An overview of UK connected TV providers

This blog post is an attempt at making sense of all the various connected / social / internet enabled TV providers that are popping up.  As much for my own benefit as anything else, I feel like I keep hearing names, seeing launches and hearing terms bandied around so I thought it would be helpful to get all these down in one place.  This is by no means comprehensive, nor have I drawn too many conclusions, it’s kind of a working list – I want to add to this as I learn more.

I suppose it would be useful to understand what we mean by connected TV in the first place.  Wikipedia calls it ‘Smart TV‘:

“Smart TV, which is also sometimes also referred to as “Connnected TV“, (not to be confused with Internet TV, Web TV or LG Electronics‘s upcoming “SMART TV” branded NetCast Entertainment Access devices), is the phrase used to describe the current trend of integration of the internet into modern television sets and set-top boxes, as well as the technological convergence between computers and these television sets / set-top boxes. These new devices most often also have a much higher focus on online interactive media,Internet TV, over-the-top content, as well as on-demand streaming media, and less focus on traditional broadcast media like previous generations of television sets and set-top boxesalways have had. Similar to how the internet, web widgets, and software applications are integrated in modern smartphones, hence also the name (“Smart TV” versus “Smart Phone”).

The technology that enables Smart TVs is incorporated into devices such as television sets, set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, game consoles, and companion devices. These devices allow viewers to search and find videos, movies, photos and other content on the web, on a local cable TV channel, on a satellite TV channel, or stored on a local hard drive.”

The key difference between Internet TV and Connected TV in meaning is that Internet TV is defined as viewing TV via the internet (such as YouTube!) and Connected TV is about internet accessed via your TV through a set top box.

The internet and TV are converging in ‘user journeys’ already, with people sharing their thoughts about TV programmes via social networks and the emergence of 2 or even 3 screen behaviours – watching TV with your laptop or smart phone with you and giving partial attention to each.

So, I’ll take a look at the providers now, and will look at the following:

Features – what does it do?

Open? – how open is it? Will users be able to access anything on the internet freely, or will it be a walled garden, only allowing use of approved apps to reach particular sites’ content online.

Sofa controller – how will you physically be able to control it – keyboard and mouse at your sofa? Pimped up remote control? iPad and iPhone app?

Launched – when will it be / was it launched in the UK?

Price – what’s it gonna cost you if you want one.

Google TV

Google TV is made up of Google’s Android operating system and the Google Chrome web browser.  It was launched in the US in October 2010 and is currently available integrated in a standalone Sony Internet TV or via one of 2 set top boxes from Logitech and Sony.

Features

According to Wikipedia “Google TV leverages many of Google’s existing products. Google’s Android operating system provides the underlying foundation, allowing developers to create applications that extend the system’s functionality. Google’s Chrome browser provides a gateway to the Internet, allowing consumers to browse web sites and watch television, in tandem. Consumers can access HBO, CNBC, and content from other providers through the Chrome browser. Partners have built applications that allow customers to access content in unique ways. Netflix, for example, has built an application that allows customers to access Netflix’s large library of movies and television shows. Android and Apple phones will be used as remote controls for Google TV. Google TV products ship with wireless remote controls with a full QWERTY keypad.”

It has been criticised for trying to do too much, with the potential of being too confusing for the average consumer.

Open?

Yes, in the sense that it has a browser and you can browse anywhere on the internet.  In the US however, some entertainment companies such as Hulu and ABC have blocked access to their content online via Google TV for competitive reasons.

Sofa controller

Mini keyboards made by Sony and Logitech

Launched

Sometime 2011 tbc

Price

$300 in the US, UK tbc

YouView

Originally called Project Canvas, YouView as a brand was launched in November 2010.  A partnership between BBC, Channel 4, Channel 5 and ITV and Arqiva, BT, TalkTalk.

Features

There is very little information on features as yet on their website – just that you can access catch up TV and there will be some apps and widgets developed, of which there will most certainly be some high quality video applications for viewing online videos.  It won’t have a browser.

Open?

No – will be populated with pre-approved apps – they’ve done a call for developers to submit.  Although they call YouView an ‘open environment’ on their website, saying anyone can develop for their platform, but much like the Apple model this is open in a ‘walled garden’ kind of way.  It’s been criticised for limiting choice to the consumer – but at a session at the Edinburgh TV festival the marketing director insisted that the average consumer doesn’t want to be overwhelmed by choice.

Sofa controller

Again, not much information on this yet.  On their website they do mention a remote control in relation to accessibility; “Remote control design that meets industry best practice for accessibility”

Launched

In Q2 of 2011

Price

around £100

Apple TV

Apple TV has been around since 2006, but since has launched a second generation which has scaled down in price (to a third of what it was), lost the harddrive (now has a 8GB flash storage, with the intention that all content is streamed) and added new access to a couple more services.

Features

You can view photos, play music and watch video that originates from limited Internet services or a local network. The first generation (white) had iTunes, Flickr, Mobileme/.Mac, and Youtube. The second generation added Netflix. Both models supported downloading/streaming podcasts.

Open?

No – it doesn’t allow you to use a browser or access any other content other than what’s supported via apps and iTunes.

Sofa controller

A remote control, via the Apple remote, or Remote application for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

Launched

September 2010

Price

£99

Boxee

Boxee has a differentiator in that it is a social network in itself, as well as allowing access to your existing social networks. More detail on this below.

Features

Boxee requires you to register an account, which allows you to access a social network of other Boxee users.  You get a news feed of your friends’ viewing activity and recommendations and can either watch posted media directly from the feed (if it’s freely available) or get access to a link to it or a trailer.  You can control your privacy settings so not everyone sees everything you watch or listen to.  It also allows you to monitor Twitter and Facebook feeds directly from your news feed and add any links to a Boxee watch list.  This social network that is integrated into it is the biggest differentiator of Boxee.

Boxee also has an app store, a BitTorrent client and video and music libraries which are searchable via the metadata of the files, in a similar way to iTunes (Genre, title, year, actors, artist etc)

Open?

Boxee technically allows that practically any web-based application can made into an app for Boxee integration.  They will be using Mozilla as a base architecture, so that Hulu can’t block it as it will only recognise Boxee as an Mozilla browser. More on this at Wikipedia.

“The Boxee Box is going to be $100 more expensive than the Apple TV, but will give you the freedom to watch what you want. We think it’s worth it.” – Chief exec Avner Ronan says the company blog [link]

Sofa controller

Keyboard like remote control

Launched

December ’10

Price

£100 – £199

Have I missed any providers or key details off?  Let me know and I will update this post.

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One thought on “An overview of UK connected TV providers

  1. Ross says:

    Great post cheese face. I think this quote is key “the average consumer doesn’t want to be overwhelmed by choice” – i totally agree and while us nerds love a bit of openess, my parents (who for me always represent the mainstream) couldn’t care less and just want something that works. As Sky Plus proved, great user design is king (helped by a significant marketing push) and if any online TV offering is to work they need to make watching YouTube on your telly as easy as watching ITV. Moving from site to site needs to be as simple as changing channel, and entering details and ticking boxes needs to kept to an absolute minimum. Apple obviously have good pedigree in this area but I imagine it will be the tv makers and/or sky who win due to their grip on hardware.

    Really interesting area though and one that I’m pleased we (I mean you) have demonstrable expertise in 🙂

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