Consumers want simplicity and choice, a significant part of this is that all members of the family are happy with the usability. Yes, extra boxes aren't particularly desired but they get acceptance when the benefits play out and the benefits are nearly all content centric. e.g. DVR is about time-shifting content to make it more convenient and OTT is about getting access to more content.
There are a good number of people who would like a piece of glass instead of a TV because they appreciate the experience their STB gives them. This did happen earlier in this history of Plasma TVs, they had an umbilical to a processing box, but it hasn't really been resurrected. I spoke to one company who recently mentioned considering it for one line, but time will tell.
Smart TV's real problem is that there isn't a common approach to accessing content. There are various HTML formats in use currently, especially because each TV vendor thinks they have the right answer. HbbTV has come forward as an offer to unify this, but its initial implementation in CE-HTML probably closed the market too much. Now OIPF and HbbTV is moving to HTML5 the market should be really opening up to more content and more endpoints.
However the market has another issue, many manufacturers want to become the new gatekeepers to content and take a piece of the value chain. This is the new part of the traditional value chain which has recently been declining, even with the shake-up, this isn't easy. Another part of the gatekeeper scenario is that these global giants struggle to implement individually for local markets, so they create global portals and switch on/off content to meet the local market. But this is a lowest common denominator situation, they struggle to maximise their revenue from premium content and they struggle to leverage their access to prime local content.
One of the biggest problems for device brands is that content providers want to manage which manufacturers get access to their content, the reasons for this are usually around protecting their brand. They want to assure themselves of security, quality, conformance and that in general the content is being presented as they intended. This creates a resource burden on the content provider to manage and conduct this certification. Whenever there are resource burdens there follows a process of prioritisation and the result of that is that not every device can use a service. Many content service providers set a minimum number of devices you must have before they will engage (often the number 250,000 comes up) but this then creates a ‘chicken / egg’ problem: you can’t make the product a success without content, you can’t get content without a successful product.
One thing Pixsan is keen to see is more use of delegation, where scaling partners and test houses are able to validate products on behalf of services. Another strategy that Pixsan would like to see is the recognition that often one product is built on the same platform as another, therefore a full regression test is probably not necessary. Defined acceptance criteria with high quality test scripts and automation to separate the platform from the product on top further facilitates this. The final approach that Pixsan is driving is the use of reference designs, where a configuration is pre-validated with the content provider and the integrators just have a duty to ensure consistency.
Some local companies are showing leadership, but the complexities of content access, certification and politics make success difficult. There is a division between the technical efforts of organisations like the DTG and OIPF, and the commercial arms of organisations. Until this is reconciled the market for IP content on retail TV worldwide will remain divided and fragmented.
By Bob Hannent, CTO, Pixsan Digital