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,

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

 


October 6, 2014 14:31 dwatkins

As a British expat living in Bordeaux, France I decided to sign up to Netflix over the weekend and give it a test run for a month before deciding whether to ‘cut the cord’ and ditch my relatively expensive Canal+ subscription on which I have been relying for my fix of English language TV shows and films.

 

Signing up to Netflix was a doddle and as you would expect with the service, the user interface is clean, easy to navigate and content is well categorized into all the most commonly used French genre types. I set about streaming the first season of the US hit show Breaking Bad to my TV via my laptop using a Chromecast dongle plugged into the HDMI port at the back of my TV. Netflix is a one of several services supported by Chromecast and therefore has a dedicated ‘Cast’ button built into the interface allowing for a higher quality viewing experience compared to simply mirroring the PC’s screen on the TV. Furthermore, once you click the ‘Cast to TV’ button within the Netflix app, the Chromecast dongle takes over the streaming responsibilities with the PC (or mobile device) effectively becoming the remote control. The overall experience of using Netflix on the TV was excellent with virtually no lag between choosing a show and it appearing on my TV screen. In fact the experience was far better than I have been used to when trying to access TV shows or movies via the Canal+ VOD service which involves clicking through a myriad of tiles to find the content you want, a task that can take several minutes.

 

Overall the current content offering on Netflix in France is a little underwhelming and so it will be interesting to see how quickly the company can boost its library of TV shows and movies. American content dominates with TV series like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Fargo, Modern Family and Homeland all getting prominent placement on the home screen. These types of show are very popular in France – my French friends here regularly talk about them over an aperitif. There is also a smattering of TV shows from the BBC including Sherlock, Broadchurch, Downton Abbey, Misfits, Doctor Who and Top Gear.

 

Significantly, French language content is relatively thin on the ground. I counted approximately 50 French movies which prompted my cinema-loving French wife to cry out “C’est tout?”. There are a few classics in there but very few films post 2006. There are also very few French TV series listed (8 in total) and half of these are crime documentary series. In this respect the Canal+ offering is far superior.

 

The kids content library is pretty well stocked however. My 4 year old son was pretty excited to see so many Disney classics as well as some French cartoons he already watches on regular TV. We certainly won’t need to ask for any new DVDs from Pere Noel this Christmas!

 

Netflix has made an impressive start to life in France as reported by our recent Digital Media Strategies Insight Netflix Off to a Strong Start in France.  English speaking expats like me will appreciate the wide range of popular US and British programming. However, there is a distinct lack of French language content which will turn a lot of French people off particularly the older generations. Unless Netflix can quickly add some compelling French language content I won’t be surprised if quite a number of subscribers end up cancelling their subscription as soon as their one month free trial expires.

 

 

David Watkins


October 6, 2014 13:42 esmith

Nothing says mea culpa louder than this timeline:

Oct. 2012

Windows 8 Release

Oct. 2013

Windows 8.1 (Service Pack)

Sept. 2014

Windows 10 Tech Preview

Just as Microsoft did with its troubled Xbox One rollout, it has quickly recalibrated to better respond to user demands with its Windows 10 Technical Preview. The open beta program will gather user input in the run-up to an official release expected for Q2 or Q3 2015 while showing how much Microsoft understands the complaints levelled against Windows 8/8.1.

Our recently updated PC forecast is showing that Microsoft Windows is slowly losing market share of PC operating systems as Apple performs above the market average and Google’s Chrome OS continues to gain traction among low-price tier customers and educational institutions. Meanwhile, Windows 7 can no longer be pre-loaded on consumer PCs beyond October 2014 and enterprise PCs will likely have this privilege for another 18 to 24 more months.

Yours truly installed the Windows 10 Tech Preview on an old PC on its last legs (clean install, leaving Vista far behind) and found it to be a milder and more pleasant version of Microsoft’s modern computing user experience. Windows 10 completely reverses many of the changes consumers disliked about Windows 8/8.1 (the Start Menu is back, the traditional desktop is front and center) while keeping some of the best features (“Metro” or “Modern” apps now run in windows and Live Tiles bring streamed updates, though as a subset of the Start Menu).

