July 14, 2009
| by Arlen Schweiger
If you’re a savvy computer user you’re probably already turning your TV or theater screen into a blown-up PC monitor so you can watch web content till you drop.
You may even strongly be considering dropping your cable or satellite subscription in lieu of just tapping into broadcast station videos, Hulu, Netflix and the glut of other options (me? not enough streaming sports because I can’t get ESPN360).
Or, you’ve gotten hooked on the concept of having a networked or ‘connected’ TV and are one of the 2.5 million apparently ready to drop an extra C-note to have that feature on your next TV.
With Vizio’s recent onslaught of connected TVs and content partners, Sony’s addition of Netflix to its connected Bravia models, and new Netflix-slingin’ LG displays as well, the flood is just beginning. Pretty soon it’ll be raining down network-ready TVs like our month of June here in the northeast.
Here are five sweet reasons, or applications, that may reel you in for a connected TV:
Netflix - Of course the movie rental giant has to top any list of top-flight networkable features. No, its Watch Instantly selection of only 12,000-plus titles is only a tenth of its overall catalog, but have you ever tried it out? Just add movies or complete TV seasons to your queue, and when you’re ready to pick on the display, they load in 30 seconds or less. Plus with TV series you can choose from the whole season rather than wait for one disc to arrive at a time—and then find out there’s nothing but bonus material on that last disc in the set. (LG, Sony)
Vudu - This one really caught our eye when it was announced as part of Vizio’s latest display pool. Vudu is also a streaming movie service, but whereas Netflix has a scant amount of high-def titles to choose from, Vudu’s got more than a 1,000 in its eye-popping HDX 1080p format. You can buy or rent movies without worrying about filling up a hard drive. And you get surround sound on the movies, and streaming Pandora web radio for other tunes. (Vizio)
Yahoo Widgets - My first reaction to the word “widget” is like fingernails on a chalkboard, but once I get past that I actually dig a lot of what the Yahoo Widgets can provide. Samsung made some waves with this back at CES as the nifty widget engine keeps you up to date on news, weather, stocks, sports as well as access eBay, Twitter, Flickr, Showtime, New York Times and more. That’s a whole lot of microblogging, photo-sharing, quick-checking and other stuff to do during commercials. (LG, Samsung, Sony, Vizio)
Amazon Video On Demand - Well, just as Amazon has given iTunes a run for its money in music downloads, it’s hoping to do so on the video side as well with its Video On Demand store. Easy to browse, easy to select, easy to watch—and Amazon keeps your videos stored in your own library on its server, so again no worries about adding an external NAS (network attached storage) drive or other to keep pace. No subscription required, and the pricing varies between rentals and purchases—plus per Amazon’s overall modus operandi, you’re sure to find deals all the time, and there are even some freebies to watch. New ‘Instant HD’ too, for movies and TV. (Panasonic, Sony, Vizio)
Streaming Music - Sure, there are plenty of reasons on the video side to make your next TV purchase a connected one, but musically it can expand your horizons as well. With most media rooms and theaters routing their TV audio through a receiver for stereo sound at the most basic level (for those who don’t hook up surround sound) rather than employ the TV’s speakers, connected radio stations make even more sense. You don’t have to worry about an FM tuner, don’t necessarily have to pay a satellite subscription fee, and if you want to check out individual tracks or an unfamiliar artist here and there, you can preview them (even finding full songs in many cases) on the web before paying for a CD or download. The aforementioned Vudu partnership with Vizio enables streaming from Pandora, which has free and subscription accounts. Vizio can also do Rhapsody streaming, which is a subscription service, as well as RadioTime, which delivers free streaming of 100,000-plus stations that you can pick and choose as presets. Plus Samsung and Panasonic connected TVs can pick up YouTube, which has loads of live music clips that concert-goers have uploaded that certainly sound fine if you’re paying attention to just the audio. (Panasonic, Samsung, Vizio)
Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.