Most people probably have a hard time thinking about parting with their favorite living room fixture, the television set. For generations, the television has filled even the loneliest and barest of homes with light, laughter, and years upon years of cheap entertainment. The television set, in many cases, has become a part of the family, and it’s simply difficult to imagine life without it.
But as with many other technologies of yesteryear, the television will eventually be phased out as newer, superior home entertainment options are developed. We’re standing on the precipice of that new generation of technology now, and with a salvo of new devices and gadgets on the way, the television set is looking at a future of irrelevancy.
Taking the lead in television-killing technology is Microsoft, which recently announced the latest and greatest in reality-augmenting technology. The HoloLens, a set of 3-D glasses that users wear wrapped around their head, turns the real world into a screen of sorts. Instead of needing the screen of a tablet or TV, holograms and virtual presentations are projected for users to see and interact with. And since Microsoft’s technology blends its holographic interfaces and programs in with the real world, there’s no need for users to take the glasses off to focus on other tasks.
What Microsoft has basically done is find a way to take the real world and use it as a medium of projection. No longer do users need a fixed screen to produce images and sound. The HoloLens — and devices that are similar to it — have effectively made static, fixed screens like television sets obsolete. Microsoft’s HoloLens is only one new technology taking on the traditional fixed-screen set up. There are others, and if these gadgets are any indication of where technology and consumer tastes are heading, then we all could be tossing our Samsung flat screens in the dumpster sooner rather than later.
There are already some virtual reality options slowly making their way to the market in addition to Microsoft’s HoloLens technology. Facebook purchased Oculus a while back, a company that had been working on a virtual reality headset for some time. While similar to the HoloLens, VR technologies like Oculus don’t allow users to continue interacting with the world around them while in use. Even so, if people start using Oculus and related VR gadgets to watch movies or play video games — all with a more immersive experience than a traditional television allows — it’ll be yet another reason for people to abandon their TVs.
Even without taking VR and new gadgets like the HoloLens into account, TV was already in trouble. Cord-cutting has become ever more popular, with many people opting for their laptop or tablet computers as a primary viewing device while getting rid of cable or satellite service. The rise of video on demand and streaming services has also eliminated the need for DVD players and other peripheral devices, which required a screen to be connected for use. Though virtually every American household has a TV, we’re seeing ownership rates decline for the first time in decades. The New York Times reports that there was evidence of the trend beginning during the 2010 census. IHS reports that the global television market shrank in both 2012 and 2013.
With the wheels of business dynamism already turning, it’s important to note again that we’re only seeing the first iterations of technologies like the HoloLens, Google Glass, and Oculus Rift. With time, they will become cheaper and more widespread, offering video game and app developers, entertainment companies, and even movie studios a whole new platform on which to expand their offerings. Think of these devices in a similar way to a smartphone: When they first hit the market, they were relatively limited in what you could do with them. But now that there are applications for almost anything, smartphones have effectively replaced TVs, phones, laptops, and even cameras and music players.
As for television’s future, things look to get interesting in coming years, as new technologies enter the market. This isn’t the first time TV’s death has been predicted, and yes, there have been some misfires (3-D TV, for example). But it was only a matter of time before the traditional tube was usurped by a superior technology, and after getting a look at what the future holds in store for home entertainment, that time could be closer than most of us realize.