How to browse the Web, run apps, play music and games— and most important, watch what you want, when you want it.
“Smart TV” is the new hot buzzword these days. Imagine, for a moment, that your HDTV combined the simplicity of the
normal TV-and-remote experience with the powerful search features and video-on-demand libraries you’re accustomed to on the Web. Toss in social networking, photo sharing, music, gaming, and a hundred kinds of Web content. That’s what
“smart TV” means. It means never needing to settle for anything less than having what you want to watch (or hear, or
play) running in big-screen glory right now, while you master the universe from the couch with your all-powerful remote.
Don’t let all the TV and tech companies out there fool you, however. You have many ways to make your existing TV
smarter, other than just buying a new connected TV with all the bells and whistles built in. You don’t have to purchase a
brand-new PC or yet another set-top box, either. and you don’t have to let your cable-TV subscription hold your eyeballs
(or your wallet) hostage with hundreds of channels you’ll never watch.
Looking to buy a new HDTV? Choose the right TV—one that connects directly to the Internet—and you can enjoy loads of
Web features and apps without having to buy any add-ons or boxes. But choosing may not be easy: all the major TV manufacturers now have some package of Internet-connected features built into their midrange and high-end models.
In early Internet-connected TVs, packages included only a few additional “channels”—Netfl ix Instant Watch, YouTube, and a few video-rental services like amazon Instant Video, CinemaNow, and Vudu. Connected-television features have since advanced quickly.
New connected TV sets come packed with apps, games, and Internet video channels, often with options exclusive to the manufacturer.
Cost: You’ll have to pay for the television ($1000 to $2000 for midrange to high-end sets). The good news: You don’t necessarily have to pay a premium for an Internetconnected TV: Some manufacturers, such as Vizio, sell lowend models that are priced in the $750 to $830 range. The cost of an HDTV will generally de pend on the set’s size and on its panel technology (a 50-inch plasma set will cost more than a 50-inch LED one). and you won’t have to pay for access to the smart-TV service itself—just for the subscriptions to specifi c services such as Hulu Plus or Netfl ix, as well as the video-download rental fees.
Advantages: Connected TVs are simple and elegant. You can use your TV’s own remote, you don’t need to worry about
running extra power cords or audio/video cables as you do with a set-top box or a home theater PC, and many HDTV sets
include built-in Wi-Fi support (so you don’t even need to plug an ethernet cable into the back).
What’s more, newer TV sets often come with new remote controls that make it easier to use the Internet features. For
example, Lg’s Magic Motion remote is a gesture-oriented remote control similar to the Nintendo Wii controller (just
point the remote at the TV to move your cursor), which lets you more easily use the built-in Web browser of Lg sets.
Vizio’s high-end sets include a Bluetooth remote with a slideout keyboard to facilitate typing.
Disadvantages: Connected TVs aren’t particularly versatile. If your set-top box doesn’t have a channel you want, you can go buy a new one, but you won’t be able to do such a thing so easily with a big, expensive HDTV. also, if you’re big on live TV, you’ll still need your cable-TV subscription, as the Internet features are mostly on-demand video only.
Advanced tips: Most connected TVs include uSB ports and DLNa support (see the glossary on page 65), meaning that
you can watch your locally stored video, photos, and music from a uSB drive by plugging it straight into your TV or from
other PCs on your network—handy for the times when the video you want to watch is sitting on your PC in the den.
Future-proof? Yes—but only if you choose wisely. although early Internet features in HDTVs looked pitiful compared with what a standard set-top box could offer, the big players in the HDTV market (Lg, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio) are each looking to make their Web-connected TV sets your entertainment hub by adding new features, video channels, and even their own app stores. For example, Panasonic’s “Viera Connect” Internet features include Facebook, Skype, Twitter, and even downloadable games from gameloft in addition to a whole host of media-streaming services like
amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Netfl ix, and Pandora.