When it comes to content online, two of the best places to turn have to be Netflix and YouTube. YouTube gets more content than anyone around, and Netflix can provide its content without commercial interruption. But the two companies are out to be more than just providers of content; thanks to a recent development called the DIAL protocol, they're out to get a hand in both discovery and control.
The Discover and Launch (DIAL) protocol has reportedly been under development for some time now, and has been in something of a very quiet rollout for the last several months. What DIAL is set to do is serve as a sort of competitor to AirPlay, serving as a second-screen service that allows for discovery and for launching applications on smart TVs and connected devices. DIAL is capable of discovering other devices that can handle it and then make connections between the two, allowing a small-screen DIAL-capable device to launch an app on a large-screen DIAL-capable device. This actually removes a step from the current process, as in most cases, the app must be manually launched on both devices prior to using the two together. But DIAL takes a step out of the equation, and lets the controls on the small-screen device take over the large-screen device.
It compares to AirPlay reasonably well in theory, if not in practice. AirPlay is more of a content mirroring system--send an image from a smaller device to a larger one in rapid fashion--but DIAL instead does something similar, just in a different way. Additionally, this design change allows for features that AirPlay doesn't offer, like being able to note that a certain app isn't available on the large-screen device it's connecting to, and then routing the device in question to an app store to get hands on it.
Several device makers are already on board with this, as well as content providers, including a list that reads like a reservation menu at a CES dinner: Samsung, the BBC and Hulu. The newest generation of Google TV devices apparently has this built in, and some LG and Samsung televisions do as well.
While DIAL by itself may not seem like much, it does have some significant potential in changing the way users interact with their devices and, from there, the media presented upon them. We've all heard the breathless stories from the futurists about being able to control a whole house's systems--from light levels to thermostats to televisions--with a smartphone, but now, DIAL is taking the idea just a little closer to reality by allowing the smartphone to control what's happening on the television, and without the need for extra dongles or the like, if the current reports hold out.
So while DIAL may not represent the future of home entertainment, it may represent the start of the future. The future always needs to start somewhere, and this could be a very exciting start indeed.
Edited by Brooke Neuman