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Few users take full advantage of Smart TV features, according to report

Smart TVs sound great in theory, but few people are actually getting the most out of their Internet-connected television sets, according to a new report from the NPD Group.

"The Internet-connected HDTV screen has so far failed to break beyond the bounds of its TV-centric heritage, with little use for the big screen beyond the obligatory video services," wrote John Buffone of NPD's Connected Intelligence group in a blog post published this week.

While about 60 per cent of Smart TV owners are using their sets to access Over-the-Top (OTT) video services, very few are taking advantage of available apps like Twitter and Facebook, or using their TVs to browse the Web, according to NPD.

"The decision is not for want of application choice, but rather seems to be focused on how consumers are used to interacting with their TV. HDTVs, gaming consoles, Blu-ray Disc players, and other connected devices offer an array of applications ... but, in general, these have failed to resonate with the audience, not least because there are better platforms, such as the PC, tablet, or smartphone, for such services," Buffone said.

A notable exception to this is streaming music apps from services like Pandora, which has driven "reasonable consumer uptake" among Smart TV owners of about 15 per cent, according to the research firm.

But even accessing streaming music is dwarfed by the use of Smart TVs for watching streamed video. And apps like Twitter, LinkedIn, and various maps, eBook reading, gaming, and shopping apps are mired at usage rates well shy of 10 per cent among Smart TV owners.

About 10 per cent of folks who have a Smart TV are using it to surf the Internet but just around 5 or 6 per cent take advantage of their set's ability to access their PC desktops.

Despite the boom in video content available on other platforms, TVs Smart or otherwise remain the "fundamental screen for TV viewing with the home" and are "seeing an expanded array of programming through OTT services that supplement Pay TV subscriptions," Buffone said, which is good news for TV manufacturers.

The flip side of that equation isn't so welcome, however.

"The less than great news is that the TV manufacturers are failing to make the TV more than, well, a TV. Further, we are seeing attached devices also focus heavily on TV and video-centric apps, Microsoft's upcoming launch of more than 40 additional television apps for the Xbox Live subscription service is one example," the NPD analyst noted.

Challenges to TV manufacturers seeking to buck this trend include the complex array of devices that make the Internet and online apps available on HDTV sets, including Smart TVs themselves, video game consoles, Blu-ray players, streaming media set top boxes, TiVo, and audio/video receivers, Buffone said.

"An added wrinkle comes from the nascent trend towards 'content throwing,' allowing programming to be transferred from the smartphone or tablet to the big screen. This is yet another challenge to the uniqueness of any one TV OEM's device offering, especially as the throwing technology may also be driven by peripheral devices such as the Xbox," he added.

A wide array of available products such as Xbox SmartGlass, Samsung AllShare, and Apple AirPlay are perhaps causing more confusion among consumers than offering distinctly useful services, the analyst said. Buffone's advice to OEMs and retailers: "[F]ocus less on new innovation in this space and more on simplification of the user experience and messaging if they want to drive additional, and new, behaviors on the TV."