2011 will be the breakthrough year for connected television, with all the major manufacturers offering wired or wireless network-connected displays and any number of different boxes aiming to connect the television screen to the internet. Television will never be the same again. Forecasting the future is fraught with flaws, but informitv offers these foreseeable predictions for the forthcoming year.
1. Smart TV, a term promoted by Intel, Samsung, LG and others, will become the equivalent of the smart phone, replacing a single function device with a display with a powerful processor, capable of connecting to the internet and home networks. The era of television as a dumb terminal is over.
2. Google TV, although already written off by many critics, will be enhanced with an improved user interface and an application store. The Android operating system will create an open ecosystem that brings together mobile, tablet, netbooks and television screens, driving further innovation.
3. YouTube will attract more premium programming and Google will offer an open standard for digital media encryption following its acquisition of Widevine. The dominance of YouTube will face a challenge from the more social world of Facebook.
4. Apple will offer an app store on the Apple TV, taking it from being a hobby to a billion dollar market. Apple will continue to update and refine the product. A smart move would be to incorporate multiple HDMI inputs, allowing it to switch and overlay other video sources.
5. HTML 5 will become the new standard for online video presentation. Adobe Flash and Air will continue to offer a more consistent experience across different devices and displays. Web technologies generally will render proprietary television middleware systems redundant.
6. Mobile TV broadcasts will still fail to impress with low resolution pictures, while online video to smart phones and tablets will take off.
7. Comcast and NBC will finally merge. It will be interesting to see where that leaves Xfinity and Hulu.
8. Over-the-top television over open networks will overtake closed IPTV services and dedicated set-top boxes. Smart telcos and broadband service providers will offer home gateway solutions that can support network connected displays anywhere in the home.
9. YouView will eventually launch in Britain, with boxes subsidized by BT and TalkTalk. By the end of the year they have given away tens of thousands of devices to subscribers. Despite heavy promotion by broadcasters, retail products will sit on the shelves as consumers buy new flat screen televisions in their millions, with integrated internet connectivity.
10. Catch-up television — being able to view programmes transmitted in the previous week — will be less important than broadcasters would like to believe. A programme guide that scrolls back as well as forwards will be a convenience, but people have long since been able to record the programmes they want to watch, and store them for as long as they like for later viewing.
11. Sky Anytime Plus will bring video on demand to broadband connected satellite television homes. By the end of the year over a million homes will be connected.
12. Virgin Media will roll out its new service, powered by TiVo. Initially only taken up by early adopters, it will eventually become the standard offering to cable homes in Britain and will extend off net beyond cable homes.
13. TiVo will either fail to assert its timewarp patent and will have to compete by simply offering a superior user experience, or it will be acquired by Echostar.
14. Amazon will acquire the remainder of LoveFilm in Europe, where it will compete with Netflix which will expand beyond North America with a streaming movie service.
15. UltraViolet, the brand by which Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem consortium aims to rationalise digital rights management for movies and other programming, will struggle to deliver on its ambitious promise.
16. Blu-ray will succeed DVD, as prices fall and cheaper players bring broadband connectivity to existing displays, adding value to previous consumer investments. There is still life in physical formats and consumers still like to collect tangible products. For those that care, Blu-ray will provide better quality than broadcasters can offer, or indeed most broadband providers can currently deliver, at least without bringing fibre much closer to the home.
17. Broadband data rates will continue to rise, with 100Mbps becoming the benchmark to beat, leaving telephone networks struggling to compete with cable and fibre. Britain will continue to lag behind many European countries in terms of broadband speed and adoption.
18. Audiences for the royal wedding will be the largest of the year, and the decade so far, both in Britain and abroad, demonstrating the unique ability of television to bring people around the world together to share a live event. A record number of viewers will watch online. For the first time there will also be live 3D coverage, available on satellite and cable television, and relayed to digital cinemas.
19. 3DTV will initially impress but will fail to attract viewers. People will buy 3D capable televisions that will be heavily promoted and the generously discounted, but they will be reluctant to wear dark glasses to watch television. 3D movies will continue to be popular in cinemas but enthusiasm will wane. The real success will be 3D games, and inevitably adult entertainment.
20. HDTV will continue to be a consumer success story, although viewers may wonder why their new full high-definition displays can only show interlaced broadcasts at relatively low frame rates, and why some channels are so compressed that they are almost unwatchable on these large screens. Consumer electronics products now exceed most broadcast standards.
Finally, expect the unexpected. The most disruptive force in online television and video may yet be to come.