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Smart TV - A Late Bloomer

With a 30 per cent increase in the sales of TVs last year, as claimed by Samsung, and the trend expected to continue if not grow, all the contenders want a slice of the action. The year 2010 was all about TV manufacturers trying to push 3D functionality on to consumers. The year 2011 has not even gotten past the half way mark and it seems that the companies have already changed tact with their focus now being shifted over to pushing Smart TVs.

Those are the next iteration of TVs with internet capabilities that were released a few years back. Sony calls their lineup Internet TV, LG calls theirs NetCast while Samsung has chosen the moniker Smart Hub . At a recent event, I had the opportunity to have a hands-on session with the new Samsung D7000 and take the Smart Hub for a test drive to find out whether the new features added to the TVs’ functionality.

Smart TVs are more than just a television with an in-built browser and the ability to connect to the internet. In fact, Samsung’s Smart Hub comes with native support for Youtube, Skype and common social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. In addition you can connect to other wireless enabled devices, such as your notebooks and tablets, and display content from these gadgets on your TV. A handy 'search all' function lets you manage and sort through the different content across your devices and the internet. And to top it all off both Singtel and StarHub have signed on to provide a range of free and paid content to viewers in Singapore.

This development seems to be another nail in the coffin of Programmed Television, the demise of which started with Youtube and DVR devices. However, this statement succinctly shows the problems Smart TV technology will face as they are really late to the 'party'. A large percentage of viewers have already made or almost completed the switch away from the 'appointment TV' model to watching content at their own leisure. This freedom is made possible by a host of media players and innovative service providers, some of which still provide programmed content, but offer features to watch content at one's convenience

So it seems the Smart TV's additions will be going head to head with popular media players. The apps for the Smart Hub by Singtel and StarHub mentioned before were still in the development stage when we got the chance to demo them. But even at this stage they seemed to follow the template established by entertainment hubs. In light of that, why would you opt for an Internet TV when a regular TV version with a media player will function just as well if not better?

The primary advantage of going with a Smart TV is the fact that the features and functions are built-in. They offer a level of integration that would appeal to most buyers. However, as mentioned before most content providing services in this region for Smart TVs are still in the test stages. This means that ready availability tilts the scales in favor of media players for now.

If manufacturers had not been trying to create artificial demand for 3D over the past years and kept their fingers on the pulse, the Smart TVs we see today would have been introduced years ago. TV companies have definitely been 'snoozing' and it seems 'losing'. Ironically, it is weird to note that most Smart TVs today are also 3D TVs. If you think about it, these new features are probably just a vehicle for companies to achieve greater market penetration for … you guessed it … 3D technology adoption!

If you ask us, it sounds like a good plan (if it was a planned initiative in the firstplace) since the small screen (mobile and computing) are heavily used for internet services, while the large screen has yet to make that connection in a big way. This gap can be bridged by these new generation TVs, which naturally cost more and conveniently boast a 'bonus agenda' as well.

Whatever the case, it is about time that the major manufacturers caught up with consumer demand. Our trials with Smart TVs so far have revealed an easy to navigate user interface and interest from major service providers to enhance the platform. If TV manufacturers introduce a decent built-in storage solution along with their Smart TV functions, you can expect media players to slowly get phased out. That level of integration will usually win out over standalone products. Plus seeing that the consumers come out on top, with greater control than ever before over their viewing, it looks like the Smart TV could possibly be the complete package.

Hurrairah bin Sohail / Former Tech Writer

Good tech has good specs, great tech has personality. Keeping that in mind, Hurrairah expects character and performance from any gadget he spends his hard earned cash on. As a guitar player and 'struggling' musician, he has an appreciation for natural sound is tasked with reviewing speaker systems.

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