Three terms that spell out the future of TV...but is Smart TV really converged, connected, and Smart?
Smart TV is a term which describes the bringing together of the internet via phones, tablet PCs and every other communication device we use - merging them and converging them with the big information and entertainment box in our living rooms. It's true connected TV - connecting with the internet in ways not seen so far.
But can you really get the full promise of Smart TV right now, or is it just a future dream? Will true Smart TV only be available when the Apple TV eventually arrives? Is it too early to start reading Smart TV reviews to get an idea whether now is actually the right time to take the plunge and get hold of one?
Unless you've lived in a box for the last few years, you'll have heard of smartphones - devices which not only offer standard talk and text, but a lot more as well such as web browsing, email, taking snaps, and in some cases even full HD video recording and playback capability. You'll have heard of the iPad and other tablet Pcs - powerful portable devices that have rapidly relegated the home PC to near obscurity. If you've thought about buying a new TV over the last year or so, you might well recognise the term 'Smart' instantly.
But the reality is that the current crop of models on the market fall short of the fully convergent and social TV solution that will really change the face of television - thus transforming an industry which has seen constant change over recent years. We've seen the introduction of plasma and LCD technology, IPTV, internet TV programming, the increasingly popular catch up TV or streaming TV providers, and in the last couple of years 3D TV at home.
Although there are many models that profess to be connected and Smart, they don't offer the convergence that's really required to change our deep rooted views of the place of TV in our lives. Until someone fully develops a converged TV solution which does allow us to combine all our devices into one seamless integrated solution, we'll need to work with Smart TV technology as it is now and look to the current offerings as a way of preparing for that future integrated solution.
And there's nothing particularly wrong with what's available right now. 2012 looks set to see the best TVs yet, with innovations and enhancements abundantly obvious in the major manufacturers flagship Smart TV models. If you are getting close to buying, don't miss out on my Smart TV buying guide which covers pretty much everything you might want to know.
So Smart Television - or connected TV as it's also known - currently offers a way of connecting to the internet via your TV. Purely and simply, that's what it is. But the promise is, of course, that it's much much more than just that. Researchers have predicted that a third of homes in the US will have 'fully interactive TV' by 2015. Globally it'll be many times that number. That's a huge market, and one which will ensure that improvements keep on coming.
The holy grail is a TV which is a full multimedia device, combining every other device we use to provide one focal point that can be used as and when we want it. Smart TV needs to give us standard TV, it needs to give us web access, it needs to give us social interaction just as we get with our mobile phones and laptops right now. It needs to be fully interactive, with gesture and voice control TV features thrown in too.
It needs to do that by combining all the features of smartphones, iPads, and laptops that we use now to give us a seamless, converged solution. And it needs to do that by offering all of the options we get from TVs now - including the choices of display technology such as LCD, LED, plasma, OLED, or QD TV - plus the extra option of 3D TV which is becoming a standard add on to most sets. And it needs to be affordable, it's no good placing pricing models into the ranges where we have to win money to be able to buy one.
The answer might well end up being the Apple TV, though you can be certain that manufacturers such as LG, Toshiba, and Samsung won't be far behind.
Smart TV - Social TV - IPTV - Catch Up TV - On Demand TV - Internet TV, and Internet Connected TV - What Does It All Mean?
It's easy to get confused by the terms you'll see when reading up on Smart TV, but it's simpler to understand if you look on those differences from a perspective of hardware, software, and watchable content.
These TVs (we can also label them as internet connected TVs, connected TVs, or converged TVs) are the vehicles for getting access to content. They're the hardware that's used as the basis for getting that content, and displaying it to you on a screen..
On Demand TV (video on demand), catch up TV, IPTV or Internet TV offers the content. The movies, the shows, the documentaries. You'll probably already be familiar with On Demand TV, which has exploded in popularity over recent years. Basically it let's you watch what you want and when you want. Catch up TV is another name for it.
IPTV takes the principle of on-demand TV another step further, giving you the choice of watching a movie from the start or jumping to any scene, or just watching short clips or even tuning into multiple channels at the same time. It's a general term that covers programming transmitted from the internet via an internet connection. All of these services can be grouped under the term of streamed TV.
What Is Streaming TV
Nowadays, there are several online providers offering high definition streaming TV services and instant downloads of all your favourite TV programmes, movies, and videos. They're playable on your computer, television, games console or mobile device - either by monthly subscription or by one off payments as and when you want to watch something.
You can read more about streaming TV services on the dedicated web page, but as a taster here are some of the individual streamed TV providers:
As we mentioned earlier, watching TV has to now been almost entirely a passive experience. But even when Smart TV does give us true interactive capabillity, then what can we do with it?
One of the answers lies in interactive television. Basically this term describes any TV with what is known as a 'return path'. This means that information can flow via the TV screen from the broadcasting source to the viewer (ie normal TV content or programming), but also can receive information back from the viewer depending on an action or instruction they make. You can see how this feature then opens up the ability to deliver content specifically to that viewer, relevant to the choices they make via interaction.
Reality TV, social networking, and sports related content are great examples of where interactive TV can give something extra to the experience. Just consider how you could react to what is happening on these in real time. There are great opportunities for content programmers and creators to work on how interaction can work with these types of programmes, and to work out how to converge content from tablets and smartphones to work in conjunction with what you are watching on the big screen.
