Connected Home Devices

No other vendor offers the combination of timely, consistent and accurate tracking of 22 different product categories spanning audio, video and computing,

April 16, 2015 16:35 dmercer

Contrary to the views of many commentators, TV is not dying, but it is changing. The growing base of internet connected media devices in the home is providing an opportunity for non-traditional video service providers and technology companies to challenge the dominance of incumbent Pay and Free TV operators.

As this year's TV Connect event approaches, we are pleased to offer attendees a complimentary analyst report, The Future of TV: Connected Devices and OTT Disruption, with selected insights and research highlights from Strategy Analytics’ leading experts in the digital media and technology space. Please visit http://sa-link.cc/IV to download the report.

Strategy Analytics will also be speaking and chairing during the following TV Connect conference sessions:

28th April

12-6pm – Connected TV User Experience
12pm: User Experience in OTT - Chairman’s Introduction
3.30pm: Panel - What is the relationship between Apps and the evolving UI? What is the role of targeted advertising?
5.40pm: Panel - Are Multiple Screens having a positive or negative effect on the user experience?
29th April
8am: Analyst Breakfast Briefing - Exploring Emerging Multiscreen TV Behaviours
3pm-6pm Strategies for Connected TV in the Smart Home

 David Mercer

 


March 25, 2015 15:11 MGoodman

On March 18th, Sony Network Entertainment and Sony Computer Entertainment announced the launch of PlayStation Vue, an over-the-top (OTT) subscription TV service on the PlayStation 4 (PS4) and PlayStation 3 (PS3). Initially available in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, PlayStation Vue will offer subscribers live and on-demand TV programming starting at $49.99 per month. Included in this offer is a cloud-based DVR feature that allows subscribers to watch any episode of a show that aired with in the past 28 days.

PlayStation Vue is comprised of three tiers of service.

Access

The Access package costs $49.99 per month and includes broadcast networks like CBS, FOX, and NBC as well as more than 45 of the most popular channels.

Core

The Core package costs $59.99 per month and includes all the channels in the Access package, plus local regional sports networks, as well as additional sports and movie networks.

Elite

The Elite package costs $69.99 per month and includes all the channels in the Access and Core packages as well as more than 25 lifestyle, music and family channels.

On the surface this does not sound much different than existing offers from other pay TV providers. In fact, Sony is providing fewer channels for the same price than Comcast, Verizon and other pay TV providers; however, unlike these other pay TV providers what you see is what you get.  There are no hidden set-top box or technology fees and the rate will not automatically increase in a year or two after the introductory offer expires. In addition, PlayStation Vue includes the cloud-based DVR in the basic subscription fee. All told PlayStation Vue cost approximately $30 - $40 less than a comparable pay TV subscription. Furthermore, since you need a PS3 or PS4 to use PlayStation Vue (and it is probably safe to assume that PlayStation Vue will be available on other devices in the near future) it removes the capital expense of acquiring and maintaining STBs that other pay TV providers face.

Now that is not to say PlayStation Vue is not without warts. In particular, it is missing several key channels/networks including ABC and ESPN and is only available in three markets currently. Also, on the surface PlayStation Vue does not seem to provide consumers weary of the high cost of pay TV a break. It is only when you did down into the fine print that the difference in cost become evident.  Communicating this to consumers is going to be a challenge, particularly that is seems like Sony is asking consumers to pay the same amount for fewer channels.

At the moment PlayStation Vue has a distinct advantage, operating without many of the same burdens as their facility based competition (i.e., retransmission/must carry and other program carriage rules). While the FCC has signaled that they intend to even the playing field by defining Online Video Providers (OVDs) that deliver a linear stream of programing as Multi-Channel Video Providers (MVPDs). Doing so, however, is not without challenges. As noted by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association doing so has the potential to give rights to online entities the FCC does not track or license and may not have physical facilities in the U.S.

Whether or not the FCC chooses to apply these rules to PlayStation Vue and other similar OTT video services remains to be scene. But despite this PlayStation Vue represents an interesting view on what the future of subscription TV could look like.


March 18, 2015 17:23 PRaina

Last week French IPTV operator Free launched the world's first Ultra HD 4K gateway and set-top box based on Android TV called the Freebox mini 4K for a variety of content such as streaming, on-demand, recorded as well as terrestrial. 

