Pessimistic about TV Apps

I spoke on Guardian’s Tech Weekly Today, about how I see the future for dedicated TV Apps somewhat lacking.

I was on an episode of Tech Weekly today (23 minutes in) talking about Connected TV alongside the head of the DTG, Richard Lindsay-Davies. I was perhaps a bit down on TV apps and wanted to expand on that a little, in the hope of being more nuanced.

I think that Video Apps on the TV video are great: I love using iPlayer and NetFlix on my TV/PS3/AppleTV far more than on my laptop. You can glance away, and glance back when something interesting happens, in the way you watch TV. You’re not cmd-tabbing through windows to try and find the iPlayer tab before the interesting bit ends.

The BBC Olympics application will let fans have access to nearly all the sports, not constrained by how many channels the BBC has – a useful extension and I think it will be popular. The Twitter app on my TV? Not so much, I used it once, and used it to say how awful sending that tweet was.

I really don’t think we’ll manage to have that many TV-only apps. No developer without lots of video (the Broadcasters, Netflixs and YouTubes of the world) is going to pick up a TV SDK – they’re going to learn Android or iOS programming. There’s already a lot of fragmentation in the TV space and billing is never going to be as easy, and lucrative, as on the mobile platforms.

I think that in the future we’ll see some of these phone/tablet apps throwing interesting graphics and content to the TV screen, like the scores at the end of a round. There’s scope for real innovation here, but it’s about feedback, not interaction.

The TV should be the easiest screen to get content on, you shouldn’t have to think about how you get content there: It’s about leaning back and relaxing. We tried ordering pizza via TV in 1998, it didn’t really work. Today we’d just do it from our tablet or smartphone.

Have a listen, let me know what you think, am I being too pessimistic?


HDMI was sold as a next generation connector, having used it a bit recently, some of the omissions surprise me.

  1. Explicit support for Audio and Video synchronisation only appeared in version 1.3. The forth revision of the standard. That’s a pretty big omission for a next generation audio-video connector; in the meantime every device seems to have optional delay values to tweak the setup.
  2. More generally the audio support is lacking. While you can deliver multiple audio formats, more with each revision, there isn’t (at least in early revisions) a way of sending both surround sound (AC3, DTS or better) and simple 2 channel PCM stereo at the same time. Devices have to elect which to send, and while some form of auto-negotiation is possible, devices like the HD TiVo require you to choose which form you send. And while your Amplifier can decode AC3/DTS, your TV potentially can’t. If the standard had just said from the beginning that you always send 2 channel PCM as a fallback/base level, and also any better standard if available, no negotiation or configuration would be needed.One workaround is to send Stereo audio to the HDMI connector, and send the AC3 audio out over S/PDIF connection, and get the surround sound amplifier to decode this. And then adjust various delays to provide lip-sync again. This is just faff that could so easily have been avoided by sending both, the connector is not lacking in bandwidth for audio.
  3. The inclusion of HDCP to provide the movie studios a misplaced sense of safety that content is protected. In reality all it does is cause sporadic errors when your Source, Amp and TV fail the negotiation and require you to power cycle everything. Meanwhile in the background is the threat that some studio somewhere could deem your TV insecure, and your expensive flat panel on the wall is prevented from showing certain HD content.

Having spent many years trying to get overly complicated SCART setups to work, I hoped that HDMI would be much better, and while impressed at the quality of HD, I’m disappointed at the level of user intervention and forethought required when they are setting equipment up, much of which could be avoided if some more pragmatic decisions were taken at the initial design meetings.