Guide to Smart TV
Here is all you need to know about
the latest BIG thing in TV entertainment!
'Smart' has become a trendy word. We have it everywhere; we have smart cars, smart interactive whiteboards, smart homes, smart dimming backlights in LED TVs, etc. Yet, it is the smartphone the best-selling 'smart' device; and it is the success of the latter that inspired TV makers to come with a 'Smart' HDTV.
Smart TV promises a whole new experience in TV entertainment thanks to its access to broadband Internet over your home network. In its most generic form, it refers to a TV with Internet-enabled capabilities, but...
What is a smart television? Is it more than just a PC experience on a big screen TV? What can you do with it? What qualifies for the smart label? Why do you need one? Is there a way to enjoy the same smart TV features without buying a new TV? We answer these and more in this HDTV guide.
Panasonic TC-P65VT60 65" 1080p
3D Plasma TV
The VT60 represents Panasonic premium series for 2013. It is the HDTV that delivers the best value at the top category for use under controlled lighting - capable of superior picture performance no LED TV can attain and a price no OLED TV will ever match.
This Panasonic plasma HDTV is capable of exceptionally deep blacks, accurate colors and excellent grayscale. It used the new Infinite Black Ultra filter together with the new NeoPlasma Black 3000 panel, supports 30K shades of gradation, has THX 3D certification, supports 96Hz playback, is ISFccc ready, and comes with the new touch pad remote, built-in Wi-Fi and VieraConnect.
Inasmuch as 2010 was the year of 3D TV, 2011 was the year of the so called 'Smart HDTVs'. You see, new technology is essential for the industry to survive, yet there is one big difference between the two.
In 2010, 3D TV sales were a total flop; 3D TV failed to generate the sales TV makers expected as the industry was pushing a technology that was still not ready to meet consumer expectations.
Instead, during 2011 Smart TV was a total success. Smart-enabled HDTVs did prove extremely popular with those in the market for a new HDTV. And for 2012, these are expected to be the hottest selling HDTVs at all TV categories.
Partly the reason being that the Smart TV feature is being embedded into a wider range of mid-range and premium HDTVs, yet unlike 3D, this time TV makers seem to have got it right!
In reality, Smart TV is more of a new term than new technology. Yet for HDTV sales, this does not matter; more important for the industry is that it still managed to create a new buzz word to help push HDTV sales at a time when consumers are still weary of the present tough economy. You see, jumping onto a 'Smart TV-enabled' HDTV would cost a premium of around $200. This is the present price difference between the 40-inch Samsung UN40EH6000 and the UN40ES6100 120Hz 2D LED TVs. The EH6000 is Samsung's entry-level 120Hz LED TV while the ES6100 is basically the same as the cheaper EH6000 but comes in a slim package and includes Samsung Smart TV. This extra premium would bring you a Smart-enabled HDTV with web-browser, Skype enabled, and built-in Wi-Fi, meaning you would not need any extra USB wireless dongles to connect to your home network. A similar premium seems to apply for 2012 LG and Panasonic HDTVs.
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In our introduction, we stated that a simplified definition of a smart television is one with Internet-enabled capabilities, also referred to as connected TVs. In this respect, a smart-enabled TV is nothing new. We have seen Internet-enabled features on a number of premium and mid-range HDTVs over past years, booming to a record high during 2010 thanks to lower TV prices.
The well-known US research firm DisplaySearch stated that 21% of the 210 million TVs sold world-wide during 2010 had Internet capabilities, while a recent study of the same US firm shows that sales of Smart TVs is expected to grow at 30% compound annual growth, reaching 123 million shipments worldwide in 2014.
So what is new now?
For the first time, some TV makers started using the term 'Smart' to label its internet-connected HDTVs. The first to do so was Samsung but the label was soon adopted by LG and Philips as well.
There is still no precise industry definition of what features the term 'Smart TV' should encompass. To complicate matters, some TV makers are using different brand names like Panasonic Viera Connect, Vizio VIA Plus and Sony Bravia Internet Video - to refer to the same Internet-enabled TV features.
You can therefore expect a lot of variations in the supported features as delivered by different TV makers. Nevertheless, one very common thing among TV makers is that Smart TV enabled devices all aim at delivering a completely unique TV viewing experience through a broadband Internet connection.
It is unique because it is one that enables consumers to interact with their TVs in a way no other TV entertainment feature has ever managed before. This is being achieved by integrating in a seamless manner, a broad array of personal and Internet-driven content, broadcast programming, and virtually unlimited applications, all viewable on one TV screen.