It's already being done, with apps such as IntoNow from Yahoo, Yap.tv, and GetGlue allowing us you to interact with TV shows and engage with your friends while they're watching the same show. Twitter is another good example, with radio and TV shows increasingly encouraging interaction from watchers by promoting their Twitter hash tags.
Watching TV really can be a personal, social, and entertaining activity at the same time. The time is right for new viewing experiences that combine and converge all of these activities in easy to use ways will transform the TV viewing experience and open up new opportunities in many areas.
What Is Social TV?
Social Television is a general term that describes how your appetite for social networking can be satisfied and enhanced by combining social online activity with content that you watch on any display screen, or to put it more simply by offering the ability to chat with friends and family while each of you watch different programmes.
Good examples include email, chat, texting, or video conferencing via a display while watching. This could be directly via a Smart capable TV, or using a converged device such as a tablet or smartphone either standalone or in conjunction with the TV screen.
It's import to recognise that social TV does not necessarily mean interaction via your living room TV set, though of course that's ideally positioned to work well for that social interaction. You can watch TV content on any number of different devices, so the social TV aspect can in theory be made use of on any of them.
GetGlue is a useful site that now has more than 2 million members. At GetGlue you can discuss shows with friends online as you watch.
What Is Converged TV?
Converged TV describes the way that our mobile devices - on which we're spending more and more time while watching Tv at the same time - are coming together, or converging, with the big TV in our living rooms to deliver one combined experience. It brings in the term 'second screen' which you'll see many times when reading any TV industry analysts output.
It's easy to see from this how important the convergence technology is becoming. If the two can't be combined, they'll remain separate. That's a good and bad thing, depending on your viewpoint. There will be those among us that prefer that separation, that don't like the idea of our smartphones and TVs being integrated. Those who do take that view probably do so because they're comfortable with the passive experience that TV has traditionally delivered.
But the reality is that social TV is on a meteoric rise, and for it to continue that rise it needs to be available on - and integrated with - all the devices that we might use for social media access today.
Because of that, continuing developments in the convergence of TV are assured. TV Everywhere is one solution, and is worth investigating.
Voice & Gesture Controlled TV - The Future Of Smart Television?
Although details are sketchy, there have been rumours that the major innovation expected when Apple release their Apple TV is its capability to work using a combination of Siri powered voice recognition and gesture controls. Certainly these types of features have some potential to make remote controls obsolete as we know them. Imagine the capability to change channels or interact with the wave of a hand or a spoken command.
The first rumours about the Apple TV kicked off towards the end of 2011, so there has been time for other manufacturers to come up with their own solution. Samsung, Microsoft, Nuance, LG, and Lenovo have all been quick off the mark, with LG getting a potential first mover advantage with their announcement that 2012 models will have gesture and voice controls to some extent.
Nuance Dragon TV was also one of the first off the block in voice controlled TV development. It gives a viewer capability to watch a show by speaking its name, or search on shows featuring specific actors by speaking their names. Access can be made to social network sites such as Facebook just by using spoken commands, or calling up a friend on Skype just by voice command. We may well find the Nuance solution incorporated into the next generation of connected TVs.
Microsoft are building similar functionality into their Xbox gaming console, based on the motion tracking capability of the Kinect. LG are also showing a voice controlled remote at the 2012 CES show. Not to be outdone, Lenovo have announced their Smart TV model - known as the K91 - which runs on Android 4.0 and can be operated by voice control. The Lenovo K91 is getting its first public display at CES 2012 and also delivers 3D capability. Chinese viewers will get the first chance to buy one of the 42 inch or 55 inch LED 3D sets some time in the first half of the year getting videoconferencing capability thrown in via the 5 megapixel camera that's included.
...And Cloud TV?
You've probably heard of cloud based services - they're all about being able to back up and access all of your media to and from a virtual location, instead of your local hard drive. Cloud based services for home users have been hitting the headlines for the value of cloud gaming.
But advances in technology are now bringing the cloud and your TV closer together too. There are new solutions that get you access to your mobile computing devices via your Smart TV. One such solution can be seen in the partnership between Samsung and SugarSynch, the first cloud based service to be integrated with a TV. By using the Samsung Allshare service you can access the SugarSynch cloud and stream any of your stored video content.
This is one of the first real steps to true convergence between all devices, something we've already noted is the holy grail of Smart Television development.
What Do You Get With Smart TV?
The central factor in all of the devices we use currently for communication and entertainment is connectivity - a big part of this being internet-connected services. Email, browsing the web, and online chat are the obvious and most used ones, but a host of other visual entertainment and information areas fall into this category too. Photo sharing and video sharing are good examples. Video conferencing is yet another. Besides these there are dozens of others including;
• Sports • Movies • Cable TV shows • Local weather • Stock reports • Making online payments • Social Networking
...And many more.
And the way you get access to all of these on a TV now is mainly via apps. The possibilities are limited only by the capabilities of the hardware. Apps are everywhere - for example as of June 2011 there were over 400,000 different apps on sale for the iPhone and iPad in Apple’s store.
There is no longer a need to buy cable or satellite subscriptions, or game consoles to stream video directly from the Internet. Some remote control menus will also feature a Facebook app, search bar, and a YouTube app tied together. This way, you can connect to your favorite
social networking and video sharing sites without going to a computer. Internet-connected TVs receive Internet connections automatically and can play videos, movies, TV shows, and cable.
