Saturday, September 15, 2007

“Television is about one thing: video”

This story in the New York Times describes Sony’s new Bravia TVs and their ability to connect to the Internet to play videos. However, you have to by a $300 dongle (see left) to attach the set to your home network, and the TVs will only be able to get video from certain, Sony-approved sites, including Yahoo, AOL, and Sony’s own Crackle. (In contrast, HP’s digital TV solution lets users play video content that is stored on their computers.)

Frankly, this limitation on Sony’s product makes it seem pretty ho-hum. In other words, the Sony Bravia Internet Video Link (catchy, huh?) isn’t iPhone of digital media on the TV. The article mentions research by HP that shows “more than half of consumers are interested in using a television to watch the digital content stored on their personal computers — and the Internet.” Unfortunately, the Sony solution won’t let consumers watch their own digital content, only content that is uploaded to the approved sites, none of which, it should be noted, are popular destinations for online video—no YouTube, no iTunes, no Amazon Unbox. The extreme miscalculation of this plan is evident in this quote from the article:

Sony says the severe limitations are by design, for a couple of reasons. Primarily, it asserts, it is tough to ensure picture quality and user experience if it allows its customers to download content willy-nilly.

Sony appears to completely misunderstand people’s motivations for viewing digital media. First, users don’t (primarily) care about the quality of their video. DivX never offered great quality, but it was good enough, and people could put their movies where they wanted them—on discs they could play on the TV. If Sony thinks that people are going to flock to buy this product so they can watch user generated content on video sites no one has ever heard of, I think they’re going to be in for a surprise. Second, the operative user experience here is not dependent on quality. It is dependent on people being able to watch their media when and where they want to, to ”download content willy-nilly,” you might say. The Bravia Internet Video Link doesn’t allow them to do that, so I can’t see that it is going to be a big draw for consumers, and Sony’s seeming ignorance of what consumers want might even alienate them from the brand.

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