I spend a lot of time writing about, thinking about and staring at smart TVs—internet connected TVs that offer access to streaming or downloaded content. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show smart TVs were the hottest technology, and all the major TV makers were competing to out cool each other in their TV interfaces.
In electronics stores this year we’re seeing TVs that you can talk to, shake your hands at and point magic wands at to navigate their growing and fascinating array of apps or widgets. Speaking of those apps or widgets, sometimes they’re recognized brands (Netflix, Pandora, Facebook) that work across platforms (or multiple TVs) and sometimes they’re proprietary (such as Samsung’s Family Story app).
Is that important? That’s not a question I can answer for everyone. If you have multiple smart TVs in your house from multiple brands, it might be annoying to have to learn a different interface for each one just to watch a movie on Netflix. Then again, you’re a smart person, you can figure it out… or are you?
The subject of this review, the Nyxio VioSphere, takes a different approach. Rather than run its own proprietary system for running a limited number of apps, the VioSphere combines an HDTV with a Windows 7 computer that runs anything a computer runs.
Smart TVs for Dumb Users
Today’s smart TVs are designed to be great TVs and are optimized to provide mostly passive entertainment. They got that way because people complained that it was too difficult to hook up computers or game consoles or other internet devices to their TVs. New smart TVs are loaded with apps, but not unlimited apps. They’re the gated communities of online content. Some have slick-looking intuitive interfaces, and some look like they were designed in the era of Pong. Some have creative ways to interact with them, while others rely on standard remotes and hunt-and-peck onscreen keyboards.
But they’re all just receptacles for content. They can’t really do anything. Content comes in through wires, cable or Wi-Fi and then comes out at your face. A few systems offer some social networking interaction. But other than that, smart TVs are pretty simple minded.
And that’s not a bad thing. In fact that’s probably what most people want. Give them more channels, choices, and they’re happy. Make it easy to find, and they’re happy.
This Nyxio VioSphere is different though. Don’t confuse it with the all-in-one PCs that keep trying to find some marketshare. The VioSphere is more like a regular HDTV with a laptop slipped in the side pocket. In fact both the TV and PC have separate tuners. They only thing they share is the screen and speakers.
So is the VioSphere a smart TV or just a spacing-saving TV/PC? I’ll leave that up to the individual reader to decide.
More after the break
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.