Almost 50 years ago, buyers of the Magnavox Odyssey connected the first home video game system to their televisions and ushered in an era that promised to expand the television into a screen for virtually any kind of information, communication, or entertainment. Such services would indeed permeate screens in the home, but they would come through the PC and then the smartphone. Meanwhile, while a whole host of devices have connected to TVs over the years such as cable boxes, TiVos, DVD players, PlayStations, Rokus, and Apple TVs, the content has stayed tied to video and video games. Products that have focused beyond that, most notably WebTV, failed.
But the fight has not been abandoned. A simple Google Chromecast+ can summon the Google Play library to your living room. But the breakout niches have naturally been more visual. These have included checking security cameras tied into various smart home ecosystems (usually not must-see TV) and the digital art collections offered on Samsung’s The Frame TV. Beyond that, short-form video apps have started their breakthrough. Samsung created its portrait-orientation Sero TV, for example, with apps such as Instagram and TikTok in mind. Samsung also took the lead in making the TV a hub for its wellness service as opposed to Apple, which has centered it on the Apple Watch, and Meta, which has done so on its VR headset.
But the next wave of apps to hit the TV may require an extra component, an integrated camera. Such an idea conjures up the specter of 1984’s telescreen; a few video chat-focused third-party cameras from the likes of Logitech and startup Biscotti a decade ago never made much headway. But the pandemic-fueled Zoom explosion was a watershed for video chat, which has expanded beyond the PC and smartphones to devices such as the Alexa Show and Facebook Portal Go. Now, making the jump to the TV doesn’t seem like such a leap.
According to MediaTek, whose chips are in more than half the TVs shipped annually, that leap will occur imminently thanks in part to the Pentonic 2000 it announced at its Executive Summit. With the first 7nm chips aimed at TVs, it can decode 8K video at 120 Hz. Putting more horsepower behind what’s on the TV will facilitate multiparty video chat, opening the door to apps such as Zoom and Teams. And having a camera on the TV could have other advantages as well, such as being able to control functions by gestures or recognizing viewers to log in to video services and personalize recommendations.
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Even with this new functionality, though, the killer application for the company’s new TV chips will be focused on driving algorithms to produce more effective upscaling. This will again become a priority as the industry begins to move to 8K televisions that will soon appear now that the 4K market has been saturated. (MediaTek says 16K will also arrive at some point.) As 4K did, 8K will start out in the larger sets but is also expected to trickle down at some point even as it offers little advantage. With virtually no 8K content available, TVs will have to employ some video wizardry to optimize the appearance of even full HD content.
Another opportunity for the intersection of higher-resolution TVs and greater image-rendering capabilities is improved multi-picture capability. While picture-in-picture has been with us for decades, TV manufacturers have relied on the tiny picture size to skimp on the quality of the picture, according to MediaTek.
Disclosure: MediaTek covered travel and accommodations for attending its Executive Summit.
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