Your Next TV Will Likely Be a Smart TV
A few months ago people were debating whether or not to buy a Smart TV but CES 2013 showed that most new TVs will have streaming capacities in one way or another. TVs that didn't have their own Smart TV platforms will have built-in Google TV features or will be Roku Ready. It seems that Smart TVs have become the norm. And, like it or not, TVs are turning into Smart TVs in the same way that cell phones transitioned to smartphones over the last five years. From low-end brands and TV models to the top-of-the-line, most TVs will include a built-in Web browser and be able to stream video and access lifestyle apps.
Smart TVs from Samsung, LG, and Panasonic no longer require a button-push to access apps—Smart TV hubs are now front and center. That is, when you turn on your TV, you see a home screen. From there, you can choose to watch video from your Blu-ray or other connected component, or access TV programming from a screen that is integrated with your cable, satellite, or telco. Once the TV has followed your viewing habits, or after you rate a number of movies, you will see a grid of recommended movies and TV shows without having to turn on a channel guide. Moving beyond entertainment, home screens also provide access to a Web browser, weather, even your personal calendar—evidence that the big screen is becoming the center of our home life and not just the center of our home theater.
Google TV is showing up in a number of 2013 TVs. Vizio, LG, and HiSense are expanding the number of models that will include Google TV fuctionality. In addition to the expanding number of Google TV apps, each manufacturer has added a few of its own apps for streaming home media as well as other apps. The addition of voice search brings Google TV closer to its promise of finding a TV show or movie on live TV, websites, streaming media sites or your home network. While you still can't search a DVR, that feature should be coming sometime this year. Vizio and LG demonstrated the voice search feature by describing a movie rather than searching for a movie title or actor. For example, the search phrase "a movie about Wizards" turned up The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Harry Potter.
Budget TVs may not have the Smart TV features built-in. However, many models from Insignia (Best Buy's brand), Westinghouse Digital, and Hisense are billed as Roku Ready. The Roku Ready feature enables the TV's remote to control the Roku stick, which looks like a USB flash drive and brings the Smart TV experience to a TV when it's plugged into an MHL-enabled HDMI port on the set.
One compelling feature of Google TV and Roku Ready TVs is that they can be easily updated: Google TV through firmware updates and Roku via a new stick. Samsung also recognizes that a built-in Smart TV platform is impractical for TVs. Unlike a smartphone that consumers will upgrade every couple of years, most people see their television as long-term investment. This is the rationale behind the Samsung Smart TV Evolution kit, which when connected to compatible TVs allows hardware and software to be updated every year.
It is no longer a question of whether you want to buy a Smart TV, it is now a question of how you want to interact with it, and whether you want a system that can be upgraded each year as new features become available and interactivity improves. While most of us still choose a TV based on picture and sound performance, Smart TV options will increasingly become part of the buying decision.