How many different ways can we watch TV?

Posted: 11.25.10

Modern up-scale TVs have as many or more holes in them as a PC. A TV now offers the usual LRV RCA jacks, Composite jacks, S-video, an OTA and/or cable ready F connector, IR audio, HDMI, USB, some have VGA or DVI, and most recently RJ45—and every one of them can serve up some kind of TV or video signal. One of the latest additions is WHDI, a wireless receiver that plugs into the TV’s HDMI socket.

Add to the list of sources the many STBs and/or adaptors. Google TV and Apple TV are two of new popular STBs, iRevo’s smart RC, the game consoles are another, the classic VHS, DVD, satellite and cable STB are still in use, and various PC adaptors that drive one or more of the TV’s inputs and act as a NAS for all your media—which could be spread across multiple PCs, Zunes, iPhones and iPods, and hockey-puck devices like Orb.

DLNA helped enable a lot of this intercommunications and compatibility—the unsung layer of software that most people don’t know if they have or not.

And you don’t have to watch TV on a TV. Almost any media player or smart phone that has a screen can be your video viewer, many also have a tuner, and you can get OTA USB tuners for your PC.

Nielsen has been reporting for the past few years that more people are watching TV than ever before, many are doing it on multiple screens, surfing the web, tweeting, or Facebook chatting at the same time. Nielsen reported 84% of viewers said that they are watching the same amount, or more, regularly scheduled TV since they started streaming or downloading content to watch on their TV set. Plus, more than half—­53%—said they have discovered shows by viewing them via the Internet first and then sought them out on regularly scheduled TV.

For the servers of all this TV content, the cable companies, DVD purveyors and renters, TV stations and networks there is the issue if users will continue to pay, or pay as much, for content. But that’s not my concern and beyond my jet-lagged head to deal with.

What I find interesting is the world of convergence that we (JPA) predicted with our seminal 1999 report The Electronic Black Box, has finally arrived. And the point is not that we were so prescient but rather how long it really takes for a revolution to take place.

HDTV was introduced in the U.S. in 1990—twenty years ago. (I know, where does the time go when you’re having fun?) Worldwide penetration of HDTV in households is a paltry 6%, and in the U.S., it’s about 50% (some say 46% some say 60%)—twenty years for that revolution and it’s still not finished.

We recently attended the 6Sight conference and I had to listen to a bunch of “analysts” tell the audience why 3DTV wouldn’t happen. One of the fools on the stage asked for a show of hands as to how many people in the audience had a 3DTV, and only three hands got raised. See, that proves it!

So with no regard to past revolutions, these analysts have predicted there will be no 3DTV revolution. And as you might imagine, none of them had a 3DTV, adding to their lack of knowledge.

Probably the fastest ramp up for a CES device was the DVD player, and ironically the PVR was slower even though it offers a better experience. Today we’re watching the slow penetration of Blu-ray DVD.

TV, or maybe I should say video, is fantastic today. But the content is unpredictable. Is it 4x3, 16:9, or 16:10, letterbox? Is it stereo, 5.1, one of the many versions of Dolby? There’s no meta data to warn the TV, so we have to start the program or movie, and then adjust the set for the best picture, and then adjust the AV amp for right number of channels.

When 3DTV gets here we’ll have another set of parameters to diddle with. And these things will slowly be worked out, our TVs with their ever increasing processing power will be able to “look” at the frame and decide what aspect ratio and then fit the best possible picture, and maybe with HDR. Most people (who have the equipment) just leave their AV set at 7.1, the Dolby magic figures out the rest.

So the answer to the question, how many ways can we watch TV, is more than any one person needs, but since we’re all different with different tastes and budgets, probably just about the right number.

And the best news? The studios are readying more content. The new BBC version of Sherlock Holmes will be followed soon by Warner Brothers’ new Batman series—does it get any better?