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Web TVs bigger for manufacturers than 3D

30 августа 2010

Internet-connected TVs are proving bigger this year for manufacturers than the much vaunted 3D technology.

Nearly 28m TV sets with built-in internet connectivity are expected to ship over 2010, according to the iSuppli research firm, compared with just 4m 3D TVs. This would be a rise of 125 per cent on the 12m units shipped in 2009.

TV makers are rushing to offer web services and content such as movies, music and photos, with iSuppli expecting that by 2014, 54 per cent of flat-panel TVs shipped – about 148m units – will have internet connectivity and services.

The figures imply that TV makers will hold a majority share of the smart TV market in the coming years, with their relationship with consumers altering as they move to provide content as well as services.

That would require new partnerships with content providers and perhaps a radical change in business model. Attendees at this year’s Society for Information Display conference, a key industry gathering, debated whether TVs would become subsidised like cell phones in future in exchange for consumers signing up for service contracts.

The alternative view was that TV makers would quickly discover they should stay out of services and focus on making high-performance but essentially “dumb” monitors.

“Aggregating content and managing something like an App Store is not a core competency of a Samsung or a Vizio or an LG, which makes the hardware,” says Tim Chang, a venture capitalist with Norwest Venture Partners.

Integrating an internet connection and adding content and services to a TV could negate the need for a set-top box, although the expertise and dominance of set-top box makers suggest predictions of the demise of the STB are premature.

“The worst place you can put this technology is in the TV set, with people changing their TVs every five to seven years and technologies that have been built into TVs having a history of quickly becoming redundant,” says Neil Gaydon, chief executive of Pace, the world’s biggest digital set-top box maker.

“The set-top box provides a clean and flexible way of getting these new services into the home.”

STBs might face more of a threat from the “residential gateway” modem, where the internet connection enters the home.

The addition of an ethernet networking port to TVs or Wi-Fi gives these more remote devices equal access, while a popular standard known as DLNA (Digital Living Network alliance) allows media to be streamed easily over network connections.

“This new development threatens to eventually eliminate the pay-TV set-top box as it currently exists, moving the proprietary pay-TV conditional access system to a home gateway server and then sending secure compressed video over a local area network to any TV set or PC in the home,” says a recent report from IMS Research.

In that context, Pace’s agreed deal to pay $475m for California-based 2Wire, a leading provider of residential gateways for telcos, represents it hedging its bets and expanding beyond its cable and satellite core customers.

The chipmaker Broadcom spreads itself even further in providing chips for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies, cable and telco modems, Blu-ray players, satellite STBs and digital TVs.

Scott McGregor, chief executive, can make a case for each of the sectors it serves coming to dominate internet TV.

The traditional players can win with their established relationship with customers and high-quality picture and content, he says. TV makers can win as they have the eyes of the consumer and the costs of making their TVs connected are relatively small.

PC makers have a case in that they hold much of the data a consumer would want to access through the TV, and games console makers appeal to a younger demographic with their subsidised devices, great graphics and growing online services. Network and storage device makers would allow consumers to centralise all their content on hard drives and media servers in the home.

“Even the remote control provider is not to be discounted – you can download remote control apps to your smartphone, so there’s no reason it can’t become the remote control for all your consumer electronics boxes and get an edge.”

Broadcom is also working with traditional providers on subsidised tablet devices that will act as remote controls for the entire home to increase the number of services that can be sold.

Tim Chang says consumer comfort with the companies who have their credit card details could be a determining factor.

“The magic piece is the billing relationship – what has made Apple so successful with its products is that it has 100m credit cards in its system – customers are trained to click to buy something.”

This could bring in new contenders – such as Amazon and even Facebook, he says.

“It’s fascinating to watch these giant companies converging on the same space and it’s all going to be a battle over billing.”

Источник: Financial Times

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