We all know we can look at the horizon, but we can never touch it. Does the same also apply to Liberty Global’s Horizon set-top box? We saw the pictures, we even saw the box at IBC – and we saw some flashy Flash demos. But touching it was out of the question – let alone seeing it at work.
When Liberty Global President Mike Fries revealed the plans for Horizon at the CES in Las Vegas two years ago, our colleagues and myself were very much impressed. Liberty showed a vision how it would take the lead and provide an answer to all the challenges from newcomers such as Google and Apple. The Horizon box would be the answer to all our needs with an array of functions, widgets, multiple tuners, Wi-Fi connectivity, DNLA and more.
Two years on, the question is – does the Horizon box, now due to rollout in the Netherlands in 2012, still provide all the answers? By the looks of it, the consumer electronics industry has come with at least the same solutions.
To give just one example, the new series of smart TVs from Philips. Depending on the market, Philips offers up to three tuners – DVB-T, DVB-C and DVB-S2 in one single TV set. This provides access to three major platforms, digital terrestrial, cable and satellite with just one remote control.
Now, most of these sets also come with a CI Plus slot – this allows viewers to access the encrypted platform of their choice, eg HD+ on satellite for Germany, Digitenne’s DTT service or Ziggo and UPC cable in the Netherlands.
Any new Philips TV set also offers direct access to its Net TV services, which includes a whole range of on demand services – both from broadcasters and premium movie portals. So getting a new movie from Maxdome (for German viewers) or Videoland (for Dutch viewers) is easy, as is getting catch-up TV from channels such as ARD, RTL, ZDF, NOS, Arte and many others. Using widgets, people can easily access YouTube and other websites, while a virtual keyboard even makes most websites available.
The new TV sets also talk to the local network, and this means the viewer can access any content stored locally, music, holiday pictures, home videos – and even illegally downloaded movies and TV series. Connection to the home network also means a hard disk can be attached to the TV set and – bingo! – the Pause Live TV function can be used.
Now what about second screens? So far, Philips has not entered the tablets market (and probably never will), but its Korean colleague Samsung has. This means its Galaxy tablet can not only act as a remote control, but also as a second screen – with the live TV signal being beamed to the tablet. Other variations include Apple’s iPad, where you can stream TV from, say the BBC iPlayer, from the tablet to your main TV screen.
This functionality – all found in regular TV sets which are available in the shops right now – equal those proposed by the Horizon project. And this is just the beginning…. So the challenge for Horizon – and any other platform-based solution – will be to fully exploit the existing customer relationship with easy navigation, lots of compelling content, a reliable (!) EPG and recommendation guide, and all this at an affordable, competitive price.