NDS, the TV technology firm Cisco recently bought for $5 billion, was in town for a couple of days this week, ensconced in the W hotel and showing off its vision of TV's future, which essentially means that this could be a preview of "Cisco TV."
It was good to catch up with fellow Brits Nigel Smith, chief marketing officer and Nick Thexton, chief technology officer at NDS. It's their job to figure out how people will be using their TVs so that NDS can provide the technologies that cable TV companies will need to service future subscribers.
Here's my take and my notes from the demo:
The NDS team were on the third floor of The W hotel in downtown San Francisco, inside a cavernous meeting room, within which they had built an enclosed "living room" filled with the type of electronics and displays that would likely be found in most homes three to four years from now.
Moving from the expanse of the outer space and into the relatively small living room felt confining and claustrophobic at first, and the massive screen, taking up almost the entire wall in front of the sofa -- wasn't helping matters. But the clarity of the display and the ability to quickly resize the video feeds into small or super-large, helped open up the room. It was surprising how quickly I got used to a massive screen so close to my head.
Messrs. Smith and Thexton believe that most homes will have racks of big screen, borderless LCD displays, tiled across an entire wall. Here are some other predictions:
- Not all content will be viewed at maximum size, morning TV news, for example, would be viewed in a much smaller area.
- There would be space on the TV Wall for a digital clock, calendar, post-its, etc., (See below.)
- Prime time content such as 'American Idol' would have metadata that could trigger tags that change view area size at key places, expanding during dramatic moments. The meta tags would also be used to trigger advertising and other forms of commercial services.
- The meta tags would be controlled by the TV show producer. (This takes advertising control away from the cable operators, will this be a problem?)
- There will be a bright future for 4K, the super HD technology developed for the movie recording industry. The demo I saw was excellent.
- Our future TVs will not be controlled through touch, or by talking, or by gestures in the air. The controls will be in the remote control tablet. Today's TV remote is controlled by micro-gestures, a tiny press of the channel button. It makes no sense to replace that with grand gestures, arm waving , etc., Good point.
- The remote control is an iPad or any touch screen tablet. The interface offers easy, slider based controls, and it also doubles as the 'second screen' allowing web browsing, and for novel forms of TV show interactions.
- The interface NDS has developed runs on Chrome. Even though Google is becoming a competitor in this space, the relationship is defined as 'co-opetition' and the two companies have exchanged some TV related technologies.
- The TV content will be made personal through learning what viewers watch.
- Of course, Twitter comments, Facebook updates, etc can be seen in off-center viewing spaces.
- 22 speaker audio systems will be able to direct audio to listeners, cutting down on room noise.
- Wall TVs could bring the family back around the same screen again, which is something that I miss.
- Various technologies for engaging with adverts, etc., (I've never met anyone that wants to engage with an advertisement but their market research is better than mine.)
- Every year they tease me about my being a 'cord-cutter' and it's true, I don't have a cable TV bill to pay and I haven't paid one in years. But it wasn't me that cut the cord, it was Comcast and I saw them do it, it was something to do with my not paying the bill.
I don't miss Comcast. I now watch all my TV content through an old MacBook Pro sans display, attached via HDMI to my flatscreen TV; and a $10 Radio Shack antenna plucks dozens of crystal clear HD channels out of thin air (better quality than the lossy video compression of cable TV).
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NDS technologies are deeply embedded within the TV distribution infrastructure and this makes it a key player in the "TV War" that's brewing, the battle for the massive mountain of TV ad dollars that's motivating a big chunk of the tech sector.
NDS is very focused on the incumbents, the huge cable and telco firms that provide cable TV to the masses. This is precisely the industry that many Silicon Valley tech firms such as Google, Apple, and many others, want to disrupt with their own networks.
Cisco is also very focused on incumbents -- cable and telco firms are huge customers. Clearly, there's a deep split forming in Silicon Valley between the tech companies that want the TV industry disrupted and those that want to keep them in business. Will it become a battle that's won by the best technologies? ...or best business models?