A photo of a living room featuring a smart TV.
Photo: Lukas Bato/Unsplash

The new Matter smart home standard could make TVs more powerful

Protocol Entertainment

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Thursday, we take a closer look at the new Matter standard and its impact on entertainment gadgets. Plus: Amazon discontinues Glow, and ILM celebrates StageCraft.

Simpler smart homes could make TVs more powerful

This week, the smart home industry passed a major milestone with the release of the Matter standard, which promises to simplify the setup and use of compatible smart home devices. In essence, Matter wants to bring some basic interoperability to devices like light bulbs, smart switches, and thermostats.

Matter is being introduced by the Connectivity Standards Alliance, which counts Amazon, Apple, Google, and Samsung among its members. The primary focus is on simplifying smart home gadgets themselves, but the standard could also have implications for the types of devices people use to control and monitor their smart homes. That in turn could have significant implications for TVs and other entertainment devices.

First, things will get a lot easier. Setting up a smart home can be hard. Trouble-shooting when things break down is even more frustrating. Matter aims to help with a lot of those issues, as Google Home Platform group product manager Anish Kattukaran explained during a recent media briefing.

  • Kattukaran fully acknowledged that smart home tech isn’t where it should be. “It's hard to set up devices [and] link them to your favorite apps and platforms,” he said.
  • What’s more, the tech can often feel like a step in the wrong direction. “These devices don't always work as reliably as, say, when you walk up to your wall and hit the light switch,” Kattukaran said.
  • Matter aims to solve some of those issues, starting with the setup. Certified devices will don a QR code that helps establish a secure connection for setup.
  • Google plans to further simplify setup by deeply integrating Matter into Android, with Kattukaran promising that setting up a smart home device will be as easy as fast-pairing Bluetooth headphones to your smartphone.
  • The standard also promises increased reliability by letting compatible devices communicate with each other locally instead of forcing them to send a request to the cloud, then establish a connection to another vendor’s cloud service, and eventually reroute the resulting command back to your home.
  • That should also help hardware makers, Kattukaran argued. “It’s really hard to build smart home devices,” he said. “Device makers are spending this massive amount of time on basic connectivity and less time on actually building great experiences.”

Then, things start to get interesting. Google Nest GM Rishi Chandra predicted that the standard will unleash a new wave of innovation by helping vendors “actually build better optimization around your entertainment experience or your security experience.”

  • This could include better control of the home. Right now, every device still ships with its own app. A lot of that functionality will increasingly shift to apps and dashboards that aggregate multiple devices, including the Google Home app, which the company plans to relaunch with a new UI soon.
  • Chandra also suggested that there may be room for laptops, tablets, and other devices when it comes to smart home control. “These are devices that have significance inside the home today, but we’ve separated them out,” he said. “We haven’t brought them into the loop.”
  • One of the big winners of Matter could be entertainment devices. Smart speakers and displays, for instance, are increasingly going to double as smart home hubs, with Google promising to roll out such functionality to its Nest devices soon.
  • There’s also a lot of potential in turning smart TVs and displays into dashboards for the home — something that never really worked in the past because of interoperability issues.

Ultimately, Matter could make it easier to build and share routines for the smart home, which could benefit the entertainment industry as well. Imagine Netflix sharing presets that change your light depending on the show you watch, or Spotify using sensors in your home to fine-tune your multiroom audio experience.

“There have been a couple of transformational moments that have unlocked new innovation in the smart home space,” Chandra said. “We are about to kick off a new phase.”

— Janko Roettgers

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It’s back to square one for Amazon’s projection efforts

Amazon has pulled the plug on Glow, a video calling device for kids that was using a projector to extend play space beyond the screen. The decision to discontinue the device was a response to poor sales, as well as a general shift in consumer behavior, according to Bloomberg.

  • What was interesting about Glow was its combination of computer vision and projection mapping, which allowed kids to play with physical puzzle pieces, or “scan” physical objects to incorporate them into digital art.
  • The device was the result of a lot of experimentation, with Amazon developers toying with ideas that included robot arms and laser pointers, as Amazon senior hardware engineer Martin Aalund told me earlier this year.

The Glow team set out to reinvent video chatting for children with grandparents and other caregivers, based on the observation that traditional Zoom calls simply didn’t work for many kids.

  • “Kids are terrible cameramen,” Behrang Assadi, who used to head marketing for Amazon Glow, told me at the time. “They tend to not sit still. They get easily distracted by other features of phones, and sometimes they just put it down and walk away.”
  • The device did try hard to reinvent that experience, but the focus on video chats also limited its usefulness. Plus, grandparents are probably not the easiest target audience for new and experimental technology.
  • Aalund told me earlier this year that he had already been approached by colleagues looking to use the technology for other purposes.
  • “We've had people within the company ask us about our hardware and software stack for all sorts of different things,” he said. “From office environments to videoconferencing, where this could make a great whiteboard, to tutoring. All sorts of different things.”

Amazon did explore using projection mapping for glasses-free AR in the past; I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the company incorporate some Glow-like technology into other devices in the future.

— Janko Roettgers

In other news

Inside Amazon’s free video strategy. Prime Video has long been at the heart of Amazon’s streaming efforts. So why did the company build a separate service called Freevee?

Overwatch’s sequel launch falls flat. Blizzard’s first major console and PC game since the release of the original Overwatch in 2016 had a disastrous launch on Tuesday, in part because of two separate DDoS attacks.

Netflix wanted to turn “Lord of the Rings” into the next MCU. Tolkien’s heirs were so freaked out by the idea that they accepted a lower Amazon bid, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Cyberpunk developers announce an ambitious release slate. CD Projekt Red said on Tuesday it had seven new games in the works across its Cyberpunk and Witcher franchises to be developed across numerous studios in Europe and North America.

NBCUniversal’s plans for a streaming bundle have gone nowhere. The Comcast subsidiary has approached competitors about reselling their services through a cable-like bundle, but HBO Max and Paramount+ have declined the offer, CNBC reports.

Sony eyes TV and film projects from Elden Ring creator. Sony’s investment in FromSoftware could yield “opportunities” with the newly formed PlayStation Productions media arm, PlayStation Studios chief Herman Hulst told Reuters this week.

Wells Fargo analyst predicts cord cutting will accelerate. Pay TV providers will only have 40 million subscribers a decade from now, according to Wells Fargo media analyst Steven Cahall.

TikTok wants to bring live shopping to the U.S. ByteDance reportedly plans to bring live shopping to North American audiences in time for the holidays.

Light & Magic

I’ve written quite a bit about virtual production technologies, including LED walls and the way they change how and where movies and TV shows are made. But sometimes, you just have to see it to believe it — and thankfully, Industrial Light & Magic gave us a peek behind the curtain of its StageCraft virtual production technology this week, showing us how actors respond. In the words of O'Shea Jackson Jr., “This is nuts!”

— Janko Roettgers

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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to entertainment@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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