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Integrating Smart TVs into the Internet of Things

Okay, so it’s pretty obvious that the current generation of smart TVs has very little to connect it to the Internet of Things. Just because a TV or set-top device lets you watch both broadcast and Internet-based programming doesn’t make it hyper-intelligent or even moderately clever. It just adds more types of programming to what is still more or less a non-participatory device. A TV that can play old episodes of Doctor Who on Netflix is still just a TV.

For a smart TV to become truly smart, it needs to do more. Not surprisingly, there are people working on this.

The first thing smart TV manufacturers are likely to do is make it easier to control the smart TVs themselves. Let’s face it, picking through the choices on Hulu or searching for your favorite movie on Netflix isn’t easily accomplished with a traditional four-arrow remote control. Some manufacturers have experimented with including a full-fledged keyboard in a handheld remote, but that’s a little too cumbersome. A better solution might be a touchscreen tablet-like controller, a remote app on a smartphone or iPad, or even Siri-like voice control. Samsung, if you recall, uses its built-in camera to enable rudimentary gesture commands, which is another way to go. Whatever the approach, the smart TV companies need to make it easier to find all the various programming they enable.

Beyond the control issue, future generations of smart TVs are likely to get smarter about what you like to watch. These new smart TVs will collect data about what you watch and when (and, if you have multiple viewers in the same household, which you probably do, what each viewer likes to watch) and make assumptions about your future viewing habits. Even better, your smart TV might connect to your Facebook or Twitter account to discover what shows your friends are watching.

All this data will be assembled and collated, and your smart TV will start making recommendations for future viewing. The set might even go the next step and create a new “just for you” screen with one-click access to the recommended programming, or just set the onboard DVR to record these programs for your viewing convenience. With your smart TV making smart choices about what you want to watch, you’ll no longer have to deal with the increasingly Byzantine program guide. You won’t have to think about what you want to watch at all; your smart TV will do your thinking for you.

Of course, this type of viewing information can go both ways, so expect your smart TV to feed details of what you watch back to the programming sources—and, more importantly, their advertisers. (As you’ve read, this is already happening with some manufacturers, such as LG.) This will let them feed more relevant commercials to you and other viewers, so those hip twenty-somethings in the audiences will no longer be subjected to commercials for miracle socks and reverse mortgages. It’s all about targeted advertising, based on the data collected by your smart TV.

Future smart TVs may also use their Internet connectivity to overlay related information on the main viewing screen. If you’re watching a sporting event, for example, you may see team or player stats superimposed on the screen, or displayed in a side window. If you’re viewing a classic movie, you might see bios of the director and stars, with links to other similar movies you might like.

In addition, expect smart TVs to include more interactive chat capabilities. When you’re watching a movie or show, you’ll be able to tweet or post to Facebook about what you’re watching, and participate in group chats about the show. These might be video chats, conducted in a pop-up window and enabled by your set’s built-in camera.

Future iterations of smart TV will turn the TV set into a hub for a variety of household activities. For example, you might feed video from your home’s security cameras to your smart TV, so you can see who is ringing your doorbell or if your baby is asleep in her crib. (To be fair, this capability exists today in a lot of high-end, whole-house audio/video/security systems but is sure to trickle down to more affordable systems in the future.)

You can use that big TV screen to view all sorts of information. Why not click an onscreen button to view a graph of your home’s water or energy usage? Or display a map that shows where all the members of your family are at the moment? Or a diagram that shows which rooms are occupied and where the lights are still on? Or a live feed from inside your refrigerator that lets you know if you have a cold beer waiting for you?

Imagine using your living room TV to control various household operations. Just point and click at the screen to turn on the lights in a given room, start the oven or dishwasher, even enable your outdoor sprinkler system. You’re in front of that screen a lot of hours during the day; why not use it as an interactive household controller?

There’s no reason why your smart TV can’t be the main controller for all your household operations. It’s right there in front of your couch, where you’re no doubt sacked out. There’s no reason to get up to turn up the heat or turn down the lights; you can do it all from the controller interface built into your smart TV. And your TV can alert you when things are amiss anywhere in your house or on your property.

The security angle is key. Not only can you use your smart TV to view real-time data collected from your home security system and live feeds from various security cameras, it can also interact with other devices to provide more intelligent analyses. Imagine a system that uses face recognition to learn what each member of your family looks like; the system could then look at the faces in the security cameras and alert you when a stranger is at the door or in the house. (And, conversely, not bother you if it’s a known person raiding the fridge.)

In short, there’s a lot more that your smart TV can do than what it’s capable of doing today. Just wait for it.

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