Source: Company Website

Free, which is a triple-play service provider in France and a subsidiary of the Iliad Group, is the first in the world to introduce an Android TV based Ultra HD set-top box and gateway. Free has been an innovator since its inception, being the first triple-player service provider in France and also deploying internally developed set-top boxes. It has remained innovative and continues to offer competitively priced services in France while also having introduced mobile services.

 The Freebox mini 4K replaces Free’s existing Crystal Freebox offering and will be made available as an upgrade for the same price as its predecessor at €29.99 per month. The Freebox mini 4K solution too consists of a pair of devices:

  •  The Player powered by Broadcom's BCM7252 STB system-on-chip (SoC) serves as a set-top box, and is based on ARM’s 1.5GHz Cortex-A15 dual-core processor and includes 2GB of RAM. It is this advanced SoC that enables Ultra HD video playback at 60 frames per second. It also features an advanced security core for HD and Ultra HD content, Android TV features such as Google Play Store, Films, Music and Games as well as 802.11ac Wi-Fi streaming with speeds up to 450Mbps in and around the home. Connectivity to services is made possible by the Broadcom BCM43570 based Freebox Bluetooth remote control.
  •  The Server is the gateway/modem part of the solution that provides ADSL2+, VDSL2 and FTTH broadband access, 802.11n Wi-Fi for home networking, and also includes the option to include an external hard drive to record programmes. Interestingly the server features a Femtocell for optimizing mobile connectivity inside the home. 

The Freebox is clearly a great value proposition for consumers with its low monthly price. As an Android TV based platform it allows access to Google Play, YouTube, games, and Google Cast among other features. It is not clear if the Freebox offers Netflix in its current version, but with integrated Google Cast, subscribers can stream content from their mobile devices to the TV. Netflix was launched in France in September 2014; as content streaming continues to be popular in the country this set-top box and gateway combination would most likely find wide adoption amongst Free’s subscriber base.

The Freebox is not just an Android TV set-top box; it is also an Ultra HD set-top box device that supports 4K resolution video playback at 60 frames per second. There, however, continues to be a dearth of 4K content on all levels – live broadcast, on demand, and streaming, and Free has not made mention of any timeline for the availability of 4K content.  

So, what makes this announcement important?

  • With this deployment Free becomes the first operator in France to deploy a 4K STB. This also puts pressure on its rivals to follow suit particularly as it is keeping its price the same as for the non-4K predecessor.
  • The announcement emphasizes the trend that Android TV is making its way into more and more devices. Having already been confirmed by several TV vendors including Sony, Sharp and TP Vision that it will be included in some of their Smart TVs for 2015, NVIDIA also recently announced the world’s first Android TV console.
  •  And lastly, it is a sign that Broadcom is fast becoming the leading supplier of 4K chipsets for Ultra HD STBs having already been deployed by SK Broadband and Korea Telecom in South Korea and Tata Sky in India. Vodafone in Germany is expected to deploy Broadcom SoC based 4K STBs in the first half of 2015.


February 18, 2015 14:17 dmercer

The latest forecast for global games console adoption from my colleague Eric Smith quantifies the scale of Sony’s impending victory in the latest generation. We predicted the PS4’s victory several months before both it and the Xbox One were launched. At that time our consumer surveys were showing, as we put it, a “50% lead” for PS4. The fact that our detailed models are now predicting that there will be 40% more PS4s in use than Xbox Ones in 2019 is amazingly close to that early prediction.

To confirm the details, the global active installed base of Sony’s PS4 is predicted to reach 80.0M units by 2019, compared to 57.0M for Microsoft’s Xbox One, a lead of 40%. Both consoles will be near the peak of their life cycle at that time, although there will be room for further modest growth.

 

There is positive news for all console vendors, however, in the strength of the games consoles business overall. We have heard so often over the past 10-20 years that the console’s days are numbered, with various reasons being cited, most recently the “inevitability” of cloud gaming and competition from mobile devices. In spite of those apparent threats the demand for premium quality TV-based games seems to be as strong as ever, and doom-mongers have had to eat their words once again.  

Nintendo’s Wii U will trail a long way behind its rivals – it is looking more and more like Nintendo struck lucky with the original Wii, after failing with the GameCube and now the Wii U. Nintendo must decide if it is going to let the console business remain a two-way battle when the next generation comes along – I suspect it won’t but it will be sorely hurt by its latest experience.