You can also download apps, enjoy smart gaming, take part in TV betting, access film reviews before deciding how you’re going to spend your Friday evening, and perhaps most significantly of all, take advantage of something called Internet Protocol TV (IPTV). This means streaming shows directly off the web, as long as you have the bandwidth to do it (and the data allowance to match).
Wherever you are in the world, Smart TV is being set up to be one of the normal and accepted ways for you to take advantage of movie streaming from popular websites, access and interact with social networking sites, play online games via cloud gaming services, and download apps in much the same way as a smartphone does.
And don't forget the reason why we have TVs in the first place. Getting access to the internet on your TV is an enhancement. On any Smart TV, you can still watch traditional HD programming or movies and play games, either by hooking up to a Blu Ray or games console, by signing up for a cable or streaming TV service, or by using regular terrestrial TV channels.
Many new TVs are being developed with both Smart and 3D capability. Seemingly the best of all worlds. Even though the success of 3D TV has been questionable, it's still early days and there's plenty of time for 3D to become the norm. Most manufacturers are positioning their 3D TV models at the top of their ranges. When you buy one you're guaranteeing to get an ultra high quality 2D HD set with 3D capability thrown in. Choose one with Smart capability as well and you've got the perfect solution in place for converged entertainment.
Smart TV Gaming - Cloud Gaming
One of the biggest sources of content used online today is in gaming, and Smart televisions themselves are of course not the only way to get into gaming. While more and more apps (such as Angry Birds) can be installed on Smart TVs, you can of course buy a separate gaming console such as a Wii, XBOX or a Playstation to get play cloud games. Also, there are gaming networks that you can install onto your computer: for example, Onlive, Cloud Gaming, Playjam and Steam.
It’s inevitable that as technology becomes better, smart TV gaming will simply become the norm for most people who have a TV. LG announced early in 2012 an intention to assimilate the Gaikai cloud gaming platform into their future models. Gaikai is a service that LG say runs on more powerful cloud hardware than the PS3 and Xbox.
Onlive have also announced a similar deal with Google TV.
Where To Buy?
The growth of the internet has changed the way we shop. Year on year, the amount we spend online is increasing. Some of the figures quoted are near unbelievable. We're talking billions. So it won't be any surprise that the best place overall to buy a Smart TV is online. The prices are often that much better, it's reliable, convenient, and there are some widely trusted shopping sites who carry big ranges with lots of choice - and give valuable supporting info too.
The most obvious to mention is Amazon, but really they're the tip of the iceberg. Across different regions of the world there are dozens more. I won't try to cover them here, there's a dedicated 'buy a Smart TV' page where the different electrical retailers and department stores are listed.
One thing you can't do online of course is to try before you buy. It's a real good idea to do this, especially with an expensive purchase. There's nothing stopping you from getting some demos at a bricks and mortar store to see what really looks good and performs well.
What's The Real Future For Smart TV?
TVs have traditionally been seen as receivers of information and entertainment in the form of images, but the Internet was originally designed to be a giver of information. Both have evolved. The internet has for many years been transforming into both a visual receiving tool, a communication tool, and an information providing tool. It is already now a true interactive network, but it's availability has been through more personalised devices such as mobile phones, laptops and personal tablet PCs.
The current crop of Smart TVs offer the first step towards converging the TV with all those other devices - to provide one network which gives access to information, communication, interactivity, and entertainment. Over the coming years we can expect to see rapid improvements of user interfaces or smart portals - ultimately to the point where we can watch multiple simultaneous sports events, for example, and have them coded in some way to show where the best of the action is happening.
There's little doubt that the TV is positioned perfectly to be the centre of such a network, while offering users the option of still using their TV as a traditional watching device and still using all those other personal devices for internet access. The option is what counts. We still need to be able to just watch TV with family or friends, but it's easy to see what extras we can all get from having internet access on our big screens too.
Look at it this way. Most of us do have laptops or smartphones. But not all of us.
Most people do have a TV though. It's an obvious display point in our homes.
It will most often be situated somewhere comfortable and relaxing.
So it's a ready made monitor, perfectly positioned for comfortable viewing.
Now consider the convergence of content from our smartphones and tablets with the TV screen. As data speeds on internet access improve, future possibilities are limited only by our imaginations. The potential uses are clear - social interaction around the images we're seeing, video conferencing with friends or family controlled by our phones but watched on the TV display, any form of internet content displayed on screen but selected and searched by our mobile devices, completely immersive online games. All are no doubt on the way to our living rooms.
But are our TV sets definitely going to play a big part?
Potential developments such as the truly internet-integrated Apple TV are surely going to clear the waters.
Other innovations are on the cards. These might include built in cameras for video-conferencing, or facial recognition capabilities that work to adapt and display relevant content for the actual person watching the display, or stunning apps we haven't even thought of yet. All of these have tremendous potential.
Youtube access is available on virtually all models, and their future developments - once true interaction between viewer and on screen content is possible - are likely to be focussed on delivering thousands of individual channels where viewers can be 'rewarded' for paricipation. An example of this might be where fans can shape the ending of a programme by posting comments, another where you might be able to change the viewing perspective on a sports game. We may no longer be limited to what's being shown to us, but able to affect what's being shown by our choices.
One thing is sure. The experience you get now on a Smart TV is pretty much either a 'watching TV' one or a 'playing with apps' one. Research has shown that many of us watch TV on TV, but use our mobile devices for internet access separately. The real future - or at least the one that's really going to make connected TV popular - is one where either those mobile devices are integrating with what we see on screen, or if our TVs can show content that combines the internet with the actual programme on screen.
