Two great articles on TVs just showed up on Wired's site, both by my friend Mat Honan. In the first, Mat nails the problem with new TVs, and why you don't really need one since video technology is outpacing the user interfaces of finding anything worth watching. Sure 4K video sounds impressive but there's no content out there for it, and even more important, no good content. The kind of interface Mat envisions sounds like a nice evolution of a Harmony-style remote. Give me an app tied to my TV that lets me say "Play the last episode of Mad Men" and have the app not only figure out what components in my cabinet to power on, but also where to search/download/rent/buy the program.
I was thinking about interfaces the other day at a Christmas party when I spent a bit of time trying to get Spotify songs to play on my home theater system (which features GoogleTV, Boxee, a Mac mini, TiVo Premiere, and an AppleTV). It took some fussing and finagling to get it right and I wondered how on earth a normal non-geek could venture through these waters. I would guess half my friends (mostly technology geeks themselves) don't regularly send internet video to their TV screen due to the interface difficulties.
That brings us to the second article at Wired, concering Smart TVs. Their user interfaces are mostly terrible and are such a chore to use that most people don't use them. The article is based on this recent study of Smart TV owners, showing that very few of them regularly use any of the internet features.
Last Spring I bought the newest latest, greatest Samsung Plasma for my home theater and it featured tons of SmartTV features. What I quickly found was that setup was difficult (I had to change the plug the main HDMI cable when into, to return sound to my A/V unit) and the experience was much like buying a Windows PC in the late 90s. My "desktop" home screen on the samsung featured half a dozen apps I don't use or need and couldn't delete, presumably put there by advertising partner deals that ensured their visibility. The apps were also slow to load, buggy to use, and added several minutes to the time you put down a computer and say "boy, I want to watch this on the couch instead, let me just go bring it up there."
Marc Andreesen has famously said a TV from Apple is coming possibly next year or the year after that should re-invent interfaces and how we interact with shows, but given the complexities of movie studios and cable company deals, I'm not entirely optimistic that they can solve it.