David Mercer


February 11, 2015 05:26 dwatkins

I took the opportunity of being in Tokyo this week to visit one of the country's leading consumer electronics retailers, Yodabashi Camera. The Akihabara branch I visted is vast with products arranged into clear categories across 6 floors. I headed straight to the busy Audio Visual floor to check out the 4K TVs on show and I was immediately struck by just how much floor and shelf space was taken up by 4K models. In fact you had to look pretty hard to find a non-4K set. Row upon row of 4K TVs were arranged by screen size from Sharp, Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba and Mitsubishi as well as South Korea's LG. Each brand also had a generous section of wall space to show off their flagship products. Sizes for 4K models ranged from 40-inches up to 65-inches with the lowest price I found being LG's 49-inch UB8500 at ¥148,000 ($1240). At the other end of the scale, Sony's 65-inch X9500 model was on offer for ¥799,000 ($6700).

In common with other markets around the world, Japan's TV market is trending towards larger sizes with 50-inch and above sets accounting for 14% of TV units sold during 2014 compared with 10% in 2012 and just 6% in 2010. Consumers who are in the market for these larger sizes increasingly have no choice but to buy a 4K version as vendors are drastically reducing their line up of 1080p models in those larger sizes. However, it was interesting to see that Japanese consumers have a wider range of sub 50-inch 4K TVs to choose from than we have seen so far in Europe or the USA. The 40-49-inch screen size category accounts for around 20% of TV sales in Japan. 

The staff at Yodabashi were very helpful and there was always someone on hand to ask a question to despite how busy the store was. On the downside very few of the 4K sets seemed to be displaying actual 4K content and when they did it looked to be a pre-loaded show reel. Therefore, on the rare occasion that a 1080p and 4K TV were next to one another I did find it difficult to see an improvement in the picture quality or resolution on the 4K set, even at 55 and 60-inch sizes.

Soundbars were also prominent on the shop floor from a variety of TV and audio specialist brands. The soundbars were often displayed below the 4K TVs but sadly were not always connected and working. Surprisingly there did not seem to be much in the way of TV and soundbar bundling offers.

Before leaving I checked out the audio section and got lost for a few minutes in the aisles of bluetooth speakers, mostly low-end products but some higher end devices were on display from the likes of Bose and Sony. High resolution audio equipment was also fairly prominent but there was no sign of any multi-room audio capable devices. High-end audio brands such as Yamaha, Marantz, Onkyo and Pioneer all had their own enclosed area on the store floor in which brand representatives were on hand to demonstrate the latest range of products from Hi-Fi systems to AV receivers, floor speakers and even professional mixing decks.

Yodabashi Camera certainly does a great job in terms of offering consumers choice and advice and while the sheer size and range of products on offer may seen overwhelming at first, the stores are easy to navigate and consumers are given plenty of opportunity to test products out for themselves. I know a few European retailers that would benefit from taking a leaf out of Yodabashi's book!

David Watkins


January 16, 2015 17:19 MGoodman

When Sony first launch its cloud gaming service, PlayStation Now, it allowed for individual game rentals in increments of 4-hours, 7-days, 30-days, and 90-day. This model, however, is confusing, cumbersome, and costly. For example, God of War: Ascension cost $5.99 for a 7 day rental and $14.99 for 90 days while NASCAR ’14 cost $5.99 for a 4 hour rental and $39.99 for 90 days. PlayStation Now needed uniformity in pricing and a simple subscription model.

Sony knew that this was an issue and according to a November post on the PlayStation blog by Director of Marketing of PlayStation Now, Peter Jamshidi, a subscription option “was coming” to PlayStation Now. Well that time has arrived. At CES, Sony unveiled a subscription service for PlayStation Now. This service includes unlimited access to about 100 titles and costs $19.99 for one month or $44.99 for three months.

This announcement is a big step forward for Sony as it rounds out the PlayStation digital distribution model. At its core, there are three ways to monetize games – subscription, rental, and sell-thru (plus free). Sony has now embraced all of them, including free. The only remaining question is whether Sony has priced PlayStation Now’s subscription service to high. At $19.99/month or $44.99 for three months PlayStation Now is charging a pretty high premium compared to a service like OnLive, which has monthly packages ranging from $9.99 to $12.99. As evidenced by Netflix and other subscription VOD services the sweet spot for cloud based on-demand subscription services seems closer to $10 than $20.


