They Took Risks and Built a Killer Product: The Smart TV

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The TV didn’t change much from the 1960s to the 1990s. They got much bigger with a very gradual improvement of resolution. Some TV models added cabinet space to store books and albums (“TV furniture”), but the TV was a TV. That changed in the 1998, with the release of the first modern digital screens.

HDTV on “flat screens” was an incredible product improvement for television. While the screen wasn’t totally flat, it was a huge change from the “box TV” of the past. Finally, a TV that didn’t take two people to pick up. The new digital TV video quality was insanely good compared to non-HD resolution. I remember sitting in awe watching my first DVD’s. HDTV was gradually introduced by public and cable broadcasters over the next decade, so DVD’s were our first taste of the “hi-res revolution”.

HDTV Was Just The Beginning

HDTV and a much smaller physical footprint gave consumers a justifiable reason to cut the lifecycle of their current TV short and upgrade. I remember giving away my last old style TV. TV manufacturers had a well-earned sales cycle from 1998 to 2008.

Hi-res and using processors instead of those large tubes found in old TVs were a step in the right direction. But the Gods of TV Product knew four things were missing and they set out to revolutionize TV forever. What happened to the TV between 1998 and today?

Smart TV Product Feature #1 – TV OS. TV Product Managers realized that for the TV to become central in the home, it needed a brain – an operating system. They took an enormous risk here. Operating systems were in those days notoriously unstable. Windows was known for “blue screen crashes” – even Microsoft Founder Bill Gates couldn’t avoid a Windows blue screen while on the stage in one famous instance.

Today, there are many powerful TV operating systems to choose from. LG uses webOS, Samsung has Tizen OS, Android TV (by Google of course) is used by Sony, RCA, Sharp and other TV manufacturers. Guess what? TV operating systems are stable. They load very quickly and very, very rarely crash. Adding operating systems to TVs has been a total success. TV married software and the result is astounding.

Smart TV Product Feature #2 – Internet Connection. A TV with an operating system is nice, but isn’t so smart. Add internet to TV and you solve many problems at once. First and foremost, the TV operating system can self-update. No need to download software, copy to USB drive and manually update your TV software. Thanks to – and this is key – excellent performing internet access and interface, you can turn on your TV and be online in 1-3 minutes (just connect to your home wifi). In the worst case scenarios, your TV will ask you for the login info a few times before eventually storing it. After that, internet becomes ubiquitous.

Add a streamer to your TV – like Roku or Chromecast ($40-$60) – and you can stream content from your laptop or mobile browser to the Smart TV. Streaming devices owe their existence to the Smart TV. I expect future Smart TV’s to feature built-in streaming capabilities. Photos that I take on my smartphone look much better on my Smart TV than on my laptop.

Smart TV Product Feature #3 – Connections Galore. Every Smart TV manufacturer wants you to connect to their ecosystem. The operating system + internet allows the Smart TV to offer free and paid content. My LG Smart TV lets me signup for streaming music and video services. It even has games, news, the weather. I bought a keyboard for my Smart TV. While I’m glad I tried it, I prefer the pointer controller (worth buying if not included with the regular keypad controller).

Smart TV became a multimedia hub in the family room.

It doesn’t stop there. Smart TV Product Managers knew to add external connections. My Smart TV has 4 HDMI connections and 4 USB connections – very generous, and yes, I use all 8.

Thanks to the HDMI connections, I can connect my PlayStation 3 and 4 to my Smart TV. For those who aren’t gamers, modern consoles aren’t just for gaming – my two PlayStations are capable of playing many audio and video formats that my Blu-ray player doesn’t recognize. For occasional gamers in their 30s and 40s, the PlayStation is just as useful as a multimedia player.

The USB connections are very useful – I can download content on my laptop, copy it to a USB drive and connect the USB drive to my Smart TV. Direct USB to TV is always going to offer better sound and video quality than streaming.

The Product Managers who designed the Smart TV knew that consumers wanted to connect online and externally to other gadgets. They opened the flood gates and I can’t imagine life without a Smart TV. Everyone I know has a Smart TV or is actively considering buying one. It’s like the microwave in the 1980s – every middle class home will have a Smart TV within 3-5 years.

Smart TV Product Feature #4 – Long Lifecycle. Now for the product feature that is the wrapping to the Smart TV – a long lifecycle. Smart TV’s are not smartphones, with frequent upgrade cycles (2-3 years, and I think this is unacceptable). A TV is expected to last 10 years. Today’s consumer electronics products are durable and are capable of lasting for years.

My LG Smart TV is 5 years old, and the newer models that I’ve seen are only marginally better. The Smart TV has entered the phase of gradual improvement. It lets TV Product Managers take a deep breath and conjure up the next killer feature, and it lets consumers extract a high ROI from their investment.

Thanks to all of these features, it’s not just a matter of “How long before my Smart TV stops working.” How long will it take for my 2012 Smart TV to become obsolete, like the original iPhone or Samsung Galaxy I, and require an upgrade?

My wallet wants to wait, but my head looks forward to the next wave of Smart TV’s. This industry has earned our respect.


 
 
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Yonatan Levy