Point of View: The future is in the palm of your hands

Are smartphones and tablets the key to keeping big screen home cinema alive?

The heyday of television is over, and the mobile phone is now more important to young people than the traditional goggle-box. I bring you this revelation thanks to Ofcom’s ongoing, tax-payer funded research into stating the bleeding obvious. I can’t remember the last time I actually saw the face of a teenager. They either have their noses pressed into a smartphone or are wearing a hoodie, presumably just prior to breaking into the Carphone Warehouse.

Smartphone sales are up, despite the fact that mobile phone subscription across Europe is already around 120 per cent. Yes, not only has almost everyone got a mobile phone, but one in every five of us is running two of them.

At the same time the UK TV screen market is in freefall. Some 10-12 per cent fewer TVs were bought in the past 12 months compared to the previous year, despite the improvements in HD, 3D and Smart tech. So are mobile phones ringing the death knell of sitting around the TV?

Big, bold App
Well, no. I would say that not only will smartphones become intrinsically linked to all forms of home entertainment, they could actually spark a renaissance in bigscreen viewing, a brave new world where we are all beholden to these ‘pocket-sized’ packets of technology.

Even now, virtually all home cinema hardware manufacturers have an App remote control interface either available or waiting for imminent release. Okay, maybe not NAD. Just look at Pioneer’s superb iControl AV to see what can be done right now as a first or second-generation control App. Of course, Crestron, AMX and Pronto had offered this level of touchscreen control for years, but it was always too expensive and setting it up required knowledge of an unfathomable programming language. The smartphone and tablet have changed all that. Fully-functional touchscreen control is just another feature on a device that most people will have bought for its primary functionality anyway. When you add features like Pioneer’s interactive instruction manual, it is easy to predict that App-based interfaces will become absolutely standard across all networked home electronics in the near future.

But that is not the killer App for TV’s survival. It will be your smart device’s ability to sort and access cloud-based content that will ensure bigscreen entertainment is here to stay. Home cinema is rapidly moving from linear broadcast and disc-based media to a fully flexible ‘on-demand’ service with a utopian ideal of everything available all of the time. The smartphone or tablet are the only easy and convenient means of navigating all that content from the comfort of your sofa; seamlessly sifting and filtering films, sport, live broadcast, catch-up TV, YouTube etc. at the swipe of a finger.

There has never been so much screen-based entertainment content and all of it, save perhaps low-res YouTube footage, benefits from viewing on a screen. Whether the content is accessed through the TV using a smart device as a controller or accessed by the device and mirrored to a big screen is virtually irrelevant. What smartphones and tablets have brought us is a fantastic user-friendly gateway to access near infinite content while you are in front of a flatscreen. And they’re getting more affordable by the minute. Surely that can only mean a rebirth of TV-based home entertainment?

So next time you see a yoof with their mitts on a handheld device, go over, pat them on the back and thank them for saving home cinema. Then, ask them how to record iPlayer to the iCloud using an iPad – because soon you will need to know.

Have you dumped your remote control in favour of a tablet or smartphone?
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The column first appeared in the February 2012 issue of Home Cinema Choice