Big, shiny HDTVs are generally among the major stars of CES, and this year is no exception. But in our always-connected lifestyle we'll occasionally want to take our TV content with us--and mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are becoming increasingly attractive options.
To that end, software developers and hardware manufacturers are hard at work, devising apps and devices that augment our viewing experiences with extra content or simply give us something to do during commercial breaks. If this year's CES is any indication, mobile TV options will be plentiful in 2013.
New apps and software
Second-screen apps have become increasingly popular, serving up new ways to find new shows or learn more about the ones we're watching. And the technology that powers these apps gets a bit more refined every year. At its CES booth, Technicolor showed off Magic Ruby's app technology, which powers a ton of companion apps already available on both iOS and Android devices.
Magic Ruby analyzes a program's audio and displays content in sync with the show--it works with live TV, or shows you may have saved to a DVR. For example, the Sons of Anarchy companion app displays facts about the episode, insider tips on how a scene was filmed, and information on where you can buy articles of clothing that the main characters are wearing in certain scenes. The producers and actors of the show supply special content just for the app.
If you're watching sporting events, Magic Ruby-powered apps will let you check out the action from different camera angles: if your favorite basketball player makes a makes a particularly spectacular shot, you can be sure you'll get the best view (short of actually being there).
Major cable providers are also giving in to the mobile demand, and we saw proof of this at CES as well. Time Warner Cable launched an app for iOS and Android that allows its subscribers to access content on demand via smartphones and tablets, and also announced a partnership with Roku at CES.
The DISH Network announced two new apps for iOS and Android as well: DISH Anywhere, which streams On Demand and DVR'd programming so long as you have Internet access; and Hopper Transfers for iPad, which lets you put your DVR recordings onto your iPad and watch them any time--even without a web connection. You'll need to have a traditional cable subscription to take advantage of these apps, but this opens up the possibility of customizable broadcast packages down the line.
The TV tablet (and other hardware)
RCA is taking a more tangible take on the idea of mobile TV with its Mobile TV Tablet, which hits the market in April. This Android device features a built-in dual-tuner that lets you watch TV via over-the-air ATSC broadcasts.
And it won't require chewing through your precious data plan: just extend the telescoping antenna to watch live TV. The tablet's tuner also works with Dyle Mobile TV, another service that brings live TV content to mobile devices. Dyle has partnerships with more than 100 television stations, including major broadcast groups like ABC, NBC, Fox, and Cox Media Group.
If you want to check out Dyle Mobile TV without shelling out for a standalone TV-streaming tablet, check out the Elgato EyeTV Mobile for iPad, another CES star. This device attaches to iOS devices and pulls broadcast content much like the RCA Mobile does, displaying it all through the free Elgato app. Unfortunately, the 30-pin connector at the base of the device means it won't work with an iPhone 5 without the addition of a 30-pin to Lightning adapter. The Dyle booth representative couldn't share much about what's coming around the bend, but she did allude to more live broadcast-ready devices coming soon.
TV everywhere, now
Mobile TV and web streaming of shows isn't a new concept, but content providers--mainly cable companies and program networks--are jumping on board due to the skyrocketing use of mobile devices. According to Jennifer Baisch of iStreamPlanet, the interest will only going go up from here: "In 2011, we estimated that each household in the U.S. had about five connected devices, and that's going to hit ten per household in 2015."
iStreamPlanet is the force behind the technology that many broadcast networks use, and NBC partnered with iStreamPlanet to bring live streaming to mobile devices during the 2012 Olympics in London. Baisch and the iStreamPlanet team also estimate that cable cutting is on the rise: 10 million households canceling their cable packages in 2010, and that can be expected to jump to 17 million by 2017.
"When you don't offer choice, you lose subscribers, so the TV everywhere strategy has to be accelerated," Baisch said. "Viewers are expecting it."