New DIAL protocol aims to integrate smartphones and TVs

Credit: Source: Google

Last Christmas I bought myself a present: a HiSense Pulse Google TV unit. So far I've been pretty happy with Google TV and one of the features I really like is the integration between the Google TV YouTube app and the YouTube app on my Nexus 7. I'll be hanging out on the couch making my rounds through my favorite sites and I'll come across a YouTube video I want to watch. I fire up the YouTube app on the tablet and tell it to play the video on the big-screen TV. Google TV "hears" the request, starts up the YouTube app on Google TV and starts playing the video. I'm living in the future!

And if YouTube and Netflix have their way, we'll all be living in the future soon. They're working together on a protocol called DIAL which stands for DIscover And Launch. Basically it's an effort to give more devices and services the same kind of interoperability that you can get now with Google TV, Android and YouTube.

If you have a Playstation 3 and Netflix you've possibly experienced something similar. You can use the Netflix app on a smartphone to control Netflix on the PS3, but what's missing is the launch part of the equation. Your smartphone can't tell the PS3 to launch the Netflix app. If this was a true DIAL service, it could.

Of course Apple has AirPlay and in some ways DIAL is an open alternative to Apple's walled TV garden. This week GigaOM ran a feature on DIAL and in it they describe in detail the similarities and differences between DIAL and Airplay; it's a good read if you're interested in this kind of merging between portable devices and big screen TV.

DIAL is in limited hardware now (primarily recent-model Google TV devices) but GigaOm reports that Sony and Samsung are interested in supporting it in their smart TVs and Blu-ray players. On the content side, it's not just YouTube and Netflix. Hulu, Pandora, Flingo and the BBC have all signed on as well.

To hear the DIAL experience described doesn't really do it justice. It seems like a trivial thing, controlling these services via a smartphone or tablet rather than by your remote. I didn't think it'd be a big deal either, until I started using it. I watch a lot more YouTube now that I can queue new videos up on the tablet while another video is playing on the TV. I've yet to see a really good big-screen & remote YouTube setup; YouTube is just too chaotic.

Beyond just controlling the playback of videos, it sounds like companies are excited about using DIAL to facilitate other 'second screen' functionality, though exactly how that plays out isn't quite clear. Stay tuned!

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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