January 7, 2015 00:28 dwatkins

CES 2015 – Day One (Tuesday)

Television sets have long been the darling of CES despite the efforts of mobile devices, smart home and wearables to dislodge them from their throne in recent years. If yesterday’s press day announcements and the throng of people forcing their way into the central hall booths of the major TV vendors this morning is anything to go by then the TV has certainly retained its position as the king of tech at this year's show.

UHD TV - A focus on better not just more pixels

TV vendors are well aware that higher resolution on its own is not enough to generate a real step change in picture quality (although of course resolution is the easiest element to market to the consumer). The four other main ways to improve picture quality are through higher frame ratesbetter colorimetrygreater bit depth and higher dynamic range. At CES 2015 most of the major TV vendors are addressing all of these elements to a certain degree but it is the enhancements to color and dynamic range that have been getting most of the attention on the show floor.

Several LCD TV vendors including Samsung, TCL and LG are looking to widen the color gamut on their sets by employing a technology known as Quantum Dots which are essentially nanocrystals that emit their own light and create a range of colors that can exceed 100% of the NTSC standard. QD Vision is a major supplier of Quantum dot technology with its Color IQ system and has been used in Sony’s Triluminous TV displays for a few years now. TCL has also partnered with QD Vision to bring quantum dot technology to its UHD 55 inch H9700 model which is due to launch in the US in the second half of 2015. LG sources its quantum dots from Dow Chemical, a rival of QD Vision, and the company has also developed its own wide color gamut solution which it calls ColorPrime which it will offer in its step up UHD series. LG is seemingly hedging its bets between the two color solutions, letting the consumer decide which is best. Sharp was also touting its own wide color spectrum technology calledSpectros.

Samsung, Sharp, LG and Sony all announced that they will be building High Dynamic Range (HDR) technology into select UHD models this year. HDR is effectively better contrast ratio allowing for darker blacks and brighter whites to bring more clarity and detail to images. The three major suppliers of HDR solutions are Dolby with its Dolby Vision suite, Technicolor and Philips but at this stage it is not clear which HDR solution each TV vendor will be using. Significantly the only way to benefit from the built in HDR technology is to watch content that has been mastered in HDR which is virtually non-existent at present. Netflix is looking to rectify that and announced at both the LG and Sony press events that it would add HDR to its 1080p and 4K streaming services later this year and would support all HDR standards adopted by the newly formed UHD Alliance of which Netflix is a member along with Dolby and Technicolor. 

All of these LCD UHD TV display improvements should be applauded as they really do bring about a step change in picture quality that is far more impactful than just a pure increase in resolution. However, the industry must think carefully on how to promote these new technologies in order to avoid creating consumer confusion or worse potential backlash from those consumers who have already spent thousands of dollars on older non HDR or wider color gamut models.

 

 

David Watkins


November 25, 2014 20:00 MGoodman

NVIDIA is joining Sony’s PlayStation Now as the latest major player in the gaming industry to tackle cloud gaming with the launch of the NVIDIA Grid Game Streaming Service. Many have tried, none have succeeded (yet), but that has not diminished the enthusiasm of NVIDIA, Sony, and many others for cloud-based gaming.

Unlike past entrants in this space, NVIDIA and Sony are well-steeped in the gaming industry and stand a far better chance at success. A comparison of the two services yields a more complete feel for PlayStation Now whereas NVIDIA Grid Game Streaming Service still has some bugs to work out. That being said, we don’t see Sony and NVIDIA competing head-to-head in the market, at least not in the short to mid-term. While both are launching cloud-gaming services, they appeal to different segments of the market, PlayStation Gamers vs. PC Gamers. This gives NVIDIA some breathing room in the short-term to work out the kinks before the space becomes more crowded and the two do start to challenge each other.

For a more detailed analysis of the two services see NVIDIA Goes off the Grid with Cloud Gaming Solution.


October 31, 2014 14:05 dwatkins

Less than 6 months after the launch of its $99 streaming media box, the Fire TV, Amazon has decided to go head to head with Google’s Chromecast ($35) and Roku’s streaming stick ($50) by earlier this week launching its own HDMI media streaming dongle which will retail for $39 or can be had for just $19 for fast acting Amazon Prime customers.

