What is a smart TV?
Smart TVs offer apps, HD viewing and other features, but the perks can be different from brand to brand, so shop carefully.
Fri, Jan 27, 2012 at 09:57 AM
A smart TV is a HD television with a suite of Internet-connected apps that offer online video as well as games, social networking and other features. While Blu-ray players, gaming consoles and set-top boxes can provide the smarts, a true smart TV has its apps built in and requires only an Internet connection.
Like smartphones and tablet computers, smart TVs have their own processors and memory that enable users to download apps; stream movies; store and view photos; play games, and update their social networks. "Smart" is considered a premium feature and generally found on the top-end models, along with features such as full HD (1080p), surround sound, a wireless connection and, in some cases, 3-D. Each manufacturer offers a suite of built-in apps along with an app store where you can pick and choose additional apps.
If you get a connected TV, make sure it has built-in Wi-Fi, by far the simplest way to connect to the Internet. Otherwise, you'll have to mess with cables or adapters.
Updates to the smart-TV system, which often include new apps, are delivered through the TV's Internet connection. You won't get a bigger screen, but a new bundle of apps could make you feel like you've gotten a new TV.
Smart TVs come with a similar line-up of pre-loaded apps, usually Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Facebook and Twitter, along with photo sharing, sports, news and weather apps.
Netflix and Hulu Plus are like premium cable channels: Both command monthly subscription fees. The Netflix app is available on virtually every smart TV. As with Netflix.com, you’ll have to subscribe to the streaming service at $8 a month if you want to watch movies and TV shows on your big screen.
Hulu is trickier. Recent episodes of shows are free on hulu.com. But to watch shows on a connected TV, you need Hulu Plus, which costs $8 a month. While the "Plus" implies you'll get more shows than on the regular Hulu.com, that's not always the case. Because of licensing restrictions and the ongoing war with cable companies, which don't want to lose customers to Internet TV, some networks, such as the Food Network, don't participate in Hulu Plus. Sorry, "Chopped" fans.
Smart TVs also include video-on-demand apps. Some of the biggest are Vudu, Blockbuster and Cinema Now. Viewers pay a rental fee to watch movies, which are typically available for a 24-hour period.
A careful comparison of apps is one way to differentiate a Samsung from a Sony, a Sharp from an LG. While they all have Netflix, for example, only Samsung offers Angry Birds. Further, you'll want to compare how easy it is to search across the platform. The best way to get a feel for different interfaces, app stores and remotes that you'll use to navigate the TV is to go to the store and try them out.
Full access to the Internet would exponentially increase the number of free entertainment sites. Sony and Google partnered last year with a service called Google TV to bring full browsing capabilities to TVs. But Hulu, Fox, NBC and others blocked Google TV from accessing their sites — leaving users with plenty of LOL cats, but no "Fear Factor." Samsung, LG and Vizio announced they would offer their own versions of Google TV later this year. But until the networks unblock their sites, a Google TV won't deliver the free programs you seek.
Apple may release its own smart TV this year. The iTV — still only a rumor — would take a different approach than rival Google. As it did with the record labels, Apple may be making deals with TV and movie studios, effectively cutting out the cable companies. Some movies and TV shows are available through iTunes, but if Apple's negotiations are successful, the choices could explode, offering viewers content never before available outside of a cable subscription. At least, that's what many people hope.
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