Source: Microsoft

To be fair, Windows 8 was released at an inconvenient time for the PC industry and the slump of the PC market is much more attributable to changing PC usage patterns, replacement cycles, and hardware specifications out-performing common software requirements. Those fortunate enough to have touchscreen displays reviewed the OS much more favorably. Unfortunately, touchscreen PCs cost about $100 to $200 more than their non-touchscreen counterparts in 2013, hobbling the OS during a crucial proving period. These factors and more are explored in greater depth in our recent report, “Computing in the Post-PC Era: Growth Opportunities and Strategies.”

 

- Eric


October 3, 2014 09:11 dmercer

The latest research from our Connected Home Devices team, the Global Connected TV Device Tracker, shows that the number of connected TV devices installed globally reached just short of 500 million devices in Q2 2014, an increase of 7% over Q1. The research covers all connected TV devices such as smart TVs, smart blu-ray disc players, games consoles and digital media streamers.

The market is becoming increasingly fragmented: Today the top six brands account for 72% of the installed base; two years ago it was 85%. This reflects the fact that newcomers are joining the market all the time, Google’s Chromecast being one of the more prominent recent entries. It also results from the fact that the early days of connected TV were dominated by games consoles. But as smart TVs and digital media streamers have become widespread the share of consoles in the installed base has fallen from 95% to just over a third in the past four years.

While we inevitably hear a lot about newcomers like Google and Amazon, and long-time player Apple, the market leaders are traditional vendors Sony and Samsung. Sony accounts for nearly a quarter of installed connected TV devices, although its share has been falling slowly for a couple of years. Samsung has only recently become the number two player, passing Microsoft and Nintendo.

 

 David Mercer

Google, Amazon and Apple have minor shares on a global basis but are clearly ones to watch as they evolve their connected TV strategies. We will also be watching for some level of platform consolidation around Android, which is likely to become one of the important stories during 2015.

 


September 17, 2014 17:11 dmercer

An article in today’s TV Technology describes The Weather Channel’s (TWC) plans “to fully convert to 4K content acquisition, production and distribution by 2018”. Apart from a few highlights channels launched to support early 4K services in Asia, this is the first confirmation in the US or Europe that a major network plans to commit to the 4K/Ultra HD future. Indeed, its plans for 10-bit colour and 60fps confirm that fully-fledged Ultra HD is on broadcasters’ roadmaps.

As an aside, it scarcely seems possible that it was only seven years ago that I also noted Weather Channel’s plans to convert to HD, when the SD-HD transition was a “cost of doing business”. We are probably a bit too early in the Ultra HD process to use the same description today, but it will surely come sooner or later, even if TWC are now ahead of that curve.

TWC’s investments may come a surprise to some of those who attended the IBC Show 2014, where caution about content owners’ and broadcasters’ 4K plans was in evidence. Naturally enough, perhaps, given the inevitable increased costs associated with these upgrades across the video ecosystem. Networks, broadcasters and service providers are all nervous about the usual “where’s the money?” question and few want to risk a nasty sting from arrows in first movers’ backs.

So credit to The Weather Channel for going public on its commitment. OK, so 2018 is not exactly around the corner, but this was never going to be an overnight transition – indeed “transition” is probably not the best word, implying that all video will one day be shown in 4K. Even today, more than 20 years after HD broadcasts began in Japan, SD is still prevalent worldwide. We are at the beginning of a long process likely to be measured in decades rather than years.

David Mercer

 


September 4, 2014 22:12 dwatkins

The IFA consumer technology show is not usually used as a platform for new TV set announcements as most brands reveal their line ups at the beginning of the year at CES. That said IFA’s press conferences did throw up a few noteworthy announcements around UHD TV and of course ‘the curve’!

Samsung has extended its line-up of curved TVs over the last few months to 17 models ranging in size from 48 to 75-inches and at IFA today the company announced the launch of a 105-inch UHD version with 11 million pixels, 21:9 aspect ratio and five times the resolution of Full HD. Samsung also announced the launch of the world’s first curved soundbars designed to accompany its 55 and 65-inch curved sets. The HW-H7500 soundbar is expected to be priced at $799.99. Samsung also showed off a bendable curved 105” UHD TV at its press conference which is set to become available in Europe later this year. The set allows a consumer to control the curvature of the screen at the touch of a button. (Samsung had shown an 85-inch bendable TV prototype at CES earlier this year).

