NDS has been showing its vision of the future of television and it is big — very big. The NDS Surfaces concept demonstrator shows a domestic video wall controlled by a companion tablet device. Television has sometimes been disparagingly termed moving wallpaper. It seems that this could become literally true in a world of wall-sized telescreens.
In their demonstration at IBC in Amsterdam, NDS showed an array of six 55-inch screens covering a wall in a domestic setting. The idea is that the screen configuration will correspond to the viewing context, allowing the main video window to be scaled up or down based on the type of programme, with associated information shown in other areas and the ambient lighting adjusted accordingly.
NDS suggests that this scenario could be with us within five years, although all the technology is already available today, apart from the massive display surfaces. The demonstrator was actually based on HTML5 web standards.
Whether people will continue to want larger and larger displays or to turn their living room into a high-tech situation room is another matter.
The demonstration by NHK at the same show suggests that ultra high definition displays could be the next big thing, but even the extraordinary screen shown by Sharp is only 85-inches across its diagonal, and the same images looked superb downscaled on a 55-inch screen.
NDS is talking about the possibility of panels that could completely fill a wall in the average home. The concept of such video walls is well established in other environments, such as retail and exhibitions. Delivering this in a domestic setting is increasingly affordable.
Most who saw the demonstration were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the concept and one can imagine it as a feature in high-end homes. The practical reality is that most houses will simply not have room for a wall-sized screen, or the viewing distance necessary to appreciate it. Furthermore, their neighbours may not appreciate the sound levels necessary to do it justice.
Of course there are already those that convert entire rooms to home cinemas, with seats to match, but they remain a relatively small minority. For the proles that do not live in large detached properties, the density of modern urban living tends to more modest solutions.
This can already be seen in the world of audio. The fashion for large “hi-fi” systems with huge power amplifiers has largely been displaced by more personal audio experiences.
The same may be said for 3DTV, the apparent failure of which reflects the practicalities of the domestic viewing environment. Television is still a shared social experience for many people. By and large, people do not want to watch television wearing special spectacles, and displays that do not require glasses are far from ready for the home.
The lack of focus on 3D was notable at IBC this year. While it was a matter of some discussion in the conference, it seems the initial excitement around stereoscopic television is already waning.
The future for 3D may lie in more personal experiences, which can be more immersive. There, the need for special spectacles may be less of a distraction and provide a further separation from the surrounding environment, rather as headphones do for audio.
That said, there may well be a place for more ambient displays, the primary function of which is not to watch television or movies. People are already developing simultaneous media experiences, using smaller screens to supplement, complement, or substitute for output of the main shared living room screen.
Indeed, the behaviours we are observing today suggest that there will be more and more screens in the home, of all shapes and sizes, in every room.
One possibility is that many of the graphic elements that clutter our screens today with captions, tickers and sidebars, subtitles and signing, could be transmitted separately and assigned to secondary screens.
Rather than organising their experiences around a wall-sized screen that may be inappropriate for many functions, people may simply choose the display that is most appropriate to their immediate viewing context, using displays that they already own.