By now, you’ve probably heard the term Smart TV bandied about once or twice. Those dedicated to the world of TV tech will no doubt be familiar, but what about the rest of us? What, exactly, are these Smart TVs? Well, do you know what a smartphone is? A good starting point to understanding Smart TVs is to think of them as to regular televisions what smartphones are to regular (and rapidly becoming obsolete) cell phones. First and foremost, it’s a television. Of course, it’s also much more. Most Smart TVs on the market, including the TVs like the Samsung Smart TV 9000 series, are app based, outside of functioning as regular old televisions. The number of apps available are growing by the day, but you can expect to find familiar faces like Hulu, YouTube, Facebook and Netflix, ready to stream content directly to your screen over the Internet. Of course, this means you’ll have to get used to having your television set connected to the Internet. Everything is managed through hubs similar to smartphone operating systems and app stores – for example, with Samsung’s Smart Hub, you’ll have a home screen where you can manage your apps, receive app and movie recommendations, and search through available content. Even full web browsing is available. Like smartphones, none of it is what you would call a total substitute for the Internet experience you’ll get from an actual computer, but in a pinch, it’ll satisfy whatever needs you have at the moment, and that’s all that really matters.
So, how do Smart TVs stack up to the 3D TVs of last year and this year? In some ways, it’s like comparing apples and oranges (or BlackBerries and RAZRs). 3D TVs (glasses or no glasses) provide just what they promise – 3D picture. 3D TVs are enhanced televisions, but at heart, they are merely televisions. Smart TVs are more of an all-encompassing media hub, giving you all the entertainment offerings of television and the Internet in one place. Plus, some Smart TVs, like the Samsung 9000 series, actually include 3D technology. The Smart TV is truly a new beast that may well redefine the television’s purpose in the home.
Smart TV technology has been around for some time now, you just usually don’t see it directly integrated with a television. Roku boxes and Apple TV, for example, bring Internet-based content to televisions via set-top boxes, and are cheaper alternatives. Of course, cheaper, like it often does, means less functionality. Don’t expect web browsing, or top of the line HD video. You can expect Hulu and Netflix support – which really makes these set-top boxes movie and television show rental boxes. It’s a lot quicker and easier than physically going to rental stores (as poor Blockbuster found out the hard way). Using Roku or Apple TV’s channels, or apps, you can rent and buy content, and stream it directly to your television. Apple TV also has the bonus of integration with the rest of Apple’s myriad of electronics products, wirelessly, so you can stream content from your iPad, iPhone, or iMac via iTunes.
Google TV is a platform that will be integrated with Smart TVs, but also available in set-top box form, eventually. Like Samsung’s offering, Google TV provides web browsing, app-based programming, and the like. Again, the whole point is bringing the Internet to the television in a fast, user-friendly way. There’s an added bonus in being able to use your smartphone as a remote control for Google TV enabled televisions, but there have been problems. Some companies, notably Hulu, do not support Google TV, and cable providers have shown similar hesitance. If you have dish network, Google TV might be a better option, but do your homework first if you’re a cable customer. ABC, among others, blocks their web content for Google TV televisions. Since the whole point of Smart TVs is to bring the Internet to the television, these restrictions are more than a bit concerning. Whether or not they are permanent problems or kinks that can be worked out is unclear as of yet.
One last thing you might start seeing when you go television shopping, especially for Samsung Smart TV s – the LED television. You might find yourself wondering whether or not the store made a typo, and meant LCD. Well, don’t get confused – it’s not a typo, but they are LCD televisions. LED televisions are LCD televisions with LED backlighting. What does that mean for us? It means clearer motion pictures, a much, much slimmer television, and a product that’s a little more environmentally friendly than its predecessors.
So, should you buy a Smart TV? That depends – how much time do you spend in front of the television, and how important is high-definition? Unless you’ve got an amazing monitor for your computer, putting online content on your television is going to look a whole lot prettier in full 1080p on a massive screen. Of course, if you have company, it’s also going to be more comfortable to watch a movie streamed online from the couch in the living room, rather than having everyone huddled around the computer.
Given the success (to put it mildly) of smartphones, it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see Smart TVs blow up the consumer market this year. Once that happens, you can expect yet another tech revolution in the home courtesy of Smart TVs.
So what do you think? Are Smart TV’s really smarter than the 3D TV? Or are we just off our rocker…let us know…we can take it.