Next week, Samsung will unveil the first part of its connected TV strategy at the Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona. Their first device on the market, Samsung Homesync, will run Android Jelly Bean and let you view all your videos, photos and apps at full 1080p resolution through HDMI 1.4 outputs. Interestingly enough, the $300 box will not be running Google TV, the version of Android Google has been pushing for TV sets, but will instead have a customized version of Android that integrates with other products in the Samsung Galaxy line.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the development spectrum, Sony previewed its next generation gaming station, the PS4, and presented it as their own central hub for all things digital, presenting a new approach that includes social media, game streaming, video streaming and second screen experiences all wrapped into one convenient package. Among the significant changes to the company’s strategy is the admission that we are living in a multi-screen world and the inclusion of games that can move between the game console and mobile devices.
This evolution shows a world where entertainment, whether it is games or video, lives in a connected world and moves from one screen to another in a fairly seamless fashion. Apple may have initiated this effort with Airplay but similar solutions are now available from Google (leveraging DLNA), Microsoft (Xbox Smartglass) and others. In the new world of computing, where media lives is not where media is necessarily consumed.
Surprisingly, this is an idea that has been around for well over a decade and was initially introduced by Microsoft with its digital living room strategy. Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, then Microsoft-CEO Bill Gates talked about a world where a Windows device would work as a central repository for media that would be consumed on your PC, on your TV, and on other form factors. That strategy led the company to invest heavily in TV-related technologies like the 1997 US$500 million acquisition of WebTV and the launch of the Xbox Live streaming service in 2002. And it’s a strategy that has worked well with the company, with over a quarter of all video streams (on all devices) on the internet now being consumed over an Xbox.
But, to date, Microsoft has not had that much direct competition for the large screen. With large manufacturers like Samsung and Sony now making a play for the space (not to mention Apple and Google, which have both been trying to gain a toehold in the field), expect the war for the living room to heat up this year. In order to properly counter what other companies are doing, Microsoft will unveil the next generation of its Xbox product line later this year (rumors are that it may be unveiled as early as this April). Considering the company’s heavy investments in the space, expect them to not take the new competition sitting down.