Older Smart TV News
9th Feb - Samsung 2012 Range Release Plans - Samsung are planning to release their new 8000 series line up globally within the next couple of months. Some models will be the first to ship with a built in upgrade capability and voice/gesture controls. The Japanese manufacturer also plans to release its first Google TV model towards the end of the year. In a surprise move Samsung have set a lower end price cap on their new models. This means that retailers will not be able to go lower with special deals and pricing, keeping samsung's prices higher than other manufacturers.
8th Feb - Samsung's New Voice Activated Remote Control - Following on from LG's Wii type motion operated remote control, Samsung have announced their first voice activated remote will ship with one of their TV models later in 2012.
7th Feb 2012 - LG Partner With Unity Games To Develop Mass Demand For Smart TV Gaming The partnership is intended to bring a wide collection of Unity's gaming library and make them available on LG's line up of 2012 Smart models. The move looks sure to act as a catalyst for an increase in demand for Smart gaming on televisions, with the Unity library containing an increasing number of highly popular titles.
Jan 30th - Sky Announce New Internet TV Platform - Sky are tackling one of the Smart content problems by launching a new internet TV platform that gives an alternative to subscription based pay TV services. The service will start up inthe first half of this year, initially showing movies but expanding later to include entertainment and sports programmes.
Jan 25th - New Smart DVR Solution From Simple TV Smart technology was all the rage at the CES show of 2012. So much so that the announcement from Simple TV on the launch of their first Smart DVR went somewhat unnoticed. That was a surprise because Simple TV have an elegant solution that turns any device such as an iPad, Boxee, Google TV - or even any web browser - into a full DVR that you can access and activate from anywhere.
Jan 20th - LGs New Social TV Partnership - LG and TouchTV will team up to deliver a potentially explosive social TV solution. TouchTV - offering viewers the chance to choose to watch different trending events at any time promises to break new ground for millions of LG TV owners.
Jan 16th - New Toshiba Apps - Toshiba offer an exciting Smart portal in Toshiba Places, and are set to launch three new apps in spring this year to further build out their content. The most interesting of these include one for remote controls named TRAC (Tablet Remote App Capable) - turning their tablet PCs into remote controls for TV sets. Another is called Mediashare, which will enable Toshiba TV owners to share content from their smartphones and laptops onto the TV screen via DLNA and WiFi connection.
Jan 11th - New Super Smart Samsung Models - Samsung have announced plans to release a 55 inch OLED display Smart 3D TV in 2012. With smart voice recognition capability and some form of gesture control interface thrown in, the TV has potential to become one of the leaders of the new 2012 model ranges.
Along with a dual processor to improve ability for multi tasking, Samsung are promising the sets will be future proofed to. This will be achieved by being able to use slots in the back of the TVs to accept cards which will upgrade the sets with any new smart features or improvements to speed and performance.
Samsung also showed their revolutionary Transparent Smart Window model at CES. It's a 22 inch display that works as a normal display but also has see through capability just like a window.
Jan 10th 2012 - Toshiba Smart 3D TVs - Toshiba unveiled 2 new Smart 3D TV models at CES 2012 - the L7200 and L6200. Both with ultra thin bezels and a 5 model range of sizes from 42 up to 55 inches.
Jan 6 2012 - Espial Web Browser - The early January 2012 CES show in Las Vegas will see a demonstration of Espial's high performance TV web browser. Espial promise that their browser will deliver desktop quality performance, with ability to display the full range of video and other content found on websites on the internet.
Jan 6 - Sungale Cloud TV Box - The Sungale TV box is a new set top unit that's been designed to stream video and web content to a connected TV and other converged mobile devices. After becoming available in March, the box will be able to deliver cloud TV to users by connecting into Sungale's Cloud database.
Jan 6 - Win An Internet TV - Both Samsung Australia and The Telegraph newspaper in the UK are running easy to enter competitions to win a Smart TV.
Jan 5 2012 - LG New Smart TVs 2012 - LG are focussing on improvement and innovation this year, and are expected to announce new plans at the CES show in January.
Jan 5 2012 - Roku Streaming Stick - Roku's target for their new streaming stick is to be able to compete with the new Smart TV models of 2012. The stick is a small dongle - similar to a USB flash drive - that plugs in to the HDMI port of any MHL compatible TV giving it Smart capability. No need for a cable or separate streaming box. The device will probably become available towards the end of the year.
The growth of Smart TV and its transformation from an app based 'on the TV screen' solution to a fully integrated 'combine all the content from all your devices onto one screen' one, promises a major revolution in the way we access and use the internet. The TV is the most perfectly suited of all household appliances to deliver true smart entertainment.
But it needs to be effortless, delivering that Smart content in a way that matches the ease of current delivery via tablets, smartphones, PCs, and laptops. The TV itself needs to be as easy to use as the standard TVs we're all used to using.
It's early days, and time may well show that the current Smart TV models are falling short of their true potential. We already can see that many of the current services you can get access to on a TV you can also get from a PC, laptop, or smartphone.
That's about to change. The Apple Smart TV may be the first true internet-based fully integrated model when it's released some time in 2012. Before then though, there's still time for one of the major TV manufacturers to surprise us with their own high quality solution.