The best definition we have come across so far comes from Intel in its literature on the Intel® Atom™, the system-on-a-chip processor used among others by Google TV, Sony, and Logitech to provide the demanding processing power needed to bring the level of intelligence and performance required to support smart capabilities; Intel defines smart TV as an experience for entertainment lovers.
Well... Smart TV is definitely an entertainment experience, but what makes this experience so different from any other TV viewing experience?
A Smart TV offers a most comprehensive range of Internet-connected services that are seamlessly integrated and accessible from a single screen on your TV. The latter is often referred to as homepage, dashboard, or hub; Samsung is using the term Smart Hub. These services are not accessible on a standard TV but they complement in a most perfect manner the broadcast programming available on any TV.
What is special is that these Internet-driven services have the potential to provide the user with literally unlimited entertainment possibilities. However, do not be tempted to think that a 'Smart' television is the ultimate cable TV cord-cutting tool. We are almost there but while a Smart TV gives you access to practically unlimited TV content from online service providers like Netflix, amazon video on demand, etc., one thing extremely difficult to replace with online streaming services is live TV, in particular if you are after high definition live TV.
But otherwise, Smart TV gives you access to millions of hours of video from Internet streaming services and personal content/social networking thanks to the presence of an ever increasing lineup of TV apps, DLNA media streaming from your networked computers, games, and Web browsing. The latter is one of the latest additions on Internet-connected televisions originally introduced during 2011, with the difference that now it is being integrated on a much wider range of HDTVs.
Yet, the smart TV experience is more than just an integration of Internet-driven video and personal content services: it is also an interactive one i.e. one that makes it possible to use the TV rather than just watching it.
Interactivity is an essential part as it gives the Smart TV user the ability to instantly find and watch television shows and movies via Internet driven content providers, download Internet applications, and easily navigate between channels and surf the web for a completely new TV entertainment experience.
This means that in essence, a smart television is like having a computer built into your TV to enjoy most of the features and Internet-driven content you enjoy on your laptop—but this time, you would be enjoying it straight on your big screen TV. The larger screen of a TV represents a very attractive solution to displaying apps and other web content.
However there is one very significant difference between a PC with a large screen and Smart TV...
This interactive TV experience calls for a new way of controlling the TV, or rather of controlling the on-screen apps and their complex functionality while doing away with complex remote controls and wireless keyboard devices. Imagine using a laptop or a full-size QWERTY keyboard going through various key strokes each time you have to select or set-up an app, or when browsing through online stores to select a movie or TV show you would like to watch. It simply would not work; remember, you are supposed to be relaxed on your couch enjoying your TV.
In this respect, TV makers are coming up with new simplified ways of controlling the TV. The Intel Atom processor referred to above supports among others voice recognition commands. Voice navigation, gesture controls, and face recognition are among the new ways TV makers have come up to help you control your Smart TV during 2012 without the need for a complex remote control. These make use of a built-in camera in the TV together with complex computer recognition software to accomplish these tasks.
TV gesture control is not new for 2012. In 2011, LG was the first to come with a most innovative approach of controlling its high-end 'Smart' televisions through gesture control with its Magic Motion remote - a derivative of the 2010 magic wand remote used by LG on its flagship series. This uses motion sensors to allow the viewer to naturally control an on-screen cursor to browse pages and make selections in a similar manner to the Nintendo Wii-mote.
Apart from innovative ways of controlling Smart-enabled TVs, most TV makers also provide apps that make it possible to use your Android phone as a TV remote, thus making for a most effective and easy way of controlling your smart TV. The touch screen of your smartphone brings about a level of interactivity with your TV not possible otherwise. The use of a touch screen straight on your HDTV to control the TV is not practical even though LG's 2012 PL6900 high-end plasma TV series incorporates a touch screen! Yet, these Android phone apps make it possible to get the best interactive feature of your Android device to control this new complex Smart TV application layer on your HDTV!
When the first Internet connected TVs appeared on the market a few years ago, many were doubtful as to what extent such a feature would ever be a success. But as this new feature started to take shape and more apps became available, things changed; once you experienced it, you will simply want to have it!
What has brought about this change is the availability of a large number of online video services—including video-on-demand services—that complement your available lineup of broadcast channels with an even greater number of online movies and TV shows which you can stream direct on your TV. Unlike with broadcast content, with online content you are no longer restricted to watching your TV content when it is aired; online driven video is something which you can watch at a time when it is most convenient for you.
In addition, the vast range of available online video content, even in HD, by far exceeds that available from your TV service provider. As things stand today, smart televisions have already the potential to kill conventional cable and satellite TV services even though as expressed earlier on, we are not there yet with live TV.
