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Dongle-powered smart TVs take step forward

Dongle-powered smart TVs have taken a step forward during July, with the rollout into market of three rival new gadgets that offer streaming and other web access after plugging into HDMI ports.

Google, Dell and Sky have introduced devices that will allow consumers’ traditional TVs to become smart in an instant.

Google’s Chromecast dongle, introduced to US consumers this month, allows users to stream video and music from apps running on Apple or Android devices, or laptops. It plugs into a TV’s HDMI port, with no batteries required, and is operated using a Chromecast app on a laptop to connect it to a wifi network.

Chromecast is compatible with major online video apps including YouTube and Netflix. Though the company has withdrawn an initial offer of three free months of Netflix with the device, Pandora and AOL is expected to join, and Vimeo and Redbox Instant are reportedly interested in supporting the device, too.

Google is selling the dongle at just $35, and consumer demand has been huge.

Dell’s ‘Project Ophelia’ dongle, unveiled at January’s consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, is on its way to testers ahead of a full launch later this year.

Ophelia is built on the Android to support web browsing and connects to the cloud and remote desktops. Dell hopes the dongle, which needs no batteries, can be used for both business and consumer markets. Ophelia’s price tag is $100.

Sky’s Now TV set-top box, meanwhile, is now available in the UK, aimed at attracting non-subscribers to its services. It costs just £10 and offers access to premium services like Sky Sports and Movies without having to pay a full subscription. A three-month trial costs £8.99 for Sky Movies, rising to £15 thereafter. It gives free access to BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, Facebook and Spotify.

Paul Jackson, principal analyst for media ecosystems and connected technology at Informa Telecoms & Media commented: “Google’s Chromecast offers a neat new way of accessing the so far limited OTT services. It’s not unique – game consoles, streaming boxes, Apple TV, and many retail STBs already do this – nor especially novel – Android-based HDMI dongles have been around for a year or so. But it is cheap and has Google’s considerable support.

“Informa expects the price alone, will guarantee high sales. If Google can quickly roll out other apps, then the device has a chance of giving Google that prized position in the living room that it has failed thus far to get with Google TV or STB partnerships. Will it allow Google to dominate TV and put cable companies out of business as suggested by some analysts? Not in its present form, and not unless Google can work out what the long-term business model is for such a device.”

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