Can smart TVs survive the onslaught from streaming media players (SMPs)? Looking at the announcements from CES 2016, Samsung seems to be the only vendor looking to give Roku and Apple TV a run for their money.
Of the four big TV vendors that gave presentations at CES on Tuesday, Samsung had the most to say about innovation in their smart TVs. Wonjin Lee, EVP of Samsung Electronics, said the company is focused on simplifying the lives of its TV owners by unifying the experience between the many sources of TV content. Rather than requiring TV owners to remember which input a particular service is available on, the TV remembers where to find services associated with the box. For example, to access pay TV services, rather than switching to the appropriate TV input a user simply select the provider’s icon from the Tizen (Samsungs TV OS) app bar.
The company further erodes the need to know which device is connected to each input by automatically recognizing new devices when they are plugged in to the television. This automatic integration also includes the remote, which can control a device like an Xbox One once it has been plugged in and recognized by the TV.
New SUHDTVs from Samsung also provide deeper integration with OTT services like Netflix. If the app icon is highlighted in the Tizen app bar video from the service automatically starts playing, without having to open the app. If a user wants to watch, they simply press select on the remote.
Finally, Samsung announced a plug in stick which attaches to the TV to allow it to control “over 200 Internet-of-things devices.” The company said new purchasers of SUHDTVs would receive this dongle for free.
WebOS 3.0, LG’s smart TV platform, only received a passing mention in the company’s CES press conference. However, LG had preannounced some updates to the TV operating system. For example, a user can split the screen between two TV channels or between TV and another TV connected device. Users can also listen to LG’s Music Player app with the TV turned off. Like Samsung, IoT was a big part of the presentation for LG. However, LG one-upped its bigger rival by integrating IoT control into the smart TV platform itself, no dongle required.
The company also announced three new features which it dubs “Magic.” Magic Zoom lets users zoom in to any part of an image on the screen. Magic Remote has been updated to allow control of set-top boxes and DVRs. Magic Mobile allows LG TV owners to stream apps from their smartphone to the TV.
Unfortunately, LG’s WebOS announcements were tarnished by the fact that the company recently laid off 20 employees directly involved in WebOS development. According to The Verge, a source at LG claimed this would compromise LG’s ability to continue to improve WebOS.
Sony gave a passing mention to its use of Google TV in its TVs, and also talked at length about its integration with YouTube. However, this was hardly innovative. Panasonic didn’t mention smart TV at all in its CES presentation.
All-in-all, Samsung seems to be doing the most to keep its TV owners from switching to a Roku or Apple TV. Integrating pay television into the smart TV experience, coupled with the embrace-and-extend strategy with third party TV connected devices could be enough to stop owners of its new SUHDTV sets from spending extra for a streaming media player. These are certainly things that are useful to consumers and difficult, or impossible for SMPs to duplicate.
For the other TV OEMs, it looks increasingly like they just can’t keep up with the pace of innovation in SMPs.
Why it matters
Consumers are beginning to use connected televisions much more to watch online video.
Smart TVs have been struggling to match the flexibility and breadth of content delivered by streaming media players like Roku and Chromecast.
With the possible exception of Samsung, TV OEMs simply aren’t doing enough to stem the adoption of streaming media players.