Walking through the electronics department at Costco has gotten me really excited -- about televisions.
The fancy display showcasing 3D TV is now gone. Over the course of several weeks, I saw shoppers walk up to the display, try on the goggles, and then move on to look at televisions that weren't so cutting-edge. I'm glad to see that display go.
I'm also glad to see that connected televisions are appearing on the shelves. I'm not excited to buy one, mind you. I'm excited that these new devices have taken the premium-priced mantle away from 1080p large-screen LCD and LED sets, which is what I have my eye on when it's time to get a new set.
As you've probably already figured out, I'm not buying into the latest couple of rounds of "innovation" in the field of television hardware. To me, 3D was nothing but a short-lived joke. Those New Yorkers old enough to remember having to get red and blue glasses at 7-Eleven to watch 3D monster movies on WPIX know that the affinity for 3D viewing ebbs and flows over time. The success of several recent 3D movies notwithstanding, it's a novelty with no staying power. My Blu-Ray copy of "Journey to the Center of the Earth" came with 3D glasses -- why do I need new hardware to enjoy a few bits of content in 3D?
It's the newest "innovation" that bugs me more, though. Connected sets may seem like the next big thing, but for now, I'm lumping them into the pile of discarded, useless TV ideas along with everything from the circa 1998 convergence movement.
You see, as much as hardware manufacturers and marketing execs would like to see the internet and television come together, there are two very significant forces holding them apart.
The first is one you're probably already familiar with. It's the "lean forward" versus "lean back" thing. Most people who watch television do so in order to be passively entertained. Requiring input from people who are engaging in an activity partly because they don't want to give that input is a shaky proposition at best.
I see that behavior represented in my own consumption habits. My two-year-old wants to watch "Dora the Explorer" at 8 a.m., and I let out a sigh because it means I have to find the remote and go eight or so menus deep into the video-on-demand guide. If I miss a story on News 12 about a car accident down the block, I need to change the channel and start surfing menus. Getting television viewers to go back and forth between passive and active entertainment, when they're expecting a passive form, is a lot of momentum to overcome. Even when you're talking about just a few simple button presses.
The second force is one I think is even more difficult to overcome. It's the "private versus public device" thing. Do you have a teenager living at home? (If not, just pretend you do for a moment.) How willing do you think this teenager will be to let the entire family see their Twitter private messages on a 60-inch big screen? Assuming you can get past that, go to your Facebook account and review your last 10 private messages and status updates. Would you be as comfortable typing those out for display on your television as you would be sending them from your private computer or mobile device?
This is, in my opinion, the bigger obstacle to overcome for connected television sets. The heavy users of the apps many of them carry are probably not all that thrilled with the notion of having their highly personal information up on the big screen, even if it's in front of close family members. Connected televisions will be saddled with somehow figuring out how to turn highly personal communication into shared communication.
All of this, of course, isn't without a silver lining. Those six-inch 1080p sets with insanely high refresh rates and beautiful picture qualities are cheaper now since they're not considered cutting edge any more. One of them will look great in my basement rec room.
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