Smart TV: Six big features that matter

Smart TV: Six big features that matter

Summary: Smart TVs offer a range of functionality, but which of their features actually make a difference?

TOPICS: Hardware

By now you are probably aware of the "Smart TV", a term used, generally, to describe televisions that are able to connect to the Internet. The idea itself isn't entirely new, but at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, the devices saw a resurgence. Samsung, LG, Sony, Lenovo and especially Google are all pushing the concept in a major way, which is probably a clear indication that there is going to be some major movement in the area over the next year.

But, as with most other device designations, the definition of a Smart TV is a bit amorphous. Features vary, with some devices, for example, touting voice controls while others more prominently featuring the ability to sync with social networks like Facebook and Twitter. There's simply a lot going on, which is why it's helpful to take a look at six of the key features that are likely to separate the Smart TV winners from their less fortunate counterparts.

A smart interface

One of the biggest problems with televisions and the cable boxes attached to them are their interfaces. Much of it is ugly, and the rest clunky and outdated. It needs a big change. A lot of the Smart TV platforms haven't fared much better. Google TV was shunned in 2010 for having an awful and unintuitive interface. Google eventually took the criticism to heart, updating and improving Google TV's interface with its upgrade to 2.0. It was a welcome change.

A robust recommendation engine
The term "Smart TV" is a bit misleading. Many televisions given the branding aren't particularly "smart"-- at least not in the sense that they exude any intelligence via features like recommendation engines. They can, of course, connect to the Internet and run apps, but a true "smart" platform would be one that would take your watching habits and use them to find you new things to watch. Google TV and Samsung's Smart TV currently feature a less sophisticated version of this, but there is clearly a lot of room for development.
Over-the-top content

Sadly, the most important feature desired in Smart TVs is the most difficult to obtain: Internet-based television programming. The grip networks and cable companies have on television content is a strong one. As much as cable customers want to see changes in the way cable packages are structured, the balance of power is shifted unequivocally against them. Cable companies and networks have a good thing going on and see no real reason to change their business models.

Microsoft knows this first hand. The company was recently forced to scrap plans for an Xbox TV subscription service after realizing, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the networks wanted a bit more money than Microsoft was willing to pay. So things are more or less stuck, at least for the time being.

But there's some hope. MySpace is planning a web-based subscription service that it says will offer the same content cable and satellite companies provide. It's a bit of a pipe dream, obviously, but there's a lot of money in it if Myspace and its parent company Specific Media can make it work.

Vizio, too, has hinted at similar service. In an interview with The Verge, Vizio CTO Matt McRae said that a full Internet television provider would arrive within the next 12-18 months. McRae didn't reveal too much, but he did say that the service would offer a much more robust search and discovery experience than what is currently offered.

Cloud-based gaming

The rise of cloud computing has had a profound affect on gaming. Services like OnLive and Gakai shift the processer burden from the console to the cloud, allowing otherwise underpowered devices to run console-quality games with few hitches. This extends to televisions as well. Google recently inked a deal with OnLive to offer the cloud gaming service on the Google TV platform. Offered via the OnLive Viewer app, the service will eventually be a default part of Vizio displays. LG is planning something similar with its implementation of Gakai in its own Smart TV line.

The ecosystem

Like the smartphone, apps play a big role in the feature set of the Smart TV. Manufacturers of Smart TV platforms are going to make a big deal over how their own app ecosystems measure up compared to competitors' own. That may be a bit of a problem for consumers, who may find time and time again that their favorite app isn't available on a particular platform. That's the strength in Google's approach, which is marked by the goal to be standard for a variety of television models. But until a clear frontrunner emerges, the battle of ecosystems won't get any easier to navigate.

Second screen compatibility

Tablets and smartphones have given rise to a new classification dubbed "the second screen." The term describes any device that a user interacts with while watching television, and includes tablets, smartphones, and laptops. Leveraging the second screen is going to be a increasingly significant component of Smart TV ecosystems. From acting as a remote control to providing supplementary programming information, the smartphone and tablet are greatly expanding the TV-viewing experience.

