Smart TVs, dumb TVs, Google TVs, Ikea TVs and even everything we know about the rumored Apple TV set all have something in common: In the end, they’re just TVs. That’s whether they’re 42, 50 or 60 inches in size, with a bezel that frames your viewing experience. And whether it’s Netflix, YouTube or just plain old cable TV, the way we watch video on them is fairly similar as well. Sure, the bits may come from different places, and you might even have funky widgets on your iPad or on-screen while you watch TV. But take a step back and today’s TV still looks very much like the TV of yesteryear. Turn it on, watch something, turn it off, and be done with it.
That’s not what the future of the TV will look like at all, if we can believe the folks at NDS. The Israel-based TV services provider, which Cisco acquired for $5 billion in March, has been exploring what the actual TV set will look like five years from now. Company executives came to San Francisco this week to showcase some of their research, and the results are pretty intriguing.
To sum it up briefly, NDS was showcasing a big matrix of six bezel-less flat screen TVs that were combined to form a huge, almost overwhelming TV wall. NDS CTO Nick Thexton then went on to demonstrate big displays like these can be broken up, showing a video of varying sizes somewhere in the middle, with personalized and content-relevant widgets off to the side. And once you get some cinematic 4k content, you might even want to use the whole screen. Check out Christina Bonnington’s story over at Wired.com for more details about the demo, which was neat.
But what I found fascinating was the points that Thexton and NDS Chief Marketing Officer Nigel Smith raised about the future of TV. The real question, Smith told me, is, If you have a TV the size of a wall, how are you going to interact with it?
The future of TV will be modular
NDS uses a PC with multiple video outputs to power its six-display TV wall. Soon, this could be done by small mesh networking-capable modules.
We have all gotten used to the fact that TVs are getting bigger and bigger every year, and the NDS demo of a TV screen that would fill your entire living room wall seems to fit quite well into that narrative. However, Thexton was very vocal about this not being a question of size. “We are not advocating just big TVs,” he told me while standing in front of the giant NDS demo screen.
Instead, Thexton thinks that TVs may become modular and actually consist of much smaller displays that can be combined to fit the room. Think of 6-inch to 8-inch bezel-less squares that you can buy individually and then mount to the wall next to one another, gradually growing the size of your display to fit your needs. These displays would automatically work together, making sure your Saturday night movie runs on all of them at once.
NDS is currently using a PC with multiple video outputs to run its six-screen demo, but Thexton told me the company is developing a small module to connect to each screen separately and then mesh network these to coordinate the complete video output. Mesh networking devices like these could also come in handy if you wanted to include another TV on a second wall, for example to run a news feed or an in-home video stream while you’re interacting with other media on the main screen.