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Can smart TVs get smarter?

January 21, 2016 | By Mark Glaser, Founder and Publisher – MediaShift @mediatwit

The promise of the “smart TV” is that it will do much more than just provide a guide for channels—that it can personalize our experience, serve up the channels we want, connect us to the Internet, add in streaming options and more. And the more connected it becomes, the more chance for advertisers and publishers to target users with messages and content.

While the smart TV hype has outshined reality so far, the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas brought some potential good news for smarter TVs.

The Korean electronics giant LG, for example, is adding more than 50 streaming channels to its latest generation of smart TVs. Switching from cable networks to streaming content from publishers such as BuzzFeed, Wired and the Wall Street Journal is now as easy as the click of a button. LG partnered with the startup Xumo to fuse Internet content into television’s traditional environment, and partnered with Watchmi, a German Internet video startup, to give 300 more international streaming channels to its new TVs.

Samsung also announced new features at CES, positioning its products at the center of the Internet of Things ecosystem. The ability for its smart TVs to recognize add-on boxes such as an Xbox is one such boon. It makes the life of a consumer a lot less complicated because it eliminates the need for any extra remote controls, as the main remote control can commandeer these other devices.

Streaming updates
Sling TV, the live streaming service introduced at last year’s CES, announced this year that it’s planning to overhaul its app entirely. Its new app will allow consumers to easily identify their “must-see TV.” Viewers will also have the option to store their shows for up to three days in the cloud, and navigate recommendations provided by Sling on what to view next. And let’s not forget that streaming behemoth Netflix activated its service in more than 130 countries during a CES keynote address.

But beyond the hype at CES and the positive attributes of smart TV are some of its pitfalls. One big one is that for all the bells and whistles these TVs offer, few people take advantage of them. The market research company NPD estimated in an August report that “roughly a third of smart TVs in the U.S. weren’t actually connected to the Internet.” In comparison, the number of Americans using streaming devices such as Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV is climbing even faster than the number using smart TVs (and their functions), according to researchers at the Parks Associates.

And that’s because these different devices are solid competition for smart TVs. “If you’re a streaming media box (maker), you’ve got much more ability to push new features out into the market at an affordable price,” Barbara Kraus, Parks Associates’ director of research, told the Associated Press.

Overcoming ambivalence
The influx of more apps on these devices could put a strain on the popularity of smart TVs if they don’t institute them as well. Ali Kani, general manager for Nvidia’s Shield Android TV device, said that while smart TVs satisfy the need to watch video, the future living room will be “revolutionized by apps.”

Underscoring this and the general ambivalence about smart TVs is the simple fact that new technology gets old pretty quickly as even newer technology emerges. If companies such as Samsung put new features only in its latest generation of products and don’t state whether older smart TVs will ever get this new technology, it leaves consumers hanging, and not in a good way.

This applies to the  “so-called ultra high-definition 4K television” as well, according to the New York Times’ personal tech columnist Brian X. Chen. He argues that given its expense and the underwhelming digital enhancements meant to come with this kind of high-definition television, it’s not in the consumer’s best interest to buy. Topping that off is the dearth of quality programming average viewers would want to see, including arguably America’s most popular show, “Game of Thrones.”

“My advice: Wait at least another year or two before buying it,” Chen wrote.

Perhaps that’s a good piece of wisdom all prospective smart TV owners ought to take. Not to mention any publishers hoping to make a splash in the added streaming channels on smart TVs.

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