This year’s TV buyers may have little choice but to come home with a whole lot of bells and whistles. New TV sets are now being made on a new standard that includes internet hookup, which opens the door to hordes of other features: movie streaming, catch-up services, and even apps like Angry Birds.
These new machines have been dubbed “smart TV,” a term that has caught on more strongly after January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Besides internet connectivity, the TVs come with voice recognition and motion control, which allows for game interfaces similar to the X-Box and the PlayStation 3. It also eliminates the need for remote controls—one can change channels or surf the net with hand motions or voice commands.
Smart TV may eventually replace, or at least complement, computer-based entertainment systems. Samsung, one of the world’s leading TV makers and the biggest player in the smart TV market, says people will soon start sharing pictures from their phones to the TVs, or use the giant screen to make video calls.
In the UK, the trend is already starting to take hold. This year, just under half of households already owning a TV will switch to an internet-enabled one. Sales might go even higher as the Olympics draws near, according to the Digital TV Group.
American users are a little more ahead of the game, with a rise in smart TV connectivity in 2011 from 8% to 10%. Worldwide, 100 million TVs are already equipped with internet features, according to Sony.
At such a strong pace, the majority of TV viewers will be hooked up to smart TV as soon as five years from now—at least in developed countries. Some experts doubt it, however: according to some manufacturers, of the people who buy smart TV sets, less than 50% use the feature. Others put the figure at 10%.
Online films are expected to take up the biggest share of smart TV usage in the next few years. Services such as Netflix rely on entirely on internet connectivity, either built into the TV or from a peripheral device, such as a gaming console.
Not surprisingly, Web companies are drawing up some hype, much of it coming from Google and its fledgling Google TV service. So far, however, it’s had trouble hooking up with TV makers, including Samsung. Apple, long known to be a trendsetter, has made no remarks about developing smart TV products, but many believe it will give smart TV its biggest boost.