comedy”, “Travel & Lifestyle”, “Food & Drinks”, “Action/Adventure”, “Science”, “Technology & Gadgets” and a few others. In each section there are a number of downloadable apps. “Travel” offers you TripAdvisor, “Food” brings up Epicurious, “Technology” decodes as “Engadget” and so on.

3. In the midst of all this embarras de richesses I found an app called YouTube and in a flash, my TV world changes. For ever.

 

In that moment, my content choice changed from the hundred-odd channels that the DTH service provides to the endless and continuously expanding Alladin’s Cave of audiovisual treasure that we all know and have come to love. Except, with a huge improvement. Called YouTube Leanback. Suddenly, I wasn’t at bustling content bazar with tantalising goodies tumbling out everywhere the eye turned to a tidy departmental store with everything assigned to tidy aisles, ready to be navigated. Wife searched for Adele and this is what we got on our TV screen. A huge playlist featuring that supremely talented, young British artist kicked in. Rolling in the Deep played. Moved out and made way for Skyfall (the latest Bond caper’s title song, surely you remember?). Then Someone Like You. And it just went on. YouTube was delivering us a ready to run Adele channel.

 

On a whim, I did a search for Sivaji Ganesan and presto, the fondly remembered court sequence from Parasakthi, and dozens of other equally memorable moments from that great star’s oeuvre were ready to trip the light fantastic. The Beatles. Salil Chowdhury. Amjad Khan. The genie of the endless wishes was raring to please.

 

A lot of televisions that are moving into consumer homes are now ‘smart’. They are designed to work not as passive devices that receive and render audiovisual streams but as intelligent entertainment appliances waiting to get connected to the internet. And once connected, they really come into their own. While the devices have reached, the connectivity may still be suspect, after all there aren’t that many homes that sport a WiFi network (although it is instructive to turn on a search for networks available in any somewhat genteel residential or office neighbourhood- smart youngsters routinely survive all their torrent streaming by stealing connectivity from their unwary co-residents who haven’t figured out WEP, WPA and such and couldn’t be bothered by little bumps in their data bills). All this is set to change.

 

The arrival of LTE aka 4G is imminent and in a fell swoop, you go from struggling with 1 Mbps to smooth delivery of 100 Mbps. Now a typical Hollywood film blu-ray DVD runs to about 15 Gb or 15400 Mb. With the monster speeds that LTE should offer, that ought to download in somewhere between three and five minutes. For a full HD, Dolby Surround Audio experience. And out goes the WiFi router and all the paraphernalia around the home. What replaces it is a small dongle that will attach to the HDMI port of the television set. Like this one for instance. Or this one. Available now. For less than Rs. 2000.

 

What will an LTE-enabled home that has fully unlocked the smart power of its new television do once the dongle is in its dock? Hard to say just yet, but this much is clear. The depth and fury of the change will dwarf all our previous notions of what ‘disruptive technology’ means to the entertainment business.

 

Paritosh Joshi has been a marketer, a mediaperson and a key officebearer on industry bodies. He is developing an independent media advisory practice. His column, Media Matrix, appears on MxMIndia, usually on Thursdays

 

 

 

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