Sony meanwhile has used IFA to give us a first look at its curved UHD debut – the 65 and 75” S9005B series. The curvature of the sets is much more subtle than that employed by Samsung and others, while the rounded edges of the bezel, which house the speakers,  give the sets a stylish look.

TP Vision (under its Philips brand) is placing a big focus on TV at this year’s IFA and has also joined the curved set party by announcing the 8900 55-inch, Android powered (4.2.2 Jelly Bean) curved UHD display. The set incorporates Philips’ Ambilight technology on 3 sides while recent upgrades to Ambilight means fast moving scenes are free from motion blur. Pricing was not available but the set is expected to be in stores in Europe later this month.

In UHD TV news, Samsung announced a new partnership with 20th Century Fox to securely distribute UHD content using SCSA (Secure Content Storage Association) content security standards. The company also confirmed plans to launch Amazon’s UHD VOD service in October along with confirming European deals with other major UHD content partners Netflix, Maxdome, Wuaki.tv and CHILI.

TCL is using IFA to present its new 55-inch UHD TV using Quantum Dot (QD) technology for a fuller colour representation while Panasonic and Toshiba will also be exhibiting new UHD TV ranges at IFA and I’ll be checking them out tomorrow.

 

David Watkins


July 25, 2014 15:42 esmith

This is the year that 4K Ultra HD (UHD) TV sales are set to dramatically rise from the embryonic status it has occupied for the last two years. Sales figures in 2014 are in line with our forecast from a few months ago. Now, trade groups and TV vendors are getting more serious about how to define and promote UHD TV.

Both the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the Steering Board of the DVB Project released guidelines to define UHD TV in the past month, as compared below:

 

CEA UHD TV

DVB UHDTV Phase 1

 

Resolution

3840 x 2160

3840 x 2160

 

Aspect Ratio

16:9

16:9

 

Upconversion

from 1080p to 2160p

 

 

Frame Rate

24p/30p/60p

24p/30p/50p/60p

 

HDCP

v2.2

 

 

Colorimetry

ITU-R Recommendation BT.709

ITU-R Recommendation BT.709

 

Color Bit Depth

≥8

≤10

 

Compression

HEVC

HEVC

 

Both organizations essentially punted on the issue of “better pixels” as the European Broadcast Union (EBU) noted in a recent policy statement. It’s important to note that the EBU is looking to set a robust broadcast standard before any non-test broadcasts have taken place on the continent. Furthermore, there are no TV sets currently being sold which could meet these ambitious goals. Meanwhile, trade groups like the CEA and DVB are concerned with keeping the standards broad enough to sell TVs, build a healthy installed base, and incrementally bring innovation to the market while reaping profit from their massive investments. UHD TV standards will necessarily lag behind real world innovation as a result, and consumer confusion is likely to reign as we consider what else is possible for UHD TV:

  • Frame rates of beyond 60 per second to enable smoother pictures for fast motion scenes such as sports
  • Wide color gamuts to display colors more closely associated with what we see in the real world
  • Extended dynamic range to simultaneously display plasma-quality blackness in one part of an image and bright white in another

 

Pixel count is an easily marketable number and UHD panel prices have plummeted, allowing for UHD displays to narrow the price gap with their 1080p cousins. From the discussions we have had with major TV vendors, however, they are eager to differentiate their products by touting better pixels.

Case in point, Sony’s July Holiday Showcase in New York last week. Aside from the odd symbolism of a Sony event held inside the “Haier Building,” I noticed more attention from Sony spokespeople on the merits of UHD TV beyond just the pixel count: Triluminous displays that can reproduce colors like “Denver Broncos Blue” or “California Highway Sign Green”; dual control of backlighting and shutters (X-tended Dynamic Range PRO) that allow for a brightness range of up to 3x that of a standard LCD TV; HEVC compression shipping standard on all models to support UHD OTT streams; and, UHD upscaling from 1080p content to address the content gap from linear and physical content inputs.

