— The battle for your living-room real estate rages on. Internet-connected HDTVs featuring on-demand movies, real-time weather, news and more are available from most TV manufacturers.
While watching a TV show, you can track an eBay auction or tweet on Twitter in a separate window on the screen. Weather updates run unobtrusively along the bottom of your high-definition TV display. Movies, increasingly available in HD, are rented, streamed and available to watch almost instantly, all with the push of a button on the TV remote control.
The promise of streaming HD entertainment and browsing the Web without connecting any extra gear is enticing. But before you get rid of your cable box, computers, Apple TV, Blu-ray players or any other boxes nestled under your set, have a look at what different companies are offering.
Internet HDTVs are part computer, part TV. Using either a wired or wireless Internet connection, content is downloaded or streamed to the TV. Besides standard- and high-def movies, TV and Web video, Yahoo! TV Widgets are the most popular — and free — way of displaying screen icons for Web sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, eBay and, of course, Yahoo!
High-bandwidth requirements limit the amount of HD movies and TV shows that can be streamed or downloading over the Net to a set. Adobe's new “Flash Platform for the Digital Home” software, which allows faster streaming to HD sets, may provide a boost to high-def video availability over the coming months, as more manufacturers and program developers adopt the software.
Sony started in 2007
Sony was the first company to offer Internet connectivity to TVs. In 2007, the BRAVIA “Internet Video Link,” a set-top box, enabled compatible Sony TVs to display standard- and high-definition content from AOL, Yahoo! and Sony Pictures Entertainment.
While the set-top version is still available ($200), Sony now integrates Internet Video Link into 10 LCD HDTV models in the company’s W5100, Z5100 and XBR9 lines (from $1,700 to $5,000).
The TVs with Internet Video Link onboard carry a $300 price premium over those without. Over a wired Internet connection, Sony's online content is a mix of standard-definition and HD, supplied by more than 25 partners. Free programming and Web content includes Yahoo! TV Widgets for news, weather, stock quotes and Twitter, with more being added over the coming months.
Other content includes independent TV shows from Blip.tv; Epicurious, a cooking Web site; Style.com and a host of others.
Movies and TV shows are supplied by Amazon On Demand and Netflix Instant Streaming movies. Amazon Video On Demand rentals, with a library of more than 40,000 titles, some in HD, range in price from $1.99 to $3.99; Netflix Instant Streaming is free with a paid Netflix subscription and includes access to approximately standard-definition 12,000 videos.
Anyone with a Sony PlayStation 3 will recognize the “Xross Media Bar” menu system used on all Internet Video Link-equipped Sony HDTVs.
Samsung's "InfoLink" service was introduced in 2008 and uses Real Simple Syndication to provide free onscreen stock quotes, weather and news on its LCD HDTV 650 Series sets, as well as its LED LCD HDTV Series 6000 (prices start at $1,100).
Additionally, as co-developers with Yahoo! of Yahoo! TV Widgets, Samsung was the first company to release HDTVs using the widget technology this year. The typical menu for TV Widgets runs across the bottom of the screen, activated with a single button on the remote, and launches Web content from Yahoo! Video, News, Weather, and Finance, USA Today Sports, Twitter, YouTube and others.
Samsung's TVs connect to the Internet over a wired Ethernet connection, or via a Wi-Fi USB device available separately for $35.
A widget for Blockbuster On Demand, which has no HD movies to date, is scheduled before the end of September. Yahoo! TV Web content is a free service, while Blockbuster On Demand charges $2.99 to $3.99 for online rentals. Blockbuster On Demand currently has more than 10,000 titles available.
'Vizio Internet Apps'
Vizio, the leading seller of flat-panel HDTVs in the United States, according to industry analysts iSuppli, are currently rolling out their XVT LCD HDTV line with "Vizio nternet Apps" (sets range from $1,200 to $2,200).
Vizio Internet Apps includes free Yahoo! TV Widgets and paid content from Blockbuster On Demand, Amazon On Demand, Netflix Instant Streaming movies and Vudu.
Vudu, with a proprietary HD video-streaming format, is a boon for high-def fans, with the broadest line-up of HD movies available, currently about 2,000 titles. Rentals range from 99 cents to $5.99.
Vizio's Internet Apps-equipped HDTVs are thoughtfully designed with built-in, high-speed wireless access and a Bluetooth remote complete with a slide-out, Twitter-friendly QWERTY keyboard.
LG is the other TV manufacturer offering Vudu currently (although Mitsubishi recently announced it will offer it on some of its 46- and 52-inch models).
LG’s LH50 LCD HDTVs and PS80 plasma models (from $1,700) have wired Ethernet and also feature Yahoo! TV Widgets and Netflix Instant Streaming.
For the strictly plasma aficionado, Panasonic offers 12 models (from $1,200 to $5,500) with the company’s VIERA Cast online services. Only the TC-P54Z1, 54-inch model ($5,500) includes wireless Internet connectivity, with the other models using wired Ethernet.
VIERA Cast offerings are comparatively slim. Amazon On Demand is supplemented by YouTube, Bloomberg, Picasa Web Albums and a weather channel, although more services are promised for the future.
Internet HDTVs are still new and technology advancements, particularly in the area of HD video streaming, are sure to expand programming in the months ahead.
The days of a laptop on the couch and an assortment of dusty boxes underneath the TV may be coming to an end.