Yahoo showcased Connected TV at the recent Consumer Electronics Show. Although quietly released over 18 months ago through an integrated partnership with five major television manufacturers (LG, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, and Vizio; and soon Chinese makers Haier and Hisense), Yahoo Connected TV already has 1 million users and is experiencing double-digit monthly growth.
Relying on their partnerships and televisions that are already Wi-Fi capable, Yahoo had these makers add a few buttons to their TV remotes (a Yahoo button and then a few more for functionality) to make them Yahoo Connected TV capable, so the user is all set to receive Yahoo Connected TV as soon as they get home.
So Yahoo Connected TV costs the users nothing -- nothing to set-up, nothing in equipment costs, and nothing in extras to make it work (aside from a few moments of set-up for the TV's Wi-Fi capabilities).
If you have Wi-Fi at home and can set-up your Wi-Fi TV, you're good to go. If you don't have a Wi-Fi ready TV, you can still get Yahoo Connected TV by purchasing a box through DLink.
Google TV, This is Not
If your only exposure to web integrated TV products is Google TV, then reset your paradigm. Yahoo Connected TV isn't like Google's offering. While Yahoo can search your media and programs like Google, Yahoo doesn't have the same focus as Google.
Yahoo spent a year and half working on their UI with one purpose on mind: to not break TV. Keeping in mind that they had to keep television and video central to the users television, Yahoo spent their time developing a UI that would add to the user experience and not disrupt it.
So how does this translate?
In Yahoo Connected TV, the addition of Connected TV is meant to add to your experience. Using a small overlay, a hideable "toolbar" at the bottom of your screen, Yahoo allows you to bookmark and pull up your favorite websites, such as Twitter, Facebook, and eBay.
Unlike Google, when you view a website Yahoo only appears as an overlay on the left side of your screen. When you open a site, the overlay appears and reduces your TV show to "a view port window" (which only slightly reduces your show view and allows it to remain intact when the overlay is present) thus not disrupting your view. (Mind you if you have a small screen this might be bothersome, but since most users will be viewing on a Yahoo enabled device this won't be an issue.)
Yahoo is Digitally Aware
This is where Yahoo Connected TV gets kind of cool. Yahoo is aware of what you're watching on TV, whether live, recorded, or time delayed, even commercials.
So if you're watching a football game, Yahoo knows you're watching football, as well as which teams are playing. Or if a new Blackberry Playbook commercial comes on, Yahoo knows. During that game or commercial, you'll get the opportunity to open an overlay where you'll be able to find out information about what you're viewing.
So in the case of the game, you can find out more information about the athletes -- fantasy stats, win-loss standings, or maybe even buy some merchandise (yes you can buy straight from your TV) and then you can even send this information or the link to the website to your smartphone or iPad, right from the TV. All while still watching your game!
Smartly, the overlay never disrupts your viewing experience unless you choose to see video or pictures. When you choose a link that shows videos or images, then yes, your screen will be switched out with the video or pictures and you will lose your show for the moment. However, Yahoo made it very simple to switch back with a button on the remote.
How Does Yahoo Know When to Show You the Info?
This is where Yahoo Connected TV gets really cool. Yahoo has built out a digital technology that is implanted into the audio that "triggers" the prompt to you.
This trigger isn't based on timing, but on an audio fingerprint that Yahoo Connected TV identifies as a signal to show you the information for that item. Whether it's a football player's stats, the specs on a new Lexus in a car commercial, or the last movie your favorite star was in, the audio fingerprint tells Yahoo when to go, so it makes the technology highly scalable.
What Other Cool Things Can Yahoo Connected TV do?
As already mentioned, using its audio fingerprint technology, Yahoo Connected TV can follow any show -- live, recorded, even old VCR tapes if it wanted to -- and it can add to the content.
So let's say you're watching QVC and want to buy that new tablet you just saw at CES, but you don't feel like calling in and dealing with the customer service reps.
With Yahoo Connected TV, at a certain point the audio fingerprint knows it's time to offer you that new tablet and at what price, so you'll get a notice that you can open up the added content and see all the specs, look at additional pictures, maybe a demo video, and most importantly buy. Yes! You can buy right there from the screen (even using the Easy Pay payment plan).
So Yahoo Connected TV allows you to do a full purchase experience you might do on a website without ever having to stop, leave your show, and go to your computer and purchase. It even allows you to send the information to your phone from the overlay in case you just want it for comparison shopping, but hey in this case it is QVC and a brand new CES tablet, so you're probably not doing that.
What Yahoo Connected TV Can't do
First, you can't watch a video from YouTube and your TV show at the same time.
Also, Yahoo can't pause your TV show when your video starts playing -- even if you have a DVR. Yahoo TV isn't aware of your TV's remote, so it can never pause your TV; however you can if you have a DVR remote function.
Finally, there is no full web browsing capability (but no one has that yet and isn't likely to for a while because TVs aren't made to be web browsers). So it would be nice if you could split the screen or do a picture in picture, for those of us who can't resist the urge to multi-task.
Skeptics Take Note
I was highly skeptical about Yahoo Connected TV. After all, people don't want to do anything when they're in front of their TV aside from watching, vegging, and maybe checking their e-mail on their phone. Web TV is just a failed idea, right?
However, after seeing Yahoo Connected TV, the 18 months they spent developing the concept shows. I can see where the ability to interact with my most used websites (e.g., Twitter, Yahoo Mail, Facebook) right from my couch while watching TV and not interrupting my television experience is a big plus.
For people like my father and brother, being able to look up sports stats and send those to their phone while they're in the room a huge selling point.
Oh and did I mention that with a simple app you can turn your iPad into a multimedia remote control device or that you can send those same triggers to any mobile device in your home? Like get an alert from QVC when it's time to buy?
Or you can play YouTube videos from your iPad with the same remote device, but on your TV? And that there are apps and an open API for development? And so much more.
This review only scratches the surface of Yahoo Connected TV. Bottom line: this product is worth watching and trying, especially for the price of free.
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