Already interest is growing. There are predictions that shipments of internet ready devices - smartphones, games consoles, internet TVs - will number over 750 million units by the end of 2015, with 100 million Smart TVs situated in our homes by the end of 2016 .
That said, the ultimate Smart TV solution isn't with us yet. Many people will be holding off to wait for future developments. Any TV purchase is still a big one, and it's unlikely we'll see the same upgrade curves as we've seen with smartphones and the like. That said, if and when something truly ground-breaking does arrive, there's every chance we'll be clamouring to get our credit cards out. Those early adopters of Smart models will surely be looking to upgrade if there's a promise of a real Smart experience, and anyone who's been sitting on the fence will be sorely tempted too.
2012 will be an interesting year for Smart TV developments. The pace of change is accelerating, and old trends of updating your home TV every 5-8 years may be on the way out. The real innovations are yet to come!
During the first few months of 2012 most of the news surrounding Smart TVs will be focussed on the Apple iTV - which promises to break new ground in TV development.
The very latest rumour as seen around 7th Feb is that Apple are already working with various firms to identify partners with wireless and broadband skills. The plot thickens.
19th April 2012 - IKEA's New Intergrated Smart TV Range The hugely popular Swedish furniture store are planning to venture into the TV market with the future release of their integrated UPPLEVA range.
The solution will include a full HD TV, Blu-ray/DVD/CD Player, 2.1 sound system, FM Radio, and input for an iPod - all designed to fit in seamlessly with various IKEA storage solutions. We'll see the UPPLEVA in various European countries in June this year.
It's a good question, isn't it. TV has always been seen as a passive medium. You sit down, relax, and watch.
But times are changing. There have been a number of surveys that show the number of people using smartphones and laptops at the same time as watching TV is sharply increasing. While we're focussing with one eye on the screen watching a popular show such as The X Factor or The Apprentice, we’re busy making comments on Facebook or Twitter to our friends about what’s happening on screen. This infographic shows some good examples of the the changing way we use our televisions.
Smart TV is heading towards giving us the choice of doing all of this on the TV screen, or acting to converge the different devices. The goal is that instead of having to use two screens, you can do it all on one big one, with your social networks appearing on screen at the same time as the programmes you are watching. This opens up the option to enjoy true interactive TV, sharing, participating in, or customising what's being displayed in ways never seen before.
What Are Smart TV Apps?
Smart TV allows you to search for online content via multiple platforms - including the internet, media or streaming players, and portable communication devices. Smart TV apps are the software options or programmes that give you those options of which content to access, just the same as the apps you can download for a smartphone or tablet PC. In effect, they're short cuts to internet websites, but they have been specially designed to be easily selected on a TV screen.
They don't necessarily all involve ways to watch movies or traditional TV content via streaming TV services. They can also be used to access music services, or information such as weather.
Each Smart TV manufacturer offers a variety of apps many of which are the same - popular ones such as Flickr, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Amazon's LoveFilm and Skype all spring to mind - but many also offer apps which are proprietary to the manufacturer concerned. You can download new apps at Smart TV app stores and many stores have a wide range of options to choose from.
More and more apps are becoming available and the choice is going to grow massively as developers adapt apps that have been created for other portable devices into ones that work well with the Smart TV displays.
Website AppMarket.tv carries a huge amount of info covering the latest news and developments surrounding Smart TV apps and widgets.
Samsung have a dedicated Samsung apps page that gives a good overview of what apps mean for Smart TV use.
Here are a few lesser known examples of apps and widgets.....
The Showtime TV widget lets you access fight information, photos, and videos on screen during the Showtime boxing shows.
The HSN widget will allow you to buy items by using your remote control or your smart phone without ever having to leave the couch.
The iPhone has it's own inbuilt remote control function that controls your Apple TV.
The CBS widget is a useful one that lets you get facts and info about different TV show characters.
The ABC widget lets you view actor information, photos, and videos during a televised show. While watching a commercial, you can find local providers of the advertised service and other buying info such as videos and 'create your own' multimedia.
What Are Smart TV Portals?
To display and give access to the apps open to you on any manufacturers TV those manufacturers have put together what's known as Smart TV portals, each with their own branded name. The portal is in effect the window on the internet for each manufacturer. Examples include:
• LG Smart TV • Panasonic Viera Connect • Philips Net TV • Samsung SmartHub • Sony Bravia Internet Video • Toshiba Places • Sharp AqousNet (soon to be Sharp SmartCentral)
How Do I Get Smart TV?
Direct access to the internet from the set itself isn’t necessary in order to take advantage of a lot of what smart TVs offer. It's obvious that Smart content is available by using a suitable TV, but there are other ways to get Smart as well. The two most obvious methods (and substantially cheaper options too) are by using Smart Blu Ray Players or Internet TV box streaming devices. Essentially these are both forms of Smart TV upgraders - the easiest way to get the features without the cost of a fully loaded new TV set.
DLNA (Digitial Living Network Alliance) is based on the universal plug-and-play standard for sharing media among devices on your home network, extending it to cover a range of devices from printers to portable hard disks. It allows you to connect other networked devices like phones, PDAs and computers directly into the TV. This means you can plug your USB stick into the set and watch the movies and photos plus listen to the streamed music that's stored on it (most smart TVs now also support video codecs based on the MP4 compression standard, like DivX).