Topic: Hardware

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  • RE: Smart TV: Six big features that matter

    Wrong. Second screen compatibility? Tablet not a chance. Smartphone maybe. Better TV remote means no other device needed. Check twitter? Check scores live? It's in the app on the 42" not the 10".
    • Sorry. Wrong answer, please try again.

      I am tired of trying to maintain a TV remote for all my devices. A "Second Screen" makes a world of sense to me. I already control my Tivo with my Kindle Fire and I love it! Why does everything have to be controlled by an ancient IR device? Answer, it doesn't!
  • Screw the "Smart TV"

    Give me an excellent screen with a wide color gamut, a bunch of HDMI/component/composite/DVI/VGA inputs, a remote that makes a lick of sense, channel/input changing that doesn't take forever and a month, and buttons to change the input from the TV itself for when the remote is wedged between the couch cushions.

    The dumber, the better. The stuff that hooks up to the TV is the smart stuff. It knows what I want.

  • RE: Smart TV: Six big features that matter

    Voice control: I'd like to say "TV, Channel 4", or "TV, Input VGA". and have the TV set do it. Like voyager529 I want all buttons on the TV on the front where they can be used. If the TV hooks to the internet in any way, I want a set of privacy rules that --I-- define and choose. Not what Google wants, etc. And I do not really need the TV to suggest (advertise?) things to me. Unless I ask it to "show me movies, action" or something--and this sort of search request ought to be do-able via a menu, as all of it should. The screen must never display targeted ads without being commanded to do so, so to simplify, some of the features others would like, I not not care for. I am not unique, so to please more people, some of the features should be able to be turned off if desired.

    The TV must not by default remember what my choices and viewing habits have been without my permission, and must delete any such info upon request, and must not share such info with the can opener, as the can opener talks too much as it is.<br><br>However a serious and good feature for a smart TV, since it will probably have a camera, would be for the camera to recognize hand signals and the sign language that the deaf use, so that they could have almost as convenient an experience with commanding the TV. <br><br>All this depends on the TV having a voice interface, maybe thay is a moot issue but my friend's iPhone does what it is told, why not a TV set?
    • Voice is convenient, but not great...

      @opcom @opcom there was an article about a month ago with the headlines: "Siri still Hates Southerners." There isn't going to be a Smart TV without voice technology, but why would you want to wait each second for the TV to process what you just said or have to deal with misinterpretations that are inevitable? Smart TV is looking for an all-in-one controller instead of having to resort to multiple input methods to control one platform.
  • RE: Smart TV: Six big features that matter

    The killer feature is a "remote finder" button. Press a button on the TV that makes the remote flash and beep so you can find the remote. End of story.
    • What remote is that?

      @jhuddle The success of the Smart TV is going to derive from the success of controller. As of right now, there's no convenient way to control the variety of contents that are aimed to come out. That feature might be killer, but there needs to be a remote to find.
  • RE: Smart TV: Six big features that matter

    With ISP's putting caps on download traffic, IP based television isn't likly to go anywhere. The ISP's will charge too much to use their bandwidth.
    • RE: Smart TV: Six big features that matter

      @bharris0@... Right on. Many cable cos are also ISP's. They make big $$ with there over priced Pay-per-views, insane "theme" packaging and movie channels. They are going to do everything they can, legal or illegal to block competition. If that includes caps on downloads, so be it. A 3rd party content provider cuts into the profits, just reduce the cap and increase over cap charges to claw consumers back from 3rd party providers. The dark side of free enterprise.
  • RE: Smart TV: Six big features that matter

    Give me the ability to select just the channels I want to receive and not have to pay for a bunch of junk that I will never watch and I would be happy.
  • RE: Smart TV: Six big features that matter

    Fact: smart TV's are not being used as internet connected device and probably won't be for a long time.<br><br>One of the biggest issues is assuming that people have good connectivity from their TV's to the internet. Most households are not wired to that room and I don't care what you say about wireless it doesn't work reliably for high quality video streaming across the house. Its also generally too complicated for a general householder to connect up to the network. Now if the sales of the TV included the installation of the TV and the connectivity (wiring) to the internet then the adoption rates would increase.

