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CES 2010: Apps Flock To The Connected TV

You soon won’t be able to buy a TV that not only isn't 3D-ready but which won't also enable IP-delivered catch-up content and online apps.

In 2009 CES was flush with the first announcements and models for the connected TV, and a year later the delivery of internet apps is a key strategy for all hardware vendors. Display sales have soared over the last few years with 31.8 million sets sold in the U.S. in 2008 rocketing to 36.5 million in 2009. 3D HDTVs and Blu-ray players will experience a real push by the industry to become mainstream products along with IPTV and competitively priced LED TVs over the coming year.

"Most new TVs launched during 2010 will be networked," Yahoo’s Senior Director Product Marketing Connected TV, Russ Schafer told StreamingMedia.com. "Internet-connected TVs have driven growth in the consumer electronics industry, and 2010 will be a critical year for manufacturers, developers and consumers."

The Yahoo! Connected TV platform debuted at CES 2009, as one of the first successful attempts at bridging the divide between the web and TV. Schafer said Yahoo expects 3-5 million TV sets featuring its platform in the field worldwide at Q1 2010 rising to 10 million by 2011.

To achieve that, Yahoo is focused on increasing its global distribution this year, inking a deal with ViewSonic which will see Yahoo’s Widget Engine power interactive TV experiences on its new media player, and partnerships with silicon providers to build reference platforms for any device that could connect to the TV. "Our big announcement is about globalization and scaling through channel partners that will build reference platforms to make any device around the TV capable of receiving the widget experience," said Schafer.

Yahoo’s business model is largely based on revenue share with content publishers.

"It’s about aggregation of users and monetizing the user’s experience using our platform," said Schafer. "We’re an advertising company, so for us it’s all about aggregating large audiences so widening our scale is vital as is getting people to understand that the TV is one of many devices on which to access our applications."To encourage greater development of widgets for the platform Yahoo’s Widget Development Kit (WDK) has been made more broadly available. In addition, new apps include those from CNBC, NBC.com, Napster, and Dailymotion, as well as Betfair and Sky News in the UK.

"We anticipate that contextually relevant data, greater network tie-ins, and greater social activity will add value to the overall internet-connected TV experience and further down the line you will see more interaction (such as voting) with the broadcast stream," added Schafer.

LG Electronics' Yahoo-based Netcast system has expanded its partners with Picasa, Netflix v2.0 instant movie streaming, and AccuWeather.com joining YouTube, Vudu, Netflix, and DLNA network streaming from last year.

Sharp’s AquosNet IPTV adds video capability for the first time. The sets will include access to streaming content from NetFlix and VuDu via built-in Ethernet port.

Toshiba is planning to bring internet TV to its new Cell TV which is due for release later this year. Key targeted content partners include Netflix, Vudu, CinemaNow and Pandora.

Internet streaming capability is also being ported to new Blu-ray players and Blu-ray home theater systems. LG, Sony, and Samsung all enable this, with Samsung going one further and extending its app platform across its range of mobile phones beginning in Italy and the UK and rolling out worldwide.

Sony also plans Bravia Internet Video across its new Bravia TVs, Blu-ray players, and Blu-ray home cinema systems. Aside from the social media apps Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook, Sony is working with broadcast partners across Europe [Germany’s ARD, M6 in France, Mediaset in Italy, RTVE, Antena3 and LaSexta in Spain, and Five in the UK] to accommodate their catch-up services. It will also offer a variety of free on-demand video content from internet sites such as YouTube and Dailymotion. Premium content will also be streamed later this year via the Playstation Network store which it already offers to PS3 and PSP owners.

Samsung has arguably taken the lead in connected TV among CE vendors. Having worked with Yahoo for two years, integrating a widget bar into its Internet@TV brand of LED, plasma, and LCD displays, the Korean manufacturer is concentrating on developing its own internet content platform (it is still working with Yahoo but this is being downplayed).

"We are moving to own platform because it’s optimized for our TVs—it’s a lot quicker to provide our own solution," said Darren Patterson, Product Manager, Home Platform.

Samsung Apps can be downloaded from its new range of TVs launching in April. The initial suite will be free, with premium apps to follow in the summer. Again, the same internet content service will also be available on Samsung’s new Blu-ray players and home theater systems.

Services in the U.S. include Accedo Broadband, AccuWeather.com, Blockbuster, Netflix, Pandora, Rovi, and USA Today. In the UK movie rental service LoveFilm and BBC iPlayer are partners.

Several apps will allow interaction between a Samsung mobile phone and a Samsung TV. For example consumers might play virtual poker using the TV as the table, and their handsets to view cards and control the game, the company said. Like Yahoo!, Samsung is making its app store an open platform to encourage third-party developers.

HD videoconferencing in the living room is also a major theme. Software developer Trinity Convergence has worked with Skype to add video calling to HDTVs and other connected CE products by integrating its VeriCall voice and video software engine with the Skype SDK. This enables hardware manufacturers to efficiently add Skype video calling with LG and Panasonic the first to sign up. Samsung internet TVs are already Skype-enabled, the company said.

"The driving force behind our relationship with Trinity was to simplify the software integration process for consumer electronics companies," explained Manrique Brenes, Skype's director of business development and product management for CE. "Trinity is making it easier for our hardware partners to bring Skype video calling to the connected TV market."

The VoIP software will be available on four Panasonic Viera plasma and LCD TVs and 26 new LCD and plasma TVs with NetCast from LG.

LG and Panasonic will sell separate webcams that support the 720p HD format and are meant for making video calls with the televisions.

FaceVision and In Store Solutions have introduced new HD webcams designed to work with Skype. "The popularity of Skype video calling has increased substantially in recent years with an average of 34% of Skype-to-Skype calls now including video," said Josh Silverman, CEO of Skype.

The service will not as yet be included on Sony’s Bravia line. The LX900 Bravia contains a camera embedded in the TV capable of face recognition. This is being applied initially as a means to intelligently power down the TV when a child gets too near the screen or when a person in the room is no longer watching, but Sony indicated that a Skype-style application was likely in future.

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