Recently, Netflix and YouTube quietly launched a website for a new protocol called Discover and Launch (DIAL), which enables a smartphone or tablet to launch apps on a Smart TV. While the idea of uniting these devices is not new and there’s already some working examples, including DLNA and Apple's AirPlay, there is a growing participant list of big-player names such as Sony, Samsung, Hulu and the BBC ready to support the new DIAL protocol.
DIAL is designed as a simple, open protocol that can be built into new products. With the use of DIAL enabled devices, second-screen gadgets will automatically “discover” first-screen ones like a Smart TV connected to the same network, and let the user launch apps and send content to the big screen (using UPnP multicast to find devices and a REST-service to launch apps).
Currently, linking two such devices can sometimes be a bit of a drag. Users must first launch an app on the TV, then do the same on their handheld device, finally “pairing” them before being able to stream clips or roll a slideshow of photos from a recent holiday for all and sundry to see.
Netflix and Google (which owns YouTube) are already experimenting with merging all of your devices. Netflix offers streaming to Playstation 3, and while a viewer can use a smartphone to control Netflix on the PS3, there is no option for them to launch the app from their mobile device. And then there’s Google TV, which among other things turns your Android phone into a simple TV-style remote control.
With DIAL, Netflix on your phone will see the Netflix on your TV and load it up for you. It will even redirect your Smart TV to its relevant app store should the app not be installed. The same would be true for YouTube.
All of this is sounds nice, but the more promising aspect of DIAL is its essential aim of becoming widely adopted as an open-platform development base, as opposed to the situation of having several differing proprietary solutions. Current generation Google TV units are already supporting DIAL, and there’s considerable interest and support from the likes of Samsung and Sony for incorporating it natively into their TVs and Blu-ray players. This means that it might well become a standard into the future for others to build on.
Where this will develop in time is still largely unknown. Smart TVs, smartphones and tablets are all becoming common fixtures in our lounge room spaces these days, but getting them to play nicely together isn't as easy as it could be. The new frontier it seems is in developing methods to merge these technologies into a coherent, single picture (excuse the pun).