Internet connected televisions are one of the evident themes at the fiftieth annual IFA consumer electronics trade fair in Berlin. Major manufacturers announced enhancements to their network-connected television services. While 3DTV is attracting attention, the real revolution is that televisions are getting smarter, but there is little consensus among the major manufacturers about how that will happen.
Sony launched Qriocity in Europe, a music and movie streaming service that aims to take on Apple iTunes. The Sony video-on-demand service will be launched later this year in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, having been available in the United States since April. It will include “hundreds of box office hits” from 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate, MGM, NBC Universal, Paramount, Walt Disney, Warner Bros, and of course Sony Pictures.
A cloud-based music service will also be available across Sony Bravia televisions, Blu-ray disc players, PlayStation 3 consoles and Vaio computers.
The Sony announcement came at the same time as Steve Jobs revealed the new Apple TV box, but predictably received less media coverage. The Sony alternative remains an aptly-named curiosity. Unlike Apple, Sony has a confusing approach to the market, with competing sub-brands like Sony Internet TV, Bravia Internet Video, PlayStation Network, not to mention its partnership with Google TV.
The Sony implementation of Google TV was also previewed. This is powered by an Intel processor running the Google Android operating system and Chrome web browser with support for Adobe Flash. The demo showed web sites overlaid on video, as well as services like Google Maps and the Google Picassa picture sharing service and YouTube. However, the future convergence of television and the internet is surely more than the web on TV.
LG is meanwhile promoting its Smart TV contribution, with a Home Dashboard personalised portal and a Magic Motion Remote Control which enables users to point and click at onscreen options.
Samsung also uses the term Smart TV. It has launched competitions in Europe and America for developers to create applications for its browser-based platform. Samsung has also launched the Galaxy Tab portable device, based on Android, to take on the Apple iPad market.
Panasonic is adding the Twitter real-time messaging service to its Viera Cast televisions and Blu-ray players. It also plans to offer 3D movies over broadband through a partnership with Acetrax.
Yahoo! announced a partnership to offer its Connected TV widget platform on Vestel products. Vestel of Turkey is the largest television manufacturer in Europe, providing products under a number of brands. Yahoo! already has similar partnerships with LG, Samsung and indeed Sony, among others.
Also in evidence is the HbbTV initiative, a standard backed by a number of European broadcasters to support hybrid broadcast and broadband television services. It is being adopted by ARD, ZDF, RTL and ProSiebenSat.1 among others, with LG, Philips, Toshiba and Vestel among the manufacturers offering support.
Microsoft notably appears to be losing momentum, having failed to capitalise on its dominance in personal computers, despite repeated attempts to become a player on mobile and television screens.
The current competition is between browsers and applications, supported by open operating systems like Android. With manufacturers all vying to promote their own products and approaches, it is a confusing scene.
There seems little doubt that the future of television will involve the internet, but it is less clear whether this will be determined by broadcasters, manufacturers or online services.