Taking control of your TV through a box – African contenders make a play for opening up your TV

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The TV is the last of the major media devices to be connected to the digital ecosystem. As ever, there’s a battle between proprietary systems (like smart TVs) and more open hardware and software. Russell Southwood looks at the battle to control what goes into your HDMI port. HDMI what? Find out below.

A smart TV is a bit like AOL at the beginning of the Internet. It wants to be able to offer you a “walled garden” of content that it has paid rights for and unlike AOL, access to the Internet for things like You Tube. Branded smart TVs are being produced by Panasonic, Samsung and Sony. In the African context, Samsung probably has the largest market share but the numbers are in the low hundreds of thousands.

Smart TVs are expensive and do not really reflect how the African 18-25 digital generation behave in the more advanced markets like Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. They are more likely to have a tablet and/or smartphone and (bandwidth willing) stream content to them. That’s fine viewing as an individual or perhaps as a couple but tough if you’ve got a wider audience.

But there are a number of devices and boxes that have begun to take off that allow you to turn your smartphone or tablet into a streaming device, putting the TV programme, film or whatever on to your TV screen. They plug into the HDMI port at the back of your TV and use Wi-Fi to allow the smartphone or tablet to stream to your screen. In effect your smartphone or tablet can be used as a remote to control the streaming.

The most high profile of these devices are: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku boxes and Xbox (360 and One). One of the cheapest of these devices is Google Chromecast which is about the size of a USB stick and costs US$45 in the UK.

Each comes with a different content package and in that really annoying way of these things it means that if you have one device you can be sure that something you want is on another device or supplier. This is irritating from a consumer point of view but from the company perspective is what differentiates each of the devices. So for example, I need an Amazon Prime subscription to be watching its specially commissioned series Transparent.

All of the above devices depend on there being fast broadband and a degree of reliability: whether you’re watching 30-60 minutes of TV or 2 hours of film, you don’t want the connection to seize up just as the story gets gripping.

So what’s all this got to with Africa? Well, as with most tech developments, they will migrate across the continent and more people will have smart TVs and TVs with HDMI ports and understand the potential. But better still there are a couple of African start-up pioneers out there looking to become the device of choice for the continent.

Sherif Abdala and Tumi Tsukudu are the two young entrepreneurs behind Live AndroidTV, a device that gives you access to the content on the XBox Media Centre. They met at Africa 2.0 and came together to work on Live Android TV.

So how do you get Live AndroidTv?:”All you need is to download the app which is available in Android 4.2 or Windows 8 and buy a device from us from between R1200-3,599 and you can start streaming content from the XBox Media Centre. And you’ll need a 1 mbps ADSL uncapped line. It’s plug and play.” The more expensive of the devices quoted here can stream full HD and supports a 3D engine.

XBox Media center is a free and open source platform which has many plug-ins and add-ons that provide access to a host of free and subscription based streaming services. They are provided and hosted by third party service provider and Live AdroidTv allows you to access some of them. You can also browse the web and play video games.
For more on this product, click on this link.



James Muir’s start-up Mediabox offers “a hardware platform that we’ve created an ecosystem on that operates on top of an Android OS.” The box is bundled with a remote with a full touchpad but like devices elsewhere can be operated using an app (android or Windows) on a smartphone or tablet. It runs both 3G and Wi-Fi so can operate in those areas where there is no immediate access to Wi-Fi. It says it will stream a variety of the best known content platforms including Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.

It’s a bit like the “Swiss Army penknife of this kind of device and aims to overcome the frustrations of the “this doesn’t work with that” that seem to afflict the growing digital content ecosystem. You can play movies from a USB stick, access the Internet, listen to radio and get your email.

This functionality comes at a price as the estimated retail price will be US$200. It plans to sell them throughout Africa.It is currently raising US$650,000 on Indiegogo and is hoping to have the devices on sale by June this year. The fundraising campaign closes on 4 March 2015.

To hear founder James Muir talk about the Mediabox, click on this link.


Digital Content Africa: Balancing Act's web TV channel Smart Monkey TV has launched a new e-letter called Digital Content Africa. On a fortnightly basis, it covers online film, music, publishing and services and applications. We have already produced 31 issues and these can be viewed on this link

Essential reading for those in broadcast or film. If you would like to subscribe, just send an email to info@balancingact-africa.com with Digital Content Africa in the title line.

Here are some examples of past issues below:

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded and that the deal is rotten…Operators not opening mobile channel for Africa’s digital content makers

Africa’s coming digital content generation – Market research from 3.5 countries looks at music, TV and film use

You Tube provides a platform for piloting new TV series: An African City and Al Bernameg light the way

Licensing delays stall Kenya’s “i-Tunes” content platform on a Raspberry Pi but end may be in sight

The Mobile Deal that is keeping Africans from having more music, film and TV on their mobiles

Video Clip Interviews - This week:

Nyasha Mutsekwa, Aflix on selling Hollywood movies for US$2.99 in 31 African countries

C.J. Obasi on his Nigerian horror film Ojuju, a love letter to George Romero

Film-maker Desmond Ovbiagele on his Lagos crime thriller Render to Caesar

Olivier Laouchez, Trace: Launching world's largest talent competition - Target? 2 m entrants

Pascal Schmitz, iBiskop on overcoming the three barriers to downloading: bandwidth, price & piracy

Nicole Amarteifio on what's culturally inappropriate or not in You Tube series An African City

Segilola Ogidan and Edith Nwekenta on Mum, Dad, Meet Sam, a Nigerian Romantic-Comedy

Juliet Asante on Mobilefliks rolling out across Africa and her new film Silver Rain

Anthony Abuah on Cape to Cairo, a You Tube debate show for thirty something

Larry Izamoje, Sports Radio Brila FM on launching an online sports TV channel in Nigeria

Yemisi Ilo on Nigeria’s Web TV channel Battabox

Abukar Abba Tahir on Gotel's plans to launch the Al Jazeera of Africa from Abuja

Michael Wanguhu on a TV series that follows Kenya's marathon runners in the USA

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