TV, that mainstay of daily life, is dying. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it appears unaware that its time has passed. Or, if it is aware, it’s stubbornly avoiding those who would attempt to drag it out by its antennae. Not that it’s done anything to deserve our collective wrath, so why are we so eager to see it go? Because of all that awaits consumers once it is finally dead and buried, that’s why.
What we’re talking about here is the future of home viewing. And in that future, there’s simply no room for the limited experience that television currently delivers. Think it over for a few. The vast majority of people still have to race home to be in front of the TV at a certain time to catch their favorite show. And while DVR has certainly made recording shows easier, the fact remains that even with DVR, recordings are often deleted, overridden, or not set correctly. While missing an episode of Dexter or The Walking Dead isn’t really all that bad as far as life circumstances go, it is still a pain.
On the other hand, the alternative to traditional TV promises us a day when people may not even have to think about what to watch because their home theater systems will already know the answer to that question. Much in the way that Netflix tracks past activity to offer suggestions for movies and TV shows, the future televisions will be able to suggest and even record programming based off what viewers watch regularly. TV may not be there yet, but it’s certainly on the cusp. Here are just a few of the features that can presently be found in people’s living rooms, that point the way to what tomorrow’s home theaters may look like.
Cloud Based DVR
One of the biggest drawbacks about buying DVR hardware, at least for people who like to record and re-watch a lot of TV programming, is the limitation of space. But there are some companies out there right now, like Boxee and Aereo, which are experimenting with cloud based DVR. While both are extremely limited, each service points to a new model that could catch on: paying a monthly fee for unlimited cloud storage for DVR recordings. This will essentially get rid of the need to upgrade or expand DVR hardware, but it also leads to a somewhat troubling question. What happens if the company storing all that unlimited amount of data goes under?
The Second Screen
These days, only forgetful people go anywhere without their cellphones in tow. More and more are starting to bring along their tablets, too, and that level of portability is translating to viewers taking in their entertainment on mobile devices instead of traditional TV screens. Mobile devices are, unlike most TV sets, conducive to interactivity. This has led (and will continue to lead, as the future unfurls before us) to a rise in social viewing activities, the likes of which Tweeting or Facebooking about a TV show as it airs is merely scratching at the surface.
The whole “start it here, finish it there” capability has been big with eBooks for a few years, having got its proper start with Amazon, which paved a path for users to start a book on a Kindle, pick up where they left off on a PC, and finish it all on a smart phone in the bathroom, courtesy of something called Whispersync. Today, this is becoming common for all sorts of media: iTunes now keeps track of user’s progress on a media file and queues them up to the same position when switching to a different device. Expect to see this become the standard for all home theater tech.
On Demand Content
For years, consumers have been teased and told that some fine day in the not too distant future, they would be able to buy (or at least, rent) brand new movie releases for home theater viewing the same day they’re released to theaters. While TV is not quite there yet, it almost is. In fact, Comcast On Demand has a pay-per-view service called “Same Day as Theaters” which is pretty self explanatory.
The only trouble is, movies like The Hobbit will not be found on there. Instead, the list of flicks to choose from includes movies united by the fact they have lower profile releases than the movies viewers might rather watch. But it’s a step in the right direction. There’s Netflix, of course, but the selection of movies and TV shows on Watch Instantly is limited, forcing hardcore viewers to opt for the DVD by mail service in addition to streaming.
Then there is Hulu, which is far better for those who like to watch TV than movies. There is also Vudu, Amazon Instant Video, and iTunes in the mix – but these are really only a la carte and are not as economical. Today’s bevy of “on demand” choices have the right idea – they’re just not quite there yet.
The real problem with on demand content, as it exists today, is that viewers almost need to subscribe to every service available to get the best diversity of programming. And who can afford that? The true appeal of television has always been its single, unified platform – regardless of whether or not your subscription comes by satellite dish or cable – and it’s also one of the big reasons why it’s taking so long for TV to be replaced by something new.
Standing in the way of all this progress, like an age-old gunslinger not quite ready to throw down its guns, is television, and subsequently, the contracts viewers hold with cable and satellite dish companies. Once TV is finally dead and buried, the home theater will be a far better place. But for now, consumers will just have to wait for it to suck its last breath; and may that day come soon.