Internet TV - what's on offer and from whom
You've heard all about smartphones, but what about smart TV? Here, we run you through all the big names and what they're offering with their web TV services. We'd love to tell you which one is best, but it really comes down to personal preference. When the TVs are released we suggest that you go along to your local retailer and have a play around with the interface yourself and find out exactly which apps will be available in your country.
LG Smart TV
LG's service is known as Smart TV and offers a simple-to-use interface that will give you access to thousands of movies, customisable apps and videos, as well as a web browser. The user interface houses a simple dashboard with four main sections - TV Live, Premium Content, TV Apps and a Launch Bar and you can even download a free app for iPhone and Android-based smartphones in order to control the system. You'll be able to access various services such as BBC's iPlayer, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Picasa as well as a wide selection of apps from the LG App Store, including games and news-based apps.
LG Smart TV is available on a range of the brand's new LED, LCD and plasma HDTVs, including: LV550T, LW550T, LW650T, LW770T, LW950T, PZ570T and PZ950T. The platform is also available on a number of other products including Blu-ray players. Along with its new TV service, LG also introduced its Smart TV Upgrader ST600 - a set-top box that effectively lets you transform any TV with an HDMI port into a web-enabled TV.
Panasonic Viera Connect
Panasonic used CES to unveil its enhanced internet IPTV option in the form of Viera Connect - an expanded version of its Viera Cast service that launched in 2008. Along with gaming and social networking, the service will also give you access to the new Viera Connect Market where you can personalise your internet TV experience by choosing from a wide range of third-party apps including YouTube, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, eBay, Napster and film-streaming service Netflix.
As well as playing two-way games over the internet with your pals, you'll also be able to carry out video calls with them using Skype or broadcast to the world using Ustream. Viera took its internet TV offering one step further with the news that it will be introducing the Viera Tablet. This touchscreen device will enable easy access to a variety of cloud services in conjunction with its Viera digital televisions. There are 4-, 7- and 10-inch versions already launched in Japan, but Panasonic is yet to confirm which models will be available elsewhere. The tablet is due before the end of 2011.
Samsung Smart Hub
Samsung has previously offered fairly comprehensive internet options on its TVs in the form of its Internet@ TV web widgets. The word "widgets" now appears to be been eclipsed by the buzzword of the last year - "apps". The brand's Smart Hub offers access to Samsung Apps which offers a range of paid-for and free apps covering sports, entertainment, information, games and social networking. Available apps will include YouTube, Facebook, ESPN, Vimeo and Twitter.
A Search All function has been included to make it easier to search for desired content on your TV and other DLNA-capable media storage devices, networked PCs and internet and video-on-demand services. The Your Video service provides handy recommendations based on your viewing history and what's more, you'll also get access to a full web browser that's customised for use on the TV.
Sony Bravia Internet Video
Sony's 2011 range of TVs includes 22 internet-connected models, sporting the brand's Bravia Internet Video platform, and is connectible via Wi-Fi or Ethernet. This means that they offer access to over 40 free movie, video and music services including Sony's Video on Demand and Music Unlimited, powered by Qriocity, along with YouTube, Netflix, Pandora, HuluPlus, Amazon Video on Demand and Blip.tv. The Video on Demand streaming services will give you access to Hollywood blockbusters, while Music Unlimited is a cloud-based streaming option that opens up a selection of over 6 million tracks.
Some of the new models will also have Skype embedded so that you'll be able to video call your friends and family for free; once you've invested in the CMU-BR100 Sony camera and microphone. You can even make voice calls at the same time as watching TV, if multi-tasking is your thing. The connected TVs will also include Sony's Track ID, powered by Gracenote, that can identify any song on your TV and provide the artist, album and song information.
As well as unveiling its gigantic 70-inch Quattron TVs at CES, Sharp also announced that its entire 2011 TV lineup will feature built-in Wi-Fi capability for hooking up to web-based services. The TVs will sport a suite of network features that will include CinemaNow, Netflix and VUDU, along with DLNA video streaming for transferring content to and from compatible kit such as PCs and mobile devices.
As well as video streaming, you'll also get access to Sharp's online Aquos Advantage Live customer service. However, there was no mention of a full web browser, as found on some rival services.
Toshiba is still offering a fairly basic web TV function when compared with the updated offerings from rival manufacturers. Built-in Wi-Fi is available in selected TVs within its 2011 range, offering Net TV which includes a small selection of online apps such as Flickr, Facebook, Picasa, Pandora and Twitter.
You can also access Yahoo! web widgets such as Yahoo! News, Weather and Finance and eBay. As well as the Yahoo! set of widgets, you'll also be able to use apps such as Netflix and YouYube. It seems that Toshiba's web TV service only offers this ring-fenced selection of apps, rather than an app market or full internet browsing.
Haier/Windows Embedded TV
Although there won't be an actual Microsoft-branded "Windows TV" launching any time soon, if ever, Chinese manufacturer Haier was the first brand to showcase a prototype TV model based on Microsoft's Windows Embedded software. Despite pre-CES rumours about the launch of Windows TV, it seems that Microsoft will simply be offering its software to OEMs so that they can build their own internet TVs. The Haier TV that we saw had all the features that you'd expect from a smart TV including plenty of third-party apps and games, along with internet browsing.
In an exclusive interview, Microsoft's senior product manager for Windows Embedded Marketing, Mark Pendergrast, told us that: "We see this as a competitive offering to Google TV - Windows Embedded is an alternative platform for manufacturers to create their own smart TV".