Panasonic (2011/12)

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The TV market today is stable and 97% of all households possess at least one television set. Manufacturers today compete on three main points: dimensions (thinner & bigger), price, and image quality (resolution and colors). Laptops and tablets with their ever increasing image quality and ease of access to content through the Internet are also becoming competitors, as consumers take a habit of downloading much of their content.

Therefore, a team of six students from HPI and École des Ponts ParisTech have investigated today’s TV experience. Manufacturers advertise an idealized picture of happy viewers sitting on a couch being totally absorbed looking at the screen. During our need-finding, research and observation, the students found that 65% of viewers were doing something else while watching and that over complex remotes, interfaces and content selection processes were degrading the quality of the users’ experience.

Yet despite all this and the increasing use of other devices to access content, TV consumption time in households has not dropped and has even slightly gone up. They observed people still meet in front of the TV at home and therefore realized that there is a need for a collective entertainment experience. Despite all of its problems, today’s TV is still the most natural device to fulfill this need as it is intrinsically a shared device, as opposed to tablets, laptops or smart phones which belong to a single individual.

However, one of the great issues impeding TV sets’ expected “socialness” was the fact that in the current living room setups in Europe, TV sets were placed against a wall, with the viewers all lined up side by side facing it. Aiming for natural integration into users’ living rooms, they looked at households where there was no TV. There was always a central gathering place, usually seats and couches surrounding a coffee table. This is where we decided to place the TV. Indeed, this will be technologically possible because of the increasing use of wireless data exchange between devices.

By putting two 23-inch screens, displaying the same content, back to back on the table, all viewers could at the same time see and interact with each other over the top of the frame and still not miss the action. Additionally, this provided a much more natural living room furniture set up. User testing showed that our viewers, while disconcerted at first, quickly appreciated this setup, feeling a stronger human connection with each other and living a much higher quality entertainment experience. We called this system AGORA.
It allows Panasonic to challenge the way the TV industry has been competing during the last decades, notably by withdrawing from the “bigger is better” philosophy and also by reducing the relative importance of the content displayed on the overall viewer experience, by giving the device a value in and of itself compared to other TV sets. It also opens a door towards new content possibilities as, while still showing the same content on each screen, it also enables to have 2 different points of view, with, for example two different viewing angles of a concert or a sport’s match. All this combines to giving Panasonic the opportunity to define a new direction in the TV market, becoming the leader towards a more social living room experience.

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