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Inside CES

CES: It’s all about your TV set

John Moe Jan 9, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: You know that saying ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?’ Yeah, well, this week — not so much. And it’s by design.

The Consumer Electronics Show convenes in Las Vegas this week. It is — as the marketing brochures tell us — the largest consumer technology trade show in the world. The latest toys and greatest gadgets.

We, though, we’re going a little back to the future this week. The future of TV, to be precise, and the battle over who will bring your living room online.

John Moe is the host of the Marketplace Tech Report, he’ll be at the CES all week. Hey John.

John Moe: Hey Kai.

Ryssdal: All right, so travel with me to my living room of the future, say, five years from now. I’m sitting there watching TV — what does it look like?

Moe: Well, imagine your smartphone but stretched out to 52 inches of screen. It’s going to have apps, it’s going to be connected online, it’s going to have a bunch of things going on with it. And everybody is trying to make that TV. Google is making a huge effort right now; they tried last year launching Google TV, and it was kind of a disaster — it was really clunky, had this remote that was like a big QWERTY keyboard, it was awful. It felt like we lost a war or something. So now the race is on to get that same technology and make it work smoothly. They want you to be comfortable in your living room, Kai.

Ryssdal: Wait, wait, wait — I am comfortable in my living room: I’ve got a couch, I’ve got a big screen, I’ve got a TiVo. Why do I need whatever the future of TV is?

Moe: Well you don’t.

Ryssdal: A-ha!

Moe: You might want it, that’s the thing. Before you had the TiVo, you probably thought, ‘Why would I need this machine that records everything?’

Ryssdal: That’s true.

Moe: And so, it’s really about figuring out how long this technology will take to mature, and if it really works best for you. I mean, there’s a big contest right now to figure out how to make it smoothest for you. The technology itself is not all that innovative — you hook computer technology to your TV — it’s a question of making it work smoothly for you so you can discover new shows, new movies, new ways to be entertained and informed.

Ryssdal: Getting on gizmo, right, instead of a set-top box and an XBox and all that stuff?

Moe: Well, yeah. What we’re seeing right now is a lot of consolidation in consumer electronics — fewer devices that can do more things. And connect in more ways, connect to each other in more ways, so the TV becomes smarter, more connected.

Ryssdal: Other than just selling me the box, what’s in it for the companies — Samsung and LG and all these guys who are going to make these big TVs that are hooked up to the Internet?

Moe: Everybody’s trying to get buzz, everybody’s trying to be the belle of the ball and get noticed. But I think there’s a real race on right now; it’s a little like the space race. Everybody’s trying to get there before Apple launches a smart TV, which is the most heavily rumored thing in TV that I’ve heard in the last several months — that Apple will come out with something that will be to televisions what the iPhone was to phones, and what the iPod was to music. And after getting caught flat-footed with the iPod and the iPhone and the iPad, a lot of these other electronics makers are saying, ‘OK, never again. If you fool me a fourth time, shame on me several times over.’ So they want to get there first.

Ryssdal: But I was at a buddy’s house over the holidays, and he has this thing called Apple TV. It’s a little black box, sits on top of his TV and it lets him do all kinds of whizbang stuff. Is there more coming?

Moe: Does he talk to it with Siri?

Ryssdal: I don’t know.

Moe: Probably not. Well the hot rumor is that Apple would make an actual TV — the TV itself, not just a peripheral. And it would be all sleek and sexy and fashionable, and it would be the must-have; people would line up outside the stores — the whole Apple shebang. And you would talk to it using the Siri voice application, the artificial intelligence technology that’s on the iPhone 4S now. So you’d say, ‘Siri, find me ‘Law and Order,’ season three.’ And then Siri would go off and find that for you.

Ryssdal: The future of television. John Moe, host of our Marketplace Tech Report. He’s at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, baby. John, thanks a lot.

Moe: Thanks Kai.

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