Should You Buy A Connected TV?

Last updated on 01/18/2013

Connected TVs have come a long way since 2008. The best among them are video-streaming powerhouses. They still need some fine-tuning before they become the alpha and the omega of your entertainment center, but some consumers will love their services. Are you one of them? Read on to find out.
By Liam McCabe

When we first reported on internet-ready TVs last year, they were still pretty primitive. The functionality basically amounted to an RSS feed and some news and weather widgets that displayed alongside TV programs, and if it was particularly cutting-edge, a streaming video service (probably not Netflix).

One year later, connected TVs are much more robust. Each manufacturer still has a proprietary service, but they have a few things in common. The news and weather are still there, joined by social media and a few odds and ends. The best services now bundle as many as one dozen streaming-video services together into one interface, and this summer, a few TVs will support Skype video chat.

So some users viewers will find that their connected TVs render one or more of their living-room components obsolete. Who needs a Blu-ray player when 1080p video comes directly to your TV via Vudu? Is cable worth $75 per month when tons of TV shows and movies stream for free, or as part of a much cheaper subscription? These three connected TVs have stunning pictures and some of the best connected TV service available:

Samsung UN55C8000: Samsung, plain and simple, makes the best LED TVs out there. This is a real beaut': 55 inches, 240 Hz refresh rate, 3D-ready, all in a body less than an inch thick. The Internet@TV service is strong: news, weather, sports, and a few odds and ends through Yahoo! Connected TV; Twitter and Facebook for social media; and a slew of video streaming options including Amazon and Blockbuster on-demand, Netflix, and Vudu; and the popular video-chat service Skype is coming this summer. Users also have access to the Samsung app store, the first of its kind on any TV. Time will tell if this concept works even a sliver as well as it does on mobile devices, but even if it flops, Internet@TV still stands as one of the better connectivity services, and the C8000 is a beautiful TV.

Vizio VF552XVT: This much-ballyhooed 55-inch LED shares many of the same specs as the Samsung C8000. The picture quality isn't quite on par, but it's pretty close and costs much, much less. You may have seen television ads for this model -- Beyonce got scooped up by a robot arm. The Vizio Internet Apps service (VIA) is the best connected TV service out there. Vizio obviously spent a long time tweaking the user interface and securing deals with content providers, including Netflix, Vudu, Twitter, Facebook, Twitter and a healthy amount of Yahoo! Widgets. This may be the best Internet TV service out there.

LG 50PK750: Plasma is still the gold standard for picture quality. This 50-inch LG plasma won't achieve the deep blacks of, say, the Panasonic G25 series, but it offers great performance for the price, and the NetCast service is one of the best-rounded out there, featuring a wide array of streaming video services including Netflix, Vudu, and CinemaNow, as well as standard Yahoo! Widgets, Facebook, and Twitter and later this summer, Skype.

Most of us will find that these connected TV services still need a few years of fine-tuning before they can be the alpha and the omega of our home entertainment center. They don't do everything yet, so if you're a sports fan, video gamer, or true movie buff, you'll still need to keep your cable box, game console, and disc player around for a few years to get the ultimate couch-potato experience.

Bottom line: Buy a new TV because it has an amazing picture at a great price. Connectivity should not be the deciding factor. That said, there's a strong chance you'll end up with a connected TV whether you want one or not, and the chance increases along with the screen size and price.
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