The age of technological convergence is upon us and the latest generation of televisions is leading the way. On-demand content is already revolutionising the way we watch TV, and the latest screens will allow you to access it all from the one device that dominates your living room.
While added functionality and features have often in the past been something of an unwanted distraction, with Internet-enabled content it looks we finally have something genuinely worth making a song and dance about. And this week, Samsung has been doing just that. With its own Internet@TV service and Apps Store, Samsung has arguably the best developed service, and a one-to-one guided tour of the service showed that the company is convinced this is one of the key features on the latest generation of televisions.
So how does it work and what do you get? Getting up and running is easy enough provided you have a suitably equipped TV and an internet network at home. Simply connect your TV to your network using an Ethernet cable or wireless dongle, and you’re in business.
What you’ll get varies from manufacturer to manufacturer – Sony has Bravia Internet Video, LG has NetCast and Panasonic has Viera Cast, for example – but there’s plenty of crossover at the time of writing. Samsung’s service stands as the current benchmark, so let's see what it has to offer.
You're greeted by a slick, intuitive menu screen that guides you towards the ‘apps’ on offer. A live broadcast corner in the top of the screen keeps you on top of what you're watching, while you’ll find Samsung’s recommended applications in a menu bar at the top of the screen. This will be refreshed on a regular basis and aims to help point you towards some of the best apps on offer. Below that you'll find a mix of applications which you can search through and then position how you wish enabling fast access to your favourite apps.
We’ll jump to unarguably the most exciting app: BBC iPlayer. That’s right: connect your TV to the ‘net and you’ll have direct access to the iPlayer service in all its glory.? And we mean in all its glory: it looks great, with even a 50in TV delivering perfectly watchable, clean, almost-Freeview-quality images. There’s a choice of stream quality, too: the standard stream now weighing in at 800kbps in the h.264 format, while the high quality setting delivers 1500kbps, while last but not least the Beeb's HD channel offers better quality still.
The second ace in the internet-enabled pack looks set to be streaming on-demand film content. Both Samsung and Sony have deals in place with LoveFilm. Sign-up to the LoveFilm rental service to get free access to the online service, allowing you to scroll through movies on your TV and watch films at the push of a button. There's surely no arguing with that sort of convenience, even if from what we’ve seen the quality isn’t quite as high as BBC’s iPlayer.
Elsewhere, and more ubiquitous across all the different manufacturers' services, is access to video streaming services such as YouTube, picture sites such as Picasa and Flickr, and social media services including Facebook and Twitter – all without leaving your favourite chair.
Samsung currently has 35 apps on offer from its Internet@TV service, with a promise of having anywhere between 75 and 100 different applications online by the end of 2010 – though there’s likely to be a fair bit of filler as well as killer in there.
We know that for many people the quality of the picture is the be all and end all when it comes to buying a TV, but in the case of Internet TV content we really do think this is a feature that adds a whole new dimension to your TV – and you won't need any glasses...