Televisions are getting smarter, being designed not just for viewing but also as smart home hubs, and audio is getting better, with Hi-Res solutions becoming widely available to consumers. For integrators, this presents opportunities as consumers get a taste of the experiences that custom installers can provide at a much higher level.
Here, Futuresource Consulting’s analysts take a look at the 2022 trends to watch in television and Hi-Res audio.
A Smart Lifestyle Centered Around the Smart TV
There is renewed interest from TV vendors to extend the proposition of the set beyond simply watching to becoming the central hub of the home. While earlier incarnations failed to garner interest, the resulting habit changes of the pandemic (think health and wellbeing, increased popularity of gaming, and home improvement) have set the stage for smart TVs to be the host of fitness portals, gaming platforms, and home automation control points, while also a platform to accommodate an ever-rising number of video services.
From a gaming perspective, Samsung, Sony, TCL, and LG each have announced the inclusion of cloud-gaming platforms on their TV lineups, with complementary features including 4K at 120 Hz, auto-HDR tone mapping, and VRR. Google and Amazon look set to play key disruptive roles in traditional console and PC gaming with their respective Stadia and Luna cloud-gaming platforms that bring console-quality gaming direct to the TV screen. LG’s inclusion of Stadia is sure to be followed by several announcements this year.
With smart home deployment reaching an ever-wider user base and now often incorporating upward of ten devices, TV vendors are embracing this trend by adding and enhancing control of smart home products via apps and services accessed through the television. Indeed “apps, apps, apps, and ecosystem” is the mantra for smart home 2022, as the smart TV is positioned as a central control point for the home, and TV vendors attempt to deliver a unified experience.
Configuration and interoperability remain a challenge for this sector in gaining wider appeal and one that a centralized unified TV UI could resolve and extend the limited use-cases of voice-only commands available through smart speakers.
Beyond on-screen smart home control is TV vendors’ examination of the opportunity presented by far-field microphones. “Always listening” features and low-power modes enable TVs to participate more widely in the world of virtual assistants, making them a much smarter screen and a true “smart display.” Such initiatives have their challenges, however, with increased power consumption and privacy concerns that must be resolved. Futuresource anticipates that this year will witness more focus on far-field voice control not only for smart TVs, but for all connected devices, with smart TV sales, including far-field, doubling between 2022 and 2025 as the technology’s challenges are resolved.
Related: The CI Guide to the TVs of 2022
The Drive Toward High-Quality, Lossless Audio
2021 saw industry innovation deliver the groundwork for higher-quality audio rendering and pave the way toward more immersive experiences. The music industry, and indeed artists, had expected to generate increased revenue from the migration to higher-quality streaming services. However, Apple’s decision to offer CD-quality and Hi-Res lossless audio as a standard and Amazon’s predictable response to bundle “Music HD” Hi-Res tier into its standard plan prevented this; in doing so, over 110 million subscribers worldwide were awarded access to Hi-Res audio almost overnight.
But not all will actually be listening to Hi-Res audio. Although higher-quality services are becoming more widely available, outside of the audiophile space, most consumer audio products are not yet able to reproduce the intended experience.
There’s an upgrade in wireless connectivity necessary for users to enjoy Hi-Res lossless music services fully. For instance, smart speakers are being upgraded; likewise, new headphones and TWS will be launched by vendors this year to provide the necessary support. So, the race is now on to fully deliver on the promise of Hi-Res audio in 2022. Futuresource anticipates that Apple will debut a new silicon chip — the H2 — to support their ambitions in presenting higher-quality music to subscribers; meantime, competitors will benefit from adopting Qualcomm’s silicon to feature aptX Lossless. Consumer products will “catch up” with the capabilities of music streaming services and consumers will gain more choices, the result being that Hi-Res and lossless services will become more widely available to audiences as 2022 progresses.
A Wider Market Opportunity for Spatial Audio
Staying on the audio trend, one that will continue into 2022 is the adoption of spatial audio. Directional acoustics are now driving the audio market; notably, the inclusion of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X technology on soundbars is beginning to penetrate more deeply, creating enhanced home theater systems that pique consumer demand. Meanwhile, Echo Studio speaker owners can access Amazon’s catalog of 3D audio tracks, of which the company claims there are now over 750 encoded in either Dolby Atmos or Sony 360 Reality Audio.
Moreover, personalized audio is a trend to monitor during 2022, especially in headphones, true wireless, and a new generation of hearable products, as users select acoustics for different listening environments or personalized sound profiles to improve hearing health. Finally, more movies and music are now consumed at home than ever before. So, the major streaming platforms will invest more heavily in delivering a wider catalog of videos with spatial audio in 2022.
As principal technology analyst for Futuresource Consulting, Simon Forrest is responsible for identifying and reporting on transformational technologies that have propensity to influence and disrupt market dynamics.