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Who Needs Smart TV?

Everything these days is smart. You've got your smart phone, your smart grid, your smart car, and now your smart TV. And the question is, why? Consumers can get the same functionality with their Blu-ray players, set top boxes, and gaming consoles, etc….

And my answer, like for most technology, is why not? There is no industry standard. There is no store a consumer can go to and say, “I want to hook up my TV to the internet. What device do I need?” and not get a response along the lines of “Well, it depends on your set-up and what you want to do and how you want to do it. We have a dozen different stand-alone devices or you can use your computer or your game console….” And so on. This is confusing.

It stems from not knowing exactly what the hub is for the home entertainment system. Every company wants their own device to win this little competition, which means OEMs have no idea which device their consumers have settled on as their hub; so they might as well as add the hub capability into everything.

Now not only do we have to deal with that confusion, but there is also DTV confusion in general stemming from the current rapid turnover. Back in the day, a family would get one television and it would last thirty years. My grandmother had one television my entire childhood, and I’m sure that huge box is still in a guestroom somewhere. But then there was the HDTV turnover, and the flat screen LCD / Plasma turnover, and the 3DTV & connected TV turnover. Consumers are feeling like they are upgrading their televisions more than they ever have – which makes buying a new TV scary. Are they buying the right one for their needs? If they wait a month will they get a better one for half the price?

This is the same fear the PC market deals with – the day after purchase, its almost obsolete. Now not only do consumers have to deal with resolution, screen size, LCD / Plasma, but they also have to consider the software. If they buy a TV with a sponsored app store will that app store still be useful a year into the future? If they buy a TV with limited internet capability, will it support the next big online video software?

At CES, there were dozens of new TVs introduced. Sharp focused on smart LCD TVs. To differentiate their own lineup, they’re focusing on “green” TVs and their Quattron technology that improves the overall image and brightness. They also are introducing a 70” LCD and 11 different models over 50”. With their TV lineup, Sharp is also introducing 3 new 3D Blu-ray players with 1080p and 24fps.

Not to be outdone, LG is launching their own line-up of 8 smart TVs with USB connectivity, Wi-Fi adaptor, smart share tech, web browser, integrated Netflix, Picasa, Hulu Plus, Youtube, and their App store. Five of these smart TVs will have 3D as well.

Perhaps most interesting, LG is releasing the Smart TV Upgrader (ST600) that will let any HDMI capable TV become smart. Even nicer? It plays video from HDDs on your network. I’m in love already.

Vizio had some nice ultra-wide TVs available at CES – 50” and 58” 21:9 TVs with a resolution of 2560 x 1080. Anyone else prefer the wide-screen DVDs over full screen?

Smart TV is not an indication that 3D has failed – the 3D technology is still advancing, and OEMs will continue to add that functionality into their TVs regardless if consumers actively pursue it or not. 3DTV is still hindered by every brand sticking to their own 3D format and that scares off consumers. The main differences between the two technologies is that 3D is a novelty and can advance a little slower. Smart TV, on the other hand, is directly addressing consumers' wants, especially as more and more 20-somethings move to internet content instead of cable.

My current TV is over 10 years old. It’s a monster and is showing no signs of slowing. But when I finally upgrade (sooner rather than later if my fiancé has anything to say about it), it will be to a smart TV (or LG’s ST600). And probably all the other devices will be smart too. But at least that way I’ll know at least one of them will work with my set up. Hopefully.

-Michell Prunty, Analyst

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