Smart TVs that are DLNA certified - that's pretty much all of them - can play movies, photos, and music from your PC, smartphone, and many other devices that connect to your wireless network.
2. Smart Blu Ray Players
Blu Ray Players are the latest iteration of the older style DVD players, offering significantly higher quality imaging and extra features. Smart Blu-ray devices are already on the market that come with Smart apps built in and ready to use. They work though in the same way as TVs by hooking them up to ethernet connections, attaching wireless dongles, or using inbuilt wireless connectivity.
Smart Blu Ray Players are potentially more limited than TVs from a Smart usage perspective, in that it's not always possible to download extra apps after you've purchased in the same way you can with many TVs.
But that limitation has not stopped them from becoming hugely popular, with that popularity confirmed with early 2012 announcements by Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, Vizio, and Panasonic of releases of enhanced new models to their ranges throughout 2012.
3. Internet TV Boxes
Internet TV boxes are a third alternative. These work by connecting them to a TV to provide the Smart capability.
An example of a set top box is the Roku Player. Roku boxes are devices that can handle receiving content from hundreds of channels including HBO, Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu and Pandora. You can get one for around $50.
Other good examples of internet streaming devices include Boxee, Veebeam, and the future Youview Box. Veebeam is particularly interesting in that it connects to your home PC or laptop, and from there streams content over wireless to your TV. Great stuff.
Future similar devices include the Logitech Revue TV Box and the Cloud TV Box from Sungale, similarly designed for delivering Cloud TV and web content to TV displays. These will follow on from the early 2012 release of the Philips HMP2000.
4. Smart TV Dongles
Unless you have a newer Smart set with built in WiFi connectivity, and if you want to avoid using cables to connect your TV to your home broadband, you'll need a dongle. These look very similar to USB devices, and plug in to a connection point in the back of the TV. You can read more about dongles for Smart TVs on the dedicated page.
Recent developments by companies such as Roku and Always Innovating have focussed on development of dongles that remove the need to buy streaming boxes. In effect they're portable versions of those set top internet TV boxes. These dongles are similar to USB flash drives and provide an easy to use solution to getting Smart capability on a standard HD TV.
Roku's target for their new streaming stick is to be able to compete with the new Smart TV models of 2012. The stick is a small dongle that plugs in to the HDMI port of any MHL compatible TV giving it Smart capability. It'll probably become available towards the end of the year.
Always Innovating also have a dongle that they promise can turn any HD TV into a Smart TV. It can enable access to all the normal smart features such as streaming internet video, movies, and games. Operation is by a special remote control that can also work on voice activation. Distribution is intended to be via licensing agreements.
5. Games Consoles
It might be surprising to learn that games consoles also are able to offer a number of Smart TV features. In fact they've developed into technically sophisticated devices, and if you're an avid gamer you'll have known this for years. Each of the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii can give internet access for playing multiplayer games, getting emails, watching streamed TV etc.
The Xbox in particular has a lot of potential thanks to the Kinect camera, an impressive device that opens up all kinds of possibilities for an Xbox TV type experience.
6. Set Top Cameras
The set top camera solution is a brand new one from Samsung. Announced at the CES show in early 2012, it's known as the Samsung inTouch. Samsung have devised a solution that combines a Wi-Fi camera with your TV to deliver 720p high HD video along with internet apps such as Youtube and Skype, all mixed up with a built in web browser. The camera is due to be released in March 2012 at a cost of around $200.
Samsung promise the camera will provide a fun to use interactive feature set giving Smart capability to older HD Tvs that don't have networking capability.
The inTouch camera can be mounted on top of an HD TV set, shelf or table, and tilted at up to 30 degrees to get any viewer in shot. Connection to a wireless broadband network is straightforward, with connection madfe to the TV via a standard HDMI cable.
By connecting to Skype and using a mic and speakers, Samsung's inTouch camera gives you the ability to connect with family and friends around the world in an HD video confrrence right from the comfort of your own living room.
7. Optical Disc Drives
It's Samsung again, throwing everything they have at the Smart revolution.
The Japanese manufacturing giant have announced their Optical SMART Hub - an optical disc drive (ODD) - which can be used for storing, backing up and accessing all of your media content. In addition it can operate as a wireless router giving full wireless connection at home.
Samsung's Smart Hub is expected to release in the first few months of 2012 at a price of around $130.
8. Smart TV Cards
A Smart TV card is a device similar to a modem card that plugs into a laptop, transforming it into a Smart capable device. Smart cards for TVs are covered in more depth on the dedicated page on this site.
How Smart TV Works
In essence, to make a TV Smart all the manufacturers are doing is putting a computer processor inside the set and adding a way of connecting to your broadband internet. That's done either by using networking ports connected via an ethernet connector at the back of the set, or through wireless connectivity either via a separately attached dongle or built in to the set. All you have to do is add your new connected TV to your home network, just as you would your Wi-Fi notebook or laptop.
Some of these Internet TVs will connect with just an Ethernet cable. You can connect this to your modem or router for an Internet connection. Most TVs now have an HDMI output to connect to other devices.
The TV is then able to present the Smart options on screen - for example in the form of apps - which you can then select to choose the option you want.
Smart TVs are now beginning to be designed with a 20×9 aspect ratio, giving additional viewing area over standard aspect ratio sets at 16×9. All content is shown in 16×9 currently. You can see how this leaves additional space for displaying additional internet content side by side with the programmes you're watching. New Smart TV displays can continue to show all video content in 16×9 but with added space for viewing additional content such as news feeds, Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, email notifications, and other information related to the programmes being watched.
