I’m in the business of helping make your devices and gadgets work better and more seamlessly in your home. But the truth is, if the industry made just a few simple decisions differently along the way, I wouldn’t have a business to be in. The “remote control overload” problem we all have comes primarily as a result of your devices being digitally ignorant of each other. Which, from the consumers’ perspective, sucks (industry term). But the reason this sucks more than it seems is that your devices could be talking already, they just… don’t. And they don’t in two different ways!
Connection-based compatibility – HDMI
Pretty much every HD product shipped in the past ~5 years has an HDMI connection. And HDMI has this protocol cleverly called Consumer Electronics Control – you can guess what it’s for. It’s been part of the HDMI specification since the very beginning. And in general, virtually no manufacturers use it to control other brands’ products, though even more egregiously they even use this protocol to control their own products. So your Samsung TV knows when a Samsung Blu-Ray player starts a movie playback, but ignores a Denon receiver’s request to change inputs. Fail.
Network-based compatibility - DLNA
Back in the early aughts, there was this thing called the Digital Home Working Group, formed by several consumer electronics companies with the specific goal of – wait for it – making sure that consumers’ electronics products would work together harmoniously. The DHWG was renamed into the friendlier Digital Living Network Alliance, and then launched in 2004. I was personally on the original working groups for the (both?) organization(s?). Even at the time, it was beyond obvious that this open standard by committee approach wasn’t going to give consumers the solutions they were looking for. 7 years later, and I’d assert that consumer awareness of DLNA is negligible, and the standard has yet to provide the industry a reliable solution.
So there we are, oodles of technology, tens of thousands (if not more) of man-hours developing standards and platforms, and still, consumers have to deal with the “input one” problem (in a nutshell: devices connected to anything but the first/primary input of a TV tend not to get used, with the lone standout exception being video game consoles, which is likely due to a) more explosions and b) children operating the equipment). Why is this the case? My friend Julie Jacobson ponders a little conspiracy theory over at CEPro.
My sinister plot scenario is actually much simpler. I think there are specifically two reasons why consumer electronics products don’t do anything “advanced connectivity”-wise together:
- It’s hard to make it a priority.
Testing technology, in general, is challenging. QA can take as long as actual development time, often more. Many products get rushed to market even before the testing is complete. So imagine, if you are the person in charge of shipping the product, and your marketing team probably (a) announced prematurely and (b) likely set expectations too high. You are likely underresourced, understaffed, and concerned about just shipping at all (or maybe a few weeks too soon?). How much energy do you think you’d spend on testing other companies’ products? Right, me too.
- It’s not financially rewarding to make it a priority.
As illustrated above, just getting the darn product to market is a major chore. Further, you know that much of your sales and success in the marketplace have to do with product reviews, as well as customer ratings (and worth of mouth and social media, etc – but these all come from the quality of the product itself). Lastly, you know that virtually no reviewer, either “expert” or “typical consumer” is going to take the time to really do a lot of testing of compatibility, unless of course you claim compatibility. So if you don’t, and just sit back on the sidelines and phone it in when it comes to cross-brand compatibility, it isn’t going to hurt your product sales or market perception in any meaningful way.
The only meaningful standards to expect in living room are (1) most content should be able to play on most devices, and (b) most devices should use the same cables as most other devices, and (c) most devices will come with arbitrarily confusing directions as to how to connect said cables. Oh, and don’t forget (d) most devices will not come with the cable you really need at 11:30pm when you finally get to setting it up.