Their flagship XBR-X950B 65” UHD TV (pictured above) includes all of those features listed above as long as you have $7,999 to spend. That hefty price tag, though considerably lower than six months ago for a similar quality set, is probably why trade organizations are content with defining the basics of UHD rather than pushing for higher pixel quality.

Perhaps when pixel quality is addressed, we will begin to see TV vendors prominently exhibit side-by-side UHD/1080p comparisons and it will be up to consumers to understand the various parameters of UHD TV. Until then, bringing UHD TV prices as close to 1080p TV prices will be the main goal in introducing UHD TV to more mainstream consumers.


July 24, 2014 13:32 esmith

NVIDIA continues to extend its gaming reach with the launch of the gaming-focused SHIELD Tablet, the latest in a long line of embellishments to its position as a leading supplier of GPUs and SoCs to PCs, laptops, smartphones, mobile games consoles, and tablets. The SHIELD Tablet itself is well specified for its base price point of $299 and with it, NVIDIA seeks to expand a niche segment of gaming tablets much along the lines of the matured PC market. Further insight and analysis on this topic can be found in our published report here: NVIDIA Plays to Gamers with 8-in SHIELD Tablet.


July 8, 2014 10:25 dwatkins

Google’s widely anticipated Android TV software platform was unveiled at its annual developer’s conference in San Francisco last month, marking the technology giant’s third shot at taking control of the living room TV experience. While early impressions are positive particularly surrounding its gaming and cross device capabilities, for Android TV to become a universally adopted TV platform then Google will come back up against the challenge of securing premium Pay TV and Multichannel TV content for the platform. Google, as well as Intel and Apple know from bitter experience that those deals are far from straightforward. Further insight and analysis on this topic can be found for subscribers in our published report here: Google Brings Android to the TV


June 13, 2014 16:57 MGoodman

Joining a crowded streaming music scene that already contains Rhapsody, Pandora, Spotify, Apple and Samsung, Amazon unveiled Amazon Prime Music in the US. Prime Music provides access to more than one million songs to all Amazon Prime members, at no extra cost.

 

Key Prime Music features include:

 

·         Access to over a million songs delivered ad-free

·         Hundreds of expert-programmed Prime Playlists

·         Prime members can download music to their phone or tablet to listen offline

·         Amazon will use previous purchase behavior to recommend songs to customers

According to Amazon, Prime members in the U.S. can start listening to Prime Music immediately at www.primemusic.com. Kindle Fire HD/HDX devices will get Prime Music in an automatic, over-the-air update while mobile phone users can download the latest Amazon Music app from the Android and iTunes appstores.

 

Prime Music does, however, have a few warts. Specifically, it has fewer songs than services like Spotify or Rhapsody, and at least at the moment due to a disagreement over royalty payment, has no deal with top-ranked Universal Music Group. That means that popular stars such as Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Jay-Z are not available on Prime Music.

 

This move is indicative of the rise in popularity of streaming and the decline of digital downloads. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), U.S. sales of downloaded songs slipped 1% last year to $2.8 billion while streaming music revenue grew 39% to $1.4 billion.

 

Amazon is developing a very robust on-demand service, spanning multiple media formats that offer much more than the competition. For a $99 annual subscription fee, Prime members have access to:

 

·         Free two-day shipping on eligible items to addresses in the contiguous U.S.

·         Unlimited streaming of movies and TV episodes, including five new kids and five new comedy/drama pilots for members in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

·         Unlimited, ad-free access to Prime Playlists and more than a million songs for members in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

·         The ability to borrow from over 500,000 from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library.

·         Early access for members in the U.S. to download a new book for free every month from the Kindle First picks.

·         Access to Prime Pantry, where members can purchase and ship to addresses in the contiguous U.S. low priced grocery, household and pet care items for a flat delivery fee of $5.99 for each Prime Pantry box.

Making Prime more attractive to Amazon users is in Amazon’s best interests. According to Morningstar, “Prime members spend “approximately twice as much" as their non-Prime counterparts each year, shop more frequently and buy pricier items.”

 

In addition, Amazon offers the Kindle Fire HD/HDX tablet and Kindle Fire streaming media player. The only thing missing from their device portfolio is a phone? Wait, doesn’t Amazon have a big press event scheduled for June 18th……..?