What's coming next in TV technology?

Picture of an old televisionSomeone has invented a new remote control for your TV - well, we say remote control, it's actually you, you operate it by staring at it. So what's actually coming in television technology - and how do you decide which is the right purchase for you? Obviously it's impossible to tell for certain but here's a little crystal ball gazing and thoughts based on what's public and some highly plausible rumours.

1. The gesture-based remote

This idea that you can simply stare at, or at least gesticulate at, a television, is not actually all that revolutionary in spite of how it may sound. The Wii started the movement-based controller and anyone who's been to the Swansea museum in Wales will have had the opportunity to wave at a display to make it change. Whether this will be enough to persuade people to change their TV set remains to be seen - and we'll have to see which channels accidentally get selected when the kids are having a fight in front of the box.

2. 3D TV

A couple of years ago the idea of watching television in 3D was seen as the next big thing, the stuff that was going to get us all changing our television sets so we could see sports events and spectacular movies in lifelike deep images.

This hasn't quite worked. Yes, many new TVs are offering 3D but a couple of things have gone against this becoming mainstream. First the economy. If you have a working television set this is possible among the worst years in living memory to go and buy another one, much less to go and get something with untested technology. The fact that there are two sorts of 3D, active and passive, has raked over old memories of Betamax v. VHS, HD DVD v. Blu-Ray, which will also hold the market back.

More importantly the quality isn't always that great. Some people get headaches and motion sickness and all of the manufacturers' guidelines confirm that some individuals simply won't see in 3D. And although there isn't much scientific research behind this, sometimes stuff is actually clearer without 3D. To get tennis looking like anything in 3D you have to go to one of the ends of the court so you can see the depth, as the BBC does on its 3D coverage of Wimbledon - but it's actually easier to see what's going on with an aerial view.

3D is happening and will continue to happen, particularly in the cinema - but it appears not to be the selling point trumpeted a couple of years ago.

3. Smart TV

The other obstacle that 3D faces is finding its purpose and its niche. This isn't something faced by the current crop of Smart TVs. Granted some analysts believe people are buying these and not connecting them to the Internet yet but the cost differential means you might as well buy one next time you're upgrading.

The great thing about a connected TV is that it has an obvious application. Yes, it does Flickr or Picasa and social media and other social media stuff, and maybe people will become interested in this. But for the moment an Internet connection gives you catch-up TV on your actual television (many people will get this through a games console if they don't have a smart TV). So that's more TV programmes available on your TV rather than your computer. People tend to understand this.

4. Extremely smart TV

Google TV has already launched in the UK as a service and as a set top box. More intriguing is the idea, heavily hinted but not yet officially confirmed, that Apple will be making a television later this year. Presumably this will build much of the smart TV functions of the existing Apple TV set-top box into a television unit. Whether this is too little too late, whether it will be very expensive (clue: if it happens it will have "Apple" in its name which usually means second mortgage time) or whether the company will pull of its usual trick of making existing technology better looking and easier to use than its predecessors and therefore sell millions remains to be seen - we'll keep you posted as stuff happens!
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