One screen in your living room is no longer enough. At the E3 Show in Los Angeles this week, gaming console vendors Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo outlined plans to use the second screen to challenge the TV makers as the masters of home entertainment.
The premise is simple: Two screens are better than one, and nowhere is that more true than gaming. With a touchscreen tablet functioning as a controller, game designers can reclaim TV real estate for gaming action, pushing status bars and controls to the secondary screen.
The second screen can also improve a game’s playability. In multiplayer strategy and sports games, for example, players can map out complex actions in privacy on their individual touchscreens (just because it’s called “second screen” doesn’t mean you have to stop at two), then watch the results play out on the shared television screen. When the TV is in use or gamers are on the move, the second screens can serve as a monitor.
Of course, gaming is far from the only application for the second screen. For years, millions of folks have been using computers, smartphones and tablets to check sports stats during the game or looking up cast members on IMDB while watching a movie. Tighter integration of the second screen will make those uses simpler and more intuitive – and open up new uses as well.
The Wii U was the only new hardware demoed by the Big 3 at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), but Nintendo focused solely on gaming applications of the second screen, like toggling between single- and dual-screen interfaces. The company left discussion of how the Wii U would “revolutionize the living room” for another time.
Microsoft went into more detail when it presented Xbox SmartGlass, an app that integrates your television and your smartphone or tablet – even if it’s made by Apple. Like other second-screen systems, SmartGlass provides a tablet-based remote control with supplementary information – Microsoft demoed an interactive map of Westeros supplementing a TV presentation of “Game of Thrones” (see below). But SmartGlass also lets users move content between devices, starting a movie on a tablet or smartphone, for example, then continuing it on the TV screen. Combined with the Xbox Kinect’s gesture recognition and the newly announced Internet Explorer for Xbox, SmartGlass could prove to be a very powerful interactive entertainment system.
Of course, it could also turn out to be a jumbled mess. After Microsoft’s failed effort with WebTV in the 1990s, let’s hope the company is better prepared this time around.
Who Controls the Controller?
The big question isn’t whether we’ll be managing our entertainment system with a tablet – that’s pretty much a given at this point. The real issue is whose software we’ll be using to do it.
At the moment, home entertainment options are a bit of a jumble of different brands and components from multiple vendors. A typical home might have a game console, a Blu-ray player and a TV that are all capable of providing access to Netflix, Hulu, Pandora and the Web. Deciding on a master system is often the result of cabling issues, or which one has the most free HDMI ports.
All the vendors are scrambling to come up with a compelling reason why they should be one controller to rule them all. Current possibilities include voice control, face recognition or exclusive content deals.
Until recently, it looked like Samsung and other TV makers (possibly including Apple) would set themselves apart with their various smart TV initiatives. At E3, Microsoft and Nintendo (and to a lesser extent, Sony) fired back, aiming to make remote controls attached to their gaming devices equally intelligent.
Gaming vendors will gain a huge advantage if they can convince gamers to use consoles as their primary entertainment device. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be able to rope in everyone else. Will SmartGlass or its competitors be strong enough to convince Grandpa to buy in?
It’s far too early in the race to crown a winner. We don’t even know the rules yet. But not so long from now, it’s a safe bet you’ll routinely be watching more than one screen. And there’s a good chance your game system may be in control of all of them.
When people talk about the future of TV and entertainment, brands like Samsung, Apple, Comcast and Boxee tend to come to mind. Apple-watchers in particular expect that company to turn its longtime hobby into a game-changer by releasing their own HDTV set later this year.
Whatever happens, the living room of the future will look very different from what even the most cutting-edge gadgetry offers today. But how will it look? The latest vision comes from a very unlikely source.
Swedish furniture retailer Ikea unveiled the Uppleva, an all-in-one entertainment center that merges consumer electronics with the furniture that has traditionally housed them. It’s an HDTV, Blu-Ray player and 2.1 surround-sound stereo packed seamlessly into a single, visually customizable unit.
