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COMMENT: Why Smart TVs Are Plain Dumb

By David Richards | Friday | 01/07/2011

COMMENT: When the Financial Review recently panned a new so called 'Smart' Sony Bravia TV, using the headline 'Beautiful but not Smart' the reviewer touched on a subject that could well have an adverse impact on several TV vendors.

No more so than for brands like Samsung, Sony and LG who are now using the words 'smart TV' to flog their latest offerings.

The only problem is the new generation of TVs that are being sold as Smart TVs are not smart because they lack processing grunt to deliver a smart TV experience. 

In the case of the Sony review, the newspaper rightly picked up on the fact the TV struggled to deliver even the most basic of web pages.

After trying to access the web page 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart', the Sony Bravia TV delivered the message "The size of the page was too large to be displayed".

6 months ago Sony had to dump their Google TV program, because Google, Intel, Logitech and Sony failed to deliver a good TV experience when Google tried to move into the TV market with the exclusive backing of Sony.

Since then Google and Intel have gone back to the drawing boards in an effort to rewrite software and deliver a process that is specifically designed to process content for TVs.

Spruiking a concept in an effort to sell more TV is fraught with dangers especially when Smart TV technology is in its infancy.

This time last year the big TV brands were telling consumers that we had to go out and buy a 3D TV. That strategy backfired, with big brands like LG and Samsung now claiming that the 3D technology they delivered in their big shiny $3,000 TVs last year is yesterday's technology, the glasses were no good and at best irritated people.

Then there were issues over loss of brightness when a TV owner switched to 3D as well as problems with flicker rates.

Then there is the fight in the Federal Court of Australia as to who has the best 3D TV technology, LG's passive 3D technology or Samsung's Active Shutter technology which is being used by brands like Sharp, Sony and Panasonic?

The answer is anyone's guess because both 3D TV technology and Smart TV technology are in their infancy and a long way from being mature. 3D will only be close to being viable when we don't have to use glasses and movie houses are pumping out everything in 3D.

What we have today is a TV that has evolved from a simple five channel free to air TV that became a TV able to deliver new digital HD Channels.

Then along came the TV spruikers and 3D but what was lacking was content and an open standard for 3D resulting in squabbling between brands as to who has the best TV offering.

Now we have the likes of Sony and Samsung spruiking Smart TVs. They are not smart yet and will not be smart for another 18 months when processor companies like Qualcomm, Intel, and AMD start delivering processors specifically designed for a TV.

What we have that at this stage are TVs that have evolved to be being able to run some low level apps as well as content from the likes of Telstra TV and from Internet content providers like Google and Apple, who are currently delivering content for TVs, Smartphones and tablets.

Right now consumers get a better TV experience by adding a set top box from the likes of Topfield, Beyonwiz and manufacturers who have software from the likes of Ice TV, built into their STB offering, along with a terabyte of storage and Ethernet connectivity that connects consumers to online applications. 

By plugging one of these STB boxes into 3D TV consumers get the best of both worlds.

Google TV, along with several new Smart TV offerings from the likes of Sony, Samsung and Apple are set to reappear next year due in part to the development of embedded TV chip technology from organisations who have been making processors for notebooks and a new generation of tablets and Smartphones.

Also set to play a major role in TV evolution is Toshiba who are close to delivering 3D TV without the need for glasses. They also have their notebook experience to call on when it comes to packing notebook and tablet type performance into a TV. 
Until now, Internet-connected TV devices have typically offered single-function features, such as streaming movies from favourite providers.

New smart TV capable devices that will be launched in 2013 will deliver a completely different TV viewing experience, enabling consumers to interact with their TV like never before, seamlessly integrating a broad array of Internet content, broadcast programming, personal content, and virtually unlimited applications—all viewable on one TV screen.

Intel believes that they will be able to show, at the 2012 CES exhibition, a "real smart TV" capable of interfacing with a variety of applications and content.

Smart TV-enabled devices require more processing power to support a lot of the new capabilities that are now coming to market for a Smart TV.

The Intel Atom processor CE4100 is Intel's current 'TV system-on-a-chip'. No TVs in Australia currently have this technology.

This Intel processor delivers the power for full HD video and audio, and advanced graphics required for new smart TV-enabled devices such as set top boxes, Blu-ray players and digital TVs.

 Another development is the elimination of cables from a TV.

 3M, the company that gave us the Post It Note, is close to launching an Ethernet cable that delivers power, audio and video as well as Internet connectivity to a TV.

The electricity for the TV is delivered via a power enabled wireless router.

So if you are rushing out to buy a new Smart TV remember it will only be a Smart TV till the next smart idea comes along, and that could be in 18 months' time!

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