Sunday, December 23, 2012

Forward Looking - My Smart TV Experience

I can remember a time when the typical U.S. pay-TV subscriber encountered a reasonable monthly fee for access to the standard tier of channels, and when there were only a couple of additional premium channel options – such as HBO and Showtime.

This was before the sports networks gained exclusive access to live sporting events, and before the American sport team owners started to demand huge payments for the broadcast rights to their video entertainment content.

I never watched these sports channels and didn’t like the fact that I was being told (by default) to subsidize those pay-TV subscribers that did want to pay the high price. Therefore, I became one of the cable TV cord-cutters – a lost customer to the U.S. pay-TV industry, because a-la-carte channel selection was not an option.

So, instead I subscribed to Netflix disc-by-mail service and quickly embraced over-the-top (OTT) video content when it was offered. I’ve since added Vudu to my short list of paid video streaming services – for the rare times when I decide to rent an individual movie that I can’t find on Netflix.

I’ve also been using streaming media players from Roku and Netgear, connected to dumb TVs. That being said, my use cases aren’t about wanting to support the disruption of the legacy pay-TV industry. That kind of talk is hyperbole. Rather, I simply need to be free to follow my own eclectic interests in video entertainment.

Linear TV programing guides and DVRs are of no interest to me at all – I just want my preferred content options to be available in the cloud, on demand.


My Experience with Smart Video Applications

This year I decided to evolve my video entertainment experience. I purchased a Samsung large-screen Plasma 3D-enabled Smart TV and companion Samsung 3D-enabled Blu-ray disc player. The TV includes two pairs of active 3D glasses as accessories -- the disc player also has built-in Wi-FI and a similar Smart TV user interface.

The Samsung “Smart Hub” is the starting point to access the various software applications (apps) that are available on the TV and Blu-ray player. Note, the selection of available apps is device dependent (some are only available on the TV or the Blu-ray player).

On the TV my most used apps are Netflix, Vudu and HBO Go. Streaming high-definition (HD) video requires a good quality broadband connection to the public internet. Viewing a HD 720p stream typically requires a consistent 2.5 Mbps download capacity and HD 1080p requires 4.5 Mbps download capacity.

In my use case both the Smart TV and Blu-ray player access the internet via my Wi-Fi home network. I currently use a Belkin N+ wireless router and the connectivity has been consistently reliable – including when I’m streaming 3D 1080p video (with infrequent buffering issues).

The Samsung “BD Wise” technology automatically provides optimal picture quality from the Blu-ray player, which includes streaming 1080p video (whenever available) from online sources to the Smart TV set. In contrast, streaming online video directly from the same app on the Smart TV often defaults to 720p (I have no idea why this happens).

If you’re puzzled I said that I’m viewing HBO Go content on the Smart TV, when I mentioned that I disconnected pay-TV services, then here’s the whole story. Time Warner Cable (TWC) offers customers a subscription to their “premium bundle” (HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel and Showtime) without subscribing to the standard digital cable tier. So, yes, I came back to cable TV.

Regardless, I don’t watch much broadcast TV – I’m still a free spirit.

Now I can access all the archived premium channel video on-demand content available through the TWC set-top box (only at 720p), and separately access the HBO archive via the HBO GO app on the Smart TV. The available library of HBO content is significantly more extensive on HBO GO – but you can only use it if you’re a verified pay-TV subscriber. I’m now waiting for the other premium channels to follow HBO’s lead (and Samsung to add the required app).

While I’m on the topic of authenticated access to video content in the cloud, this capability is also possible for people who have an UltraViolet account. As an example, I can register my Warner Bros Blu-ray disc movie purchase on their site and then access that same content from my stored collection in the cloud – by streaming or file download – to another device via the public internet.

This is the forward-looking view of a more progressive video entertainment landscape. It’s about enabling freedom of choice and the unfettered access to content – via any device, any time and place a customer desires. I’m hopeful that we’ll see other signs of substantive progress during 2013. Truly, it’s been a very slow journey towards achieving these meaningful advancements.

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