This unlimited online content available on smart TVs is further complemented by an equally interesting feature called DLNA streaming. This is nothing new in that DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) certified streaming support over network-connected TVs and related networked home theater devices like Blu-ray players, home theater receivers and wireless media players has been available for a number of years. A DLNA-enabled TV will let you stream multimedia content like movies, photos, and music, stored on networked PCs, smartphones and other devices connected to your network without copying that content onto a disk or USB stick.
This means that if you are the type that downloads a lot of video or music content from the Internet, a Smart TV with DLNA support will give you direct access to that content straight on your TV in a most convenient way without the need for a separate media player set-top box.
We have discussed Smart TV, now we answer a few most common questions many may have when it comes to the latest Internet-connected HDTVs.
What TV apps are available on a 'Smart HDTV'?
The list of available TV apps varies from one TV brand to another, but in general the most popular apps are available on all TVs irrespective of make. Note however that the actual list of apps available to you is also dependent on your geographic location since not all services are available worldwide.
A typical app lineup can be divided into five main categories - video/movie and music apps, sports, real-time gaming, information and news apps, lifestyle, and more.
Movie apps like Vudu/Vudu Plus, Netflix, CinemaNow and Amazon VOD take video-on-demand content to a new level; these apps let you download and stream content in real-time from movie stores and TV libraries—giving you endless hours of online content and numerous options—like making it possible for you to view TV shows you might have missed.
Music lovers can stream music on their smart TVs while personalizing their own TV radio station with apps like Pandora.
Gamers looking for real-time interaction will surely appreciate their smart TV big screen which can easily serve as a virtual playground for games like Texas Hold’em and QuizzMaster.
Informational apps like AccuWeather, USA Today or Google Maps will keep you updated with the latest weather reports for your area, news, and more.
Is it possible to add New TV Apps?
You can always add apps to your TV. The list of available new free apps would generally download to your TV every time you update your smart TV platform. All you have to do is to select the apps you like to download; once downloaded, these will automatically install on your TV.
Hundreds of apps are also available at a minimal cost from the respective manufacturers' TV apps store. As with apps for smartphones, TV makers are hoping the popularity of paid apps would turn out to be a great monetization source.
Buying new apps is easy; all it takes is to go to the apps menu on your TV, select the app you want to purchase and click on 'Buy now' - but first you have to register your TV (or in that case your Internet-connected device like a Blu-ray player or Home theater component) with the respective TV maker apps store.
Are TV Apps interchangeable between different TV brands?
The simple and straightforward answer is NO. All of the different smart TVs use their own unique operating environment.
How do I access and control my TV apps?
All smart TVs come with what is referred to as homepage or dashboard from where you can access all TV apps and control your smart TV functionality.
How do I connect a Smart Television to the Internet?
Smart-enabled TVs require access to a fast broadband Internet connection accessible via your home network. How fast depends on whether you will want to stream HD content straight on your TV; in general an 8Mbps connection is the recommended minimum for instant streaming/viewing of HD content.
Wired Connection: Preferably, the TV network connection should be carried out over Ethernet. A wired network connection gives you the necessary network connection stability without interference from the often numerous neighboring wireless networks; it also guarantees more than enough network speed for the best HD video stream performance.
Wireless Connection: If wired is not an option, you can always use either the built-in Wi-Fi interface if available on your HDTV, or simply plug in the optional USB 2.0 dongle available for your TV.
Note that TV Wi-Fi USB dongles are not interchangeable between different TV brands as Internet-connected TVs and other connected devices come with only the respective dongle driver software installed. This means that the smart TV platform would not be able to recognize different hardware.
USB Wi-Fi dongles typically cost no more than $100 - with the average selling price being between $60 and $80.
What if I do not want to buy a new HDTV: Can I still enjoy the latest 'Smart' TV feature?
There is no doubt the easiest and most straightforward way to enjoy the latest Smart TV functionality is to buy a new HDTV. TV makers are doing their best to entice you in buying the latest HDTVs by producing sets capable of exceptional performance and a most extensive feature set at truly affordable prices.
But what if you do not need to buy a new HDTV?
You can still enjoy Smart TV by investing in one of the many Internet-connected devices like Blu-ray players and home theater system components that come with the latest smart TV application. These definitely represent a cheaper alternative to buying a new HDTV.
We are also starting to see a few wireless media players with the smart TV feature onboard. One such inexpensive option is NTV200 NeoTV streaming player from Netgear (shown here) which comes pre-loaded with a most extensive lineup of TV apps.