"Smart TVs" Add The Best Of The Internet To Your TV
From WebTV to the Sega Channel, tech history is littered with loads of Internet TV features that simply didn't make it. Now, however, high-speed broadband connections are widely available and TVs are powerful enough to take advantage of the Internet's seemingly unlimited flow of movies, music, and more. Read on to see which TVs have your killer apps.
Full Browsers For All
Several TV manufacturers are implementing full Web browsers in their TVs this year, ignoring the naysayers who claim that people simply don't want the Web experience in their living room. However, the fact is that no single content provider can hope to match the sheer volume of audio, video, and pictures that people consume on the Web. Why fight it? Assuming that the TV manufacturers can avoid Google TV's early stumble--namely, getting locked out from popular Web channels--it's a fairly easy way to give viewers the flexibility to watch whatever they want.
Thankfully, we won't have to try and navigate the Web with a traditional TV remote any more. Between LG's Magic Wand control, Samsung's LCD touchscreen remote, and the plethora of full QWERTY remotes that other TV companies are releasing, full Web browsing on your TV will be much, much easier.
In Video: Samsung's New Smart TV Features
Expect more games to show up in your TV, even if you don't own a gaming console. Practically all of the new Smart TV features include an app store, and it's pretty clear that they're trying to create a casual gaming market on their TVs just like Apple did with the iOS App Store. After all, you don't need the power of an Xbox 360 to play Tetris.
Furthermore, Panasonic's Gameloft partnership may very well be the start of a full-blown attack on game consoles. While the Asphalt 5 demo wouldn't exactly blow a PS3 out of the water, it still looked good--and if more game companies get on board, game console manufacturers might find that their $200+ dedicated gaming machines might only appeal to the hardcore faithful. The games themselves might not single-handedly sell many Panasonic TVs, but they most certainly could erode the console market away and put Panasonic in the middle of a new casual gaming market.
In Video: Panasonic Viera Connect: Gaming and Exercise
Striking Back At The Set-Top Box
Earlier Smart TV features were like premium pay-per-view cable channels--they were nice to have, but you probably didn't use them much. This allowed set-top boxes like the Roku to swoop in and snatch up the Internet-savvy TV viewers, since you could simply buy a normal HDTV for less cash and spend no more than $100 to get far more Internet options in a set-top box than you'd have in a high-end connected TV.
This is changing. TV manufacturers often don't even bother to list the entire selection of Internet features during a press conference these days because there are simply so many. What's more, most of the new app stores in 2011's Smart TVs are open for third-party developers, meaning new Internet media companies can add themselves to your TV's repertoire. If your TV is already plugged into so many Internet content channels, a $100 Roku starts to look more like a luxury and less like a necessity.
In Video: LG's New NetCast Platform: A Video Tour
The Interactive Internet
Gripe all you want about how you don't want to Tweet while you're watching TV--you might come around when you find that your brand new HDTV is loaded with interactive features. From Skype videoconferencing to Facebook and UStream, TV manufacturers are adding tons of features that aim to put your TV in the center of your communications.
These aren't your clumsy 2009-era Yahoo! Widgets apps, mind you. We're seeing apps that are designed from the ground up to be used on a TV, combined with innovative remote controls that allow the user to control their TV more easily. And since TVs pack more processing power now, apps that make more sense on a TV--like Skype videoconferencing--will take off this year.
Just think of it as the same social networking apps you have on your PC and smartphone, except now the screen is really, really big. And with Wi-Fi coming standard on the majority of Smart TVs, you won't even have to worry about running ugly cables from the router to the TV any more. Give it a year, and you'll be complaining about push notifications instead of commercial interruptions.
Check out PCWorld's complete coverage of CES 2011.