At its heart, this product is all about design. Ikea’s early marketing touts the Uppleva’s ability to hide unsightly wires and encase everything in one clean, sleek-looking package. It’s not unlike a certain Cupertino tech giant that often takes its cues from minimalist, European design.
In addition to looking pretty, this initiative may offer clues about how entertainment systems of the future will work. The HDTV itself is, of course, “smart” in the sense that it connects to the Internet. That’s pretty much a given at this point. It’s also integrated directly into the furniture, as is the stereo system and media players. The system uses a single remote for everything, addressing another age-old user experience problem of TVs and entertainment systems.
It’s well-packaged and consolidated, but it’s also fully extensible. USB and HDMI ports on the TV allow for any number of gaming consoles, set top boxes and other devices to be attached, and they can be stowed away in a dedicated compartment under the TV. It’s not clear if it includes a VGA port, the lack of which might inhibit device compatibility.
It’s this customizability, now standard in HDTV sets generally, that will ensure that those who chose to purchase Ikea’s new system can continue to experience TV’s future as it evolves, regardless of platform or provider.
The Uppleva doesn’t leap over any major technical hurdles, but its focus on streamlining the user experience is likely to be something we see more of in the living rooms of the future. Even if this model doesn’t become the standard, it’s a bold try and one that is sure to influence other players in the market, should it catch on with consumers.
Convergence. Remember that word from the dot com era? Well, it’s back and this time it actually has substance. Convergence in the 90s meant combining old media with new media, a.k.a. the Internet. The 2000 merger of AOL and Time Warner was a failed $200 billion attempt at convergence. But fast forward to 2012 and convergence is happening for real this time, thanks to Internet-connected devices in the house and a rapidly growing app ecosystem. Entertainment now flows freely through home networks, to multiple devices such as PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones and television sets.
According to one research firm, 2012 will be when convergence really hits its stride. A new report by IMS Research states that 2012 will be when the consumer electronics industry “finally realizes the promise of multi-screen content consumption.”
This trend is primarily being driven by the rise in Internet-enabled portable consumer electronics (CE), such as smartphones and tablets (the green bars in the graph below). But also IP-enabled TVs and other entertainment devices (the light blue bars).
It’s not just Web connected hardware which is proliferating. Software is also finally fulfilling the long-held promise of convergence. We saw a great example earlier today, with version 3.0 of the video aggregator app Showyou being released. ReadWriteWeb’s Jon Mitchell described it as “the remote control for web video.”
The beauty of Showyou is that you can watch videos on a variety of devices: PC, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Kindle Fire, Apple TV. While I was eating my lunch today, I sat down in my living room and opened both my iPad and TV. I surfed to a music video on Showyou that I like and pressed the Apple “airplay” button on the iPad to transfer the video to my TV (via Apple TV).
I’m not entirely convinced that 2012 will be the year when this multi-screen promise is realized. During my lunchtime, I fiddled around a bit with Airplay before I got it working. Also home networks are not particularly user friendly for non-technical people. 2012 may well be a tipping point, when convergence within the home begins to take off. But we’re not at the point of great user experiences yet.
In its report, IMS Research noted that an apps ecosystem for devices like the TV will be a key enabler of convergence in home entertainment. It also pointed to the growing amount of digital content available to consumers and “the changing habits of consumers regarding accessing, consuming and sharing digital content.”
IMS Research predicts that the market for IP-enabled CE devices will grow from 2.2 billion devices shipped in 2011 to 3.5 billion in 2016. Note that this is just for home entertainment and portable consumer electronic devices. We reported last week that mobile industry group GSMA is predicting growth from 9 billion to 24 billion Internet-connected devices worldwide. The GSMA’s figures include things like connected cars and IP-enabled washing machines.
Have you begun to consume entertainment in your home across multiple screens? If so, let us know in the comments what your current favorite household apps are.