Whether it’s speculation over its impact on America’s gross domestic product or coverage of labor disputes at Foxcom factories in China, the launch of the iPhone 5 has created a major media frenzy. But with all the coverage, one effect of the smartphone – and of the iPhone particularly – is being ignored. That is the influence that mobile computing technology has on the development of home theater systems.
From the early transition from radio to the television, TV has been in a perpetual game of catch-up with the movies. With the introduction of VHS technology, theatrical films came into people’s homes, creating a massive market for larger and larger television sets with higher definition pictures and better sound quality. That trajectory continued, virtually uninterrupted, up until now.
That is, however, a dwindling trajectory. Mobile technology has emerged and grown with unprecedented speed, opening new markets and a new viewing experience that has forever changed the dynamics of entertainment. The launch of each new technology – mobile computers, tablets, smartphones – has created a content vacuum. Those who have filled that vacuum have found tremendous success.
Meanwhile, those who have ignored these new content markets have begun to lose relevance. Feature films are in a quality crisis specifically because films designed for a theatrical release play poorly on the much smaller screens of modern mobile devices. The creative forces have, generally, followed the content trends, moving toward TV and other experimental forms of film. In doing so, they have left the movie industry to recycled storylines, sequels, and flimsy high concepts.
What does this mean to the home theater market? Up until this point film has led the way, and everything else has followed that lead. Home theaters have been improving definition, expanding size, and increasing sound quality. Now, mobile entertainment is leading the way instead. As home entertainment follows that lead, systems will become more versatile, more content-rich, and more interoperable.
Cloud computing, which offers the ability to maintain a large personal library of filmed content in a single place that can be accessed from multiple screens, places the home theater system at the center of a family’s entertainment strategy. System manufacturers understand this, and recent product offerings show that they are more than willing to rise to that challenge.
In coming years, we can expect that home theater systems will endeavor to become a linking point that allows users to control the content that they serve to their computers, phones, tablets, and other screens. Instead of chasing the multiplex, home entertainment will chase the iPhone.