TV apps tune into uniformity

Fresh standards are being established for smart TVs as television manufacturers and service providers cater to increasing consumer demand for internet-delivered content and apps in the living room.

At this month’s IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin, Sony is to demonstrate a simpler version of the Google TV service, being made available next year outside the US for the first time, while LG, Philips and Sharp announced the first alliance of TV makers to establish common specifications for TV apps.

“We’ve taken a major step towards creating an app market every bit as inventive and dynamic as one that exists for smartphones,” said Havis Kwon, president of home entertainment for LG.

The decision is seen to benefit developers as much as consumers.

“As an industry we’ve not been very good at uniformity. So if you’re an app developer, this is making your life easier – making one thing that fits a number of different Smart TV brands,” said Stephen Gater, LG UK marketing director.

Service providers, such as Rovi, which introduced a technology for smoother streaming of internet video on TVs at the show, are seeing consolidation among their customers around common apps and services.

“[TV makers] are now realising how difficult a lot of this and that interoperability is really important, allowing that user experience to cross between different manufacturers,” said Paul Stathacopoulos, Rovi product planning senior vice president.

Eric Schmidt, Google chairman, told European broadcasters last month that Google TV would arrive on the continent early next year and forecasted that virtually all TV makers would eventually adopt the service, which combines content search with apps and web browsing on internet-connected TVs.

But the first version of Google TV made only a weak debut in the US last year, hampered by a lack of compelling apps and a user interface and hardware criticised for their complexity.

Sony internet TVs at the Berlin show featured an updated version of Google TV with a simpler menu.

“The number of buttons on the remote and the form factor I think could use some improvement and that’s something we’re working on,” said Kaz Hirai, head of Sony’s consumer products and services division, at the show.

More than 25 per cent of all flat-panel TVs shipped this year will have internet connectivity, the DisplaySearch research firm forecasts, with the number increasing to 138m units or 47 per cent of all such TVs by 2015.

Consumers now spend more than twice as much on subscription streaming services like Netflix movies over smart TVs and connected devices than more traditional rentals such as video on-demand, says Parks Associates research.

“The sands are shifting for manufacturers and content providers . . . this will create havoc with today’s well-understood TV revenue model,” said Tricia Parks, the firm’s chief executive.

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