    As an example purchasing thin screens raised the bar of expertise required as many people wanted the device mounted on the wall. This was beyond the normal skills required when taking home a TV. I purchased my Pioneer plasma TV Pioneer came and installed it (mounted it on the wall) connected all my systems (DVD, set top box etc) and tuned and calibrated the screen.

    However most people have limited internet plans so even if they were wired they wouldn't be able to use it.
  • RE: Smart TV: Six big features that matter

    After you watch this segment, if you continue to buy and use these electronic devices, you have no heart. Sorry:

    Jon Stewart's Devastating, Dark Segment on Factories Where iPhones Are Made
    Jon Stewart isn't always stellar on labor issues, but the segment he ran last night about the Chinese Foxconn factories where iPhones and other staples of today's Western technological world are made, and where morale is so low that mass suicides have been threatened.
    As Stewart said, workers are threatened with jail time for organizing a union--but to our foreign eyes, it feels like how could jail be worse than the lives they lead already?

    There is no excuse or justification for this. If you do have a heart, pass this on to everyone you know. This has to be stopped!
    • I am Confused

      Are you talking about Chinese labor practices or the use of electronic devices? The buying of electronic devices, per se, does not mean that a person is heartless. Please rethink your position and put the onus where it belongs.
    • RE: Smart TV: Six big features that matter

      @rmberkowitz So you think that was an unbiased piece that told the whole story? I certainly wouldn't say conditions there are great but you see to forget a number of facts. The mass suicide threats were not at the iPhone factory. The suicide rate at these factories is lower than the Chinese national average. People travel from all over the country to get these jobs which is one of the reason they live in dormitories. Like I said, the conditions are not great especially by our standards but when you take your news from such a biased site you have no credibility.
  • Feature #1 is not having anything to do with google. Sony,LG,Samsung,Vizio

    all FAIL. I absolutely do not want any sw from or integration with google anywhere in or near my tv's. google is proven on all platforms to only be good at allowing malware/spyware to get at you, throwing crap ads at you, and selling your data to others. No thanks to anything that has anything to do with google.
    #2 is skype.
    Johnny Vegas
    • RE: Smart TV: Six big features that matter

      @Johnny Vegas
      You mean like Microsoft does on a daily basis ... (or any other OS for that matter ..)
      Yes, there is lots of malware/spyware out there .. but that does not mean that Google is anymore responsible for delivering it to your desktop then any other OS (or company)
      And almost all OS companies spy on your data/location ..etc .. Google is just 1 of them.
      Your argument is totally stupid .. and without merit
      Feature #3 is not having to listen to you !!
    • RE: Smart TV: Six big features that matter

      @Johnny Vegas

      LOL apple user who hates technology how fresh!. Features that matter in a smart TV 1.UI 2. content 3.nothing else the first 2 take care of everything.

      I wonder when foxxcon starts making more apple TVs how much pollution together with increased amount suicides there will be. I wonder is there is a correlation.

      Final thing new TVs should be Oled because they are simply better.
  • RE: Smart TV: Six big features that matter

    What can a smart TV provide that a laptop connected to a dumb TV via HDMI can't? The laptop = smart interface, over-the-top content, cloud-based, excellent ecosystem, camera, voice-activated, etc. etc. You can buy a spare laptop for a lot less than the premium on a smart TV, and it is a lot harder to loose.
    • RE: Smart TV: Six big features that matter

      Well,you have a laptop in the room...

      some people want the always on connectivity, the absence of another "something" in their living room (Where do you keep it? On the coffee table?), etc. Samsung has the option of having a camera, and now is working on sets with voice and hand gesture controls/input. They are also working on a TV with a card slot that will accept cards with hardware supporting future capabilities for the TV, so it will cost less to update your TV than it will to replace it. I have to admit I'm a bit sceptical of the last bit, but I can see the Smart TV, with voice and gesture inputs, to be a lot more attractive than a PC hooked up to the TV. I speak from experience as I have a media PC in my home entertainment system rack right now.
    • RE: Smart TV: Six big features that matter

      @bobphi That's the same thing they said about the tablet. It's a different experience, one that comes from a smoother integration of PC capabilities than just literally an internet mode and TV mode. The lowest of interactions would be something like "live polls" right on the TV rather than having to deal with pulling your laptop out and focusing your attention on a smaller screen.