Much like the Chromecast and the Roku streaming stick, Amazon’s device plugs straight into the TV’s HDMI port and facilitates the streaming of video from sources such as Netflix, HuluPlus, Watch ESPN and of course Amazon Instant. Like its rivals the Amazon Fire TV stick allows you to mirror your smartphone or tablet display on the TV screen although this functionality is only available to those owning a Fire phone or Fire Tablet or a Miracast-enabled device.

Amazon looks to have got one up on Chromecast in this fast growing market by not only providing better hardware specs than its streaming stick rivals (including 1GB RAM, 8GB storage and dual band Wi-Fi )but also by including a dedicated remote control in the box. Amazon claims that users do not want to be restricted to using a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet to control their viewing experience and by giving consumers giving the option of a dedicated remote (without impacting significantly on the cost of the device) may give Amazon the edge over its rivals from a hardware perspective at least.  It must be noted however that the Bluetooth remote that is supplied with the stick does not include voice control. The voice controlled version can be purchased for an extra $30.

On the one hand, the launch of a streaming stick is a smart move from Amazon as the low cost of the device will mean that Amazon can build a sizeable base of Fire TV devices at a much faster rate than if it were to rely solely on the more expensive Fire TV box. The more Fire TV devices that are out there, the more potential it has to attract content partners and subsequently sell more Fire TV devices.  The timing of the Fire TV stick launch is also significant as it will allow Amazon to capitalise on the holiday shopping season and at $19 or even $39 the device is an ideal stocking filler.

On the other hand, while the Amazon Fire TV Stick will appeal to Amazon’s Prime customers (especially so at $19), this is exactly the same audience that Amazon has been targeting with its more expensive Fire TV box. So does Amazon run the risk of cannibalizing sales of its own product?

Low cost digital media streaming sticks are all the rage at the moment and are proving hugely popular with consumers who want quick and easy access to their favourite OTT video services. While certainly less powerful and not as feature rich as their set-top cousins, streaming sticks remove the need for another box and are also the ultimate travel device for catching up on shows on your hotel room’s TV.

Roku, Google and now Amazon have all decided on a two pronged hardware approach to the OTT TV streaming market in an attempt to appeal to as wide a base of users as possible. Each runs the risk of cannibalizing its own sales but each sees the necessity of building as large a base of users as possible in order to attract more content partnerships and in the case of Amazon and Google, drive more consumers to their respective content stores and services. In this writer’s opinion, Roku arguably has the most to fear from Amazon’s latest product announcement not only because yet another technology heavyweight has stepped into its core market but also because the increased competition could present problems for its rumoured IPO. Meanwhile, as Apple continues to ponder its next move in the TV space, Google and Amazon will make hay and steadily gnaw away at Apple and Roku’s leadership position as they look to strengthen the loyalty of their existing fan base and entice new users into their respective ecosystems.

 

Strategy Analytics’ Connected Home Devices service provides ongoing analysis and insight on developments within the market for TV-centric OTT devices including a quarterly vendor share tracker for Smart TVs, Smart Blu-ray players, IP-enabled Games Consoles and Digital Media Streamers such as Apple TV, Roku etc.

 David Watkins


October 14, 2014 14:49 dmercer

In the mid 1990s, when the internet was starting to be used by general consumers, we used to talk about a vision of the connected world. Even in the days when “internet” meant “web browser and email on a PC with a tortuously slow dial-up connection” there were enough signs that connectivity would move beyond this simultaneously miraculous yet antiquated model and affect a mass of devices and services that hadn’t yet been invented. There were many false starts, even in those days, as forward-thinkers tried to offer, as an example, streamed music to standalone radios which, somehow, were expected to perform in a pre-broadband era.

The connected world is now well and truly upon us, as our latest research shows. By the end of this year nearly 12 billion devices around the world will rely on internet connectivity, and only 10% of them are PCs. They have been passed, inevitably, by smartphones, but the “Internet of Things” (IoT), which includes M2M, smart objects, smart grid and smart cities, is the single biggest segment, accounting for more than 40% of connections.

 

By 2020 we expect the global installed base of connected devices to have reached more than 33 billion, which will equate to 4.3 devices for every person on the planet, up from 1.7 today. By that time the mix will have shifted even further away from PCs (and smartphones). The biggest growth opportunities over the rest of the decade lie in smart home, wearables and IoT. Beyond that, developers and planners from all industries can work on the assumption that internet connectivity will be ubiquitious, in many parts of the world, and this should whet our appetites for another phase of expanding and exciting possibilities.

David Mercer