Most of the LED and LCD TVs on the market today contain some sort of Ethernet port or proclaim an “Internet Ready” or “Smart TV” capability. However, once you get into the details, it becomes quickly apparent that the TV manufacturers have very different meanings for what is considered a “Smart TV”. These TVs typically run on an App system, akin to a mobile phone, where the Apps can be downloaded to the TV via the TVs Ethernet port. Some units are also offering wireless connections. Like the iPhone, Windows Phone, and Android, each TV has a separate operating system and available Apps.
The challenge is what TV to choose. It really depends on the following:
1) Does the LED or LCD TV only connect to the internet using a proprietary App system, or can I connect it to a home network to stream media?
Samsung, Sony, LG, and Vizio all have “Smart” or “Internet Ready” TVs. However, if you plan to stream media over the LAN (Ethernet) from your home PC or network be prepared to do some digging to find out if you can actually connect it to your LAN. TVs supporting LAN connections will usually leverage the Digital Living Network Alliance standard for connectivity (DLNA http://www.dlna.org/home) by integrating with a PCs native software such as Windows Media Player 11, or by providing a downloadable PC application such as Samsung’s AllShare (http://www.samsung.com/global/allshare/pcsw/). If you don’t have a computer capable of streaming with Media Player 11 (such as Windows Server 2008 R2, which can install Windows Media Player 11 but the streaming capability is disabled), the downloadable App may meet your streaming needs.
As of this writing, Vizio does not support connections to a home network yet boosts a large library of Apps (more on that in a minute), and LG has decided to go the open source route with Plex (http://www.plexapp.com/).
It is also critical to note that each TV may have different acceptable file formats. Some of the most common are .AVI and .MP4 for video using the H.264 Codec. A great tool for converting your video files to .MP4 is HandBrake (http://handbrake.fr/).
Given these considerations, do your research and carefully make the decision if and how you need streaming media from your home network/if you are comfortable with an downloaded open source application such as Plex.
2) What Apps do you need, and can the TVs Operating System be upgraded?
The most common Apps for LED and LCD TVs revolve around viewing video, listening to music, reading news, social networking, or browsing the internet. This includes Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, YouTube, Pandora, AP News, Facebook, Twitter, Google and more… lots, lots more. It’s a wonder any of us can pull away from the TV! But I suppose it is better than being glued to a handheld device with a small screen that is hard to read/should be illegal to view while driving.
The decision points with selecting a TV are the range of Apps, supportable of the Operating System, and cost for Apps. Each manufacturer has their own system, with their own collection of Apps. Take Samsung and Vizio as examples:
Samsung Apps: http://www.samsung.com/us/article/apps-built-for-your-tv
Vizio Apps (VIA): http://www.vizio.com/via/
You can tell that there are commonalities, but still a large variance in offerings. This is where you need to ask yourself “What Apps are important to me/will be a mainstay versus those that are novelty and how much do I want to pay for those Apps).
One of the hardest questions to answer in this scenario is will the TV manufacturers continue to upgrade their Operating Systems via a Firmware or Update system, or are you stuck with a system that will be non-functional/not supported by the manufacturer in a year. This is a tough one to answer as any TV manufacturer will do anything to get you to buy their product and are thin on the details when it comes to “expected life”. The best advice here is to really focus on the core of what a LED or LCD TV is intended to do… be a TV! Focus to the Streaming Media Apps as the first choice, and carefully consider if having Facebook, Twitter, Games, and Internet Browsing fit your requirements. If they don’t and you are concerned about supportability… consider a Playstation 3/Xbox 360 or Media Center connected to your TV. It may provide better supportability for Games and Internet browsing. The con is that it increases cost to have another peripheral, but brings in the argument of intended use (Good luck playing Halo natively on your TV without an Xbox 360).
Where do we go from here?
It all comes down to intended use. If you are a Netflix user and don’t stream over your home network, you can get an LED or LCD TV that does not connect to the LAN. However, if you want to go the streaming media route, or have concerns over the supportability of non-streaming video Apps, carefully research the DLNA capabilities and any downloadable third party applications necessary to stream across the network. My personal choice (Samsung LED Series 6) is to go with a LED TV that contains both a strong set of Apps/Operating System support, DLNA support via Windows Media Player 11, and lots of options to connect other devices down the road, such as a dedicated gaming system.
I hope this helps guide you/ arm you with the right questions to ask when considering your next LED or LCD purchase. Until then, I am downloading the ESPN App so I can view Sports Scores on the top of the screen while my wife watches HGTV… Now that’s a Smart TV!