How Does A Smart TV Connect To The Internet?
The major TV manufacturers know that if they want Connected TV to be successful they need to make it easy to use. Smart TVs feature either a built-in Ethernet port or Wi-Fi dongle option, but having a port and having a network to connect it to are quite different things. There are a few ways to consider hooking up your Smart TV to your network.
All TVs come with an Ethernet port allowing you to plug in a cable that simply connects to your home broadband.
But this does mean your TV needs to be situated within reasonable cabling distance, so Wi-Fi capability is also becoming available on many sets to add extra freedom for the location of the set. Wireless capability is often enabled by use of a dongle that plugs into the TV, but it's worth remembering that not all TV models are shipped with a dongle included (you may need to buy one separately), and also a dongle is only likely to work with the type of set it's been designed for.
That said, more and more sets are being built that offer wireless connectivity that don't need a dongle to work. The WiFi (dongle) is built into the set itself.
There is a risk with wireless connection that you may see a loss in streaming quality when watching high quality video over the connection. One option to overcome this is to use any one of a range of different powerline products to form a high quality bridge between your TV and broadband supply router.
Results of this solution might vary depending on the quality of your wiring and the distance between TV and router, but the good thing is you'll see a definite result one way or the other - it either works or it doesn't work at all.
If you do find problems with WiFi connectivity, it's always an option to use a longer length of ethernet cable and disguise it behind furniture or a well positioned rug. Inelegant perhaps, but it does work.
Do I Need A Special Remote Control?
Remote controls are an expected part of every TV. The recently released Playstation 3D TV surprisingly came without one and that caused massive surprise and negative reactions from Playstation gamers.
That was a one-off. Certainly every Smart TV will come with a remote control suitable for its use. To download apps you simply follow the instructions on screen and you can use pop-up on-screen keyboards to type. But LG offers a remote control that works more like a computer mouse on its top-end models while Samsung’s top-range sets come with a touch remote that has a small LCD screen, meaning you can watch another channel to the one that’s showing on the main set. Many Smart TVs also allow you to use your smartphone or Android handset as a remote control too!
Is Broadband Speed A Problem?
You're probably well aware of how your broadband speed affects how you surf the web or watch video on your current laptop, smartphone, or home PC.
But it's worth noting that while it might be good for those types of devices, watching content on a Smart TV might be more of a problem.
The average speed of broadband delivery has been on the increase over the last few years, but it's a known fact that you're not always getting what your provider says you are. Speeds can be adversely affected by distance from telephone exchanges or the quality of the lines and broadband equipment your provider has deployed in their network. It's also worth checking whether your home router is up to scratch too.
These potential problems can be negated or reduced by upgrading to a higher speed broadband package and/or making sure you have a reasonable quality home router. Local wiring can also be a problem, so either locate your TV close to the connection point or better still go for one of the newer sets that have Wi-Fi built in.
Who Makes Smart TVs?
The major manufacturers of Smart TVs have not been slow in recognising the potential profits from sales. In fact, the roll call of big manufacturers getting involved reads like a who's who of the top technology giants. The major players like Sony, Samsung and Panasonic are leading the pack, though LG, Toshiba, and others are very close behind.
Clearly the major Japanese manufacturers are at the forefront of Smart TV development. But the internet is wide reaching, and the convergent nature of internet TV means that there are some names involved which might surprise you. Here's the full list:
Connected TV is not just limited to hardware manufacturers. Google, Apple, and Yahoo! are just a few of the companies spearheading the Internet-connected TV generation along with the TV manufacturers.
Reports - or rumours more likely - have been circulating for more than a year that Apple have been working on developing a Smart TV of their own. This rumour has gained some traction since the late 2011 death of Steve Jobs, and from entries in his autobiography which suggest he was hugely keen on making Apple's next record breaking technology gadget an easy to use, fully integrated internet capable TV which ties up with all other devices.
If Apple are successful in making the Apple Smart TV a reality, it really could give the industry one of the biggest shake-ups it's ever seen. There's no doubt that we'll see a model that will give users an unrivalled experience, with access to a stunning range of features. Early rumours suggest there may be 32 inch and 37 inch sets released, both controlled by voice activation or hand gestures or a mixture of both.
Google TV is of course the TV offering from Google that promises a new experience that combines TV, the entire web, and apps -- as well as a way to search across them all. You can download apps, browse the web, use your phone to change channels, create a playlist, watch Netflix videos, and much more.
Google TV is not actually a range of TV models, it's a range of sets powered by the Google software. The web giant is working with a number of manufacturers to incorporate Google TV into their internet TV models, including Sony, Vizio, LG, and Samsung.
What To Look For In A Good Smart TV - Buying Guide
Many of the considerations you need to make when buying a Smart television are exactly the same as if you were buying a standard HD or 3D TV. Choosing the best Smart TV means getting one the right size for your home environment, or your own personal taste. It means making the choice between LCD, LED, or plasma. In the (near) future you'll need to add OLED TV and QD TV to that list too, but for now the battle between plasma and LCD/LED continues unabated. There were high quality Smart TVs announced at CES 2012 in each of the display types.
Specifications such as refresh rate, audio, picture quality, and connectivity options are all important. In fact, pretty much everything you need to consider in any product analysis you also need to think about in any Smart TV comparison exercise.
