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.
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
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.
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.