We'll cover these in more depth in the guide to buying Smart TVs located on its own dedicated page here on SmartTV101.com, but as a taster here are some Smart-specific questions you'll want to be asking:
• Does it have an intuitive, easy to use interface?
• Does it have WiFi connectivity, or ethernet only? • Does it have 3D and Smart capability? • What apps are available ready delivered on the set? • Which extra apps do you get to choose from? Does your TV manufacturer operate an App store? • Can you easily get access to web content such as TV streaming, video sharing, and photo sharing sites?
A good internet TV should be able to easily combine both TV programming and internet options into one seamless search option across all types of TV services. Ultimately the mark of a great Smart TV will be in how well it works to integrate your smartphone or laptop with the TV screen and the content being displayed.
Aside from that, there does need to be more development in solutions either involving voice activated features or improvements in the command interface. Using an on screen keyboard is a nightmare, as can be seen when trying to use the Wii controller.
What Problems Are Facing The Mass Acceptance of Smart TV?
As with any technology, sometimes the focus from providers is on the technology itself and its features, rather than on the benefits to consumers. It's almost as if you have to work out the benefits yourself. It's easy to be told that you can get Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and sports results on a TV screen, but how do you get that? Is it easy? And do you really want all those features?
We've already covered broadband speed, but the truth is that Smart television won't take off unless it is easy to use. If access involves using a remote control to click addresses on a display, that's not necessarily going to be easy for a TV user. Many current Internet TVs have poor user interfaces which don't make it easy for users. They want it to be as easy as turning on a TV now. Thankfully the manufacturers have realised this and are addressing the problem in newer sets with improved user interfaces.
As with any technology that becomes more complex, Customer Support can become a problem. Users will need rapid access to support teams that are knowledgeable and able to quickly resolve problems over the phone - without being passed around multiple teams.
The third and potentially more devastating issue is privacy - especially from a social TV perspective. Imagine watching a show with friends or family. There are some great features of converged TV that will be fun to use in this kind of environment - but would you really want all of your Facebook updates or messages flashing across the screen for everyone to see or interrupting their viewing. We'll have to wait and see how this problem is played out. Maybe there will be an easy solution.
More Info On Smart & Connected TVs - Valuable Smart TV Resources
1. Smart TV Reviews
A great way to get info on any device is to read reviews. You'll get the best value from seeking out reviews from real buyers. There are thousands of real buyer product reviews on popular websites such as Amazon and Bestbuy.
The technology gadget sites also carry a number of useful Smart TV reviews, but it's worth remembering these are not always unbiased. Read more about this on my Smart TV reviews page.
What HiFi's website proclaims itself to be the ultimate home entertainment buyers guide, and carries a range of valuable articles on Smart television and some valuable Smart TV forum threads.
Ecoustics.com aims to deliver unbiased product reviews, news and deals on consumer electronics. Their website of course carries a full range of articles related to Smart and Connected TVs and other Smart products.
3. Internet News & Information Websites
Wikipedia is probably the best known information site on the web. The Wikipedia Smart TV page contains a raft of interesting information, though a little technical and complicated to read in places.
Silobreaker is a useful and comprehensive information aggregation website. Here's the Silobreaker search for Smart TV news. The search will give you videos and Connected TV focussed documents as well as the latest internet news stories.
Squidoo is a great site where individual users can create lenses on any subject. You'll find a Squidoo Smart TV lens written on most aspects of Smart TV. They're generally well written and informative. This one in particular on Samsung Smart TV models gives a useful read.
DMOZ is one of the oldest and most respected internet directories, carrying links to high quality and information rich websites. The Smart TV search returns some interesting results with great reading material.
Technorati.com is a highly respected blog directory which lets you search either for blog posts or for website information. Techorati is a hugely valuable information source containing comprehensive Smart TV info.
The internet news website Reddit is a useful online resource where you'll find dozens of Smart TV news articles as they're released - a great resource for up to date information.
The website at Scririus.com labels itself as the most comprehensive scientific research tool on the web and contains a number of articles dedicated to Smart TV research.
AlphaGalileo.org is the one of the most trusted - and exclusive - sources of online independent news. The site lists a useful and well written Smart TV news and updates section.
4. Technology & Consumer Research Sites
There are a number of online sites which compile and sell researched reports, mainly for use by industry professionals or marketers. They're expensive, and beyond the reach of normal buyers, but as information tools for the right people they can be indispensable.
Australian website Budde.com is one such site. Their report IPTV and Smart TV Insights is a 16 pager costing $95. The Buddeblog carries valuable insights into new developments in the telecommunications industry.
GigaOM Pro is a subscription based professional’s resource that delivers stats, analysis and expert insight within detailed reports and articles. The GigaOM Smart TV reports collection contains a wealth of valuable information.
Which is a well know consumer research site based in the UK. It's associated with a popular and long running magazine that covers all types of consumer products. Which has a well written and informative Smart TV guide section.
• The LG.com Smart TV homepage lists the current LG models in an easy to read format. • Samsung's Smart TV home page is a well designed, entertaining, and informative one covering Smart and 3D Samsung models.
6. Popular Article Collection Sites
One of the great ways to get information on any product or service is to search the many online article websites. These are used by experts in their fields to post articles online - some good and some not so good - which cover just about everything you're likely to want to know.
Here's a selection of article directories with links to their Smart TV sections...