Holiday 2012: Are You Smarter than a Flat Screen?

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There used to be a time when your appliances were not as smart as you. A time when you told the coffee maker what time you were getting up, the coffee maker didn’t tell you. A time when you, not your smartphone, scheduled lights out. There was a time when we ruled the electronics in our lives, and not the other way around.

But that time is past. Now we have appliances that tell us when to get up, when to leave the house, when to lock and alarm the doors, and when to turn the TV off. We can’t make a move without informing one of our many electronics, whether for safety and security or just pure convenience.

But besides our computers and phones, one appliance that’s making great headway in outsmarting us is the television. Televisions have become so much more than just entertainment systems. They now schedule, alert, maintain and arrange our lives, which would be scary if it weren’t so darn convenient.

But the convenience is worth it. Imagine a world where all of your entertainment needs are contained in one box—gaming, lifestyle, movies and music—and then you'll see that sacrificing a little control pays off in the end. TVs now help you shape your day, watch your weight and add more flexibility to your viewing options than ever before.

What a smart TV does is open up your world so that you don’t have to add, configure or search for options. Sure, you could achieve the same effects by hardwiring your TV to your laptop, or running Wi-Fi and connecting your television  to your home network, but a smart TV does all that for you, and keeps the mess to a minimum. Integrated browsers, readily accessible subscription services, and a host of family and lifestyle activities make smart TVs a smart choice for some consumers.

Too Smart for Their Own Good

Take the LG Electronics 47G2 47" Class Cinema 3D LED Google TV. Seriously, take it. This 47” Full HD 1920 x 1080p LED set features a TruMotion 120 Hz refresh rate, 3D capabilities (and 6 pairs of 3D glasses!) and built in Wi-Fi. It is completely integrated with Google and allows you to channel-surf, watch premium online video-on-demand content, and access streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and HBO GO using the integrated Google Chrome browser. But one of the standout features is their Magic Remote. This remote features a QWERTY keyboard, integrated microphone for voice search commands, and gesture control. My remote is missing three buttons and has maple syrup in the battery case, so you can see why a full-featured remote is a big deal to most people.

LG also has the 55LM6700 55" Cinema 3D Smart LED TV, for a grander view. This massive 55” screen is only the tip of the visual iceberg. It’s also a Full HD 1920 x 1080p edge-lit LED flat screen with Smart TV functions and built-in Wi-Fi. Those functions include streaming content from online services, web browsing and WiDi, wireless digital streaming from and to any WiDi-enabled device like laptops. This television also features a unique mode called Dual Play. Built for gamers, dual play allows you to wear specialized glasses (sold separately) which enable two players to play a split-screen game—while each player only sees their point of view of the game. No more peeking and seeing where your screen partner is going or what they are doing. The Magic Remote is not as fully tricked-out as the 47G2 (no keyboard or mic), but it does support gesture control.

Another 47” television from LG is the 47LS5700 47" Smart LED TV. This Full HD 1080p TV also features a 120Hz refresh rate, built-in Wi-Fi and SMART TV features. How smart? This edge-lit LED TV features Intelligent Sensor, which automatically adjusts picture quality to match the room’s lighting, a content upscaler to make pictures and video pop on the big screen by increasing their resolution, and streaming from tablets, smartphones and laptops via the built in Wi-Fi.

Panasonic also has a pair of genius TVs. The Smart Viera 50" Class UT50 Series Full HD 3D Plasma HDTV features Full HD 1920 x 1080 3D, 2D to 3D conversion and access to VIERA Connect smart features (the UT50 is Wi-Fi capable – an optional wireless adapter is sold separately). The Smart Viera 50" Class GT50 Series Full HD Plasma HDTV features built in Wi-Fi, a Full HD 1080p display on a THX Certified screen, and also includes 3D Real Sound with 8 Train speakers and access to VIERA Connect. The VIERA Connect features on both TVs include Skype compatibility, media player support in a variety of formats like AVCHD, JPEG and VOB. You can also play games, listen to music, check weather and even keep track of your health and fitness. The only thing these TVs won’t do is find the remote when you lose it.

Samsung also maintains their share of the smart TV market.. They have the UN46EH5300 46" Class LED HDTV which features 1080p Full HD resolution across a 46” backlit LED screen, a clear motion rate of 120 (similar, but not the same, as the refresh rate – the higher the better), and built in Wi-Fi, and the UN46ES6100FXZA 46" Class Slim LED HDTV, which features much of the same in a slimmer package, but adds a CMR of 240. Samsung takes advantage of the connected capabilities of their TVs by integrating the Smart Hub and AllShare platforms into their TVs. Smart Hub with Smart Content contains a wide variety of programming aimed at your lifestyle. From Facebook, Skype, Twitter to Netflix, Hulu + and ESPN ScoreCenter, there’s something for everyone to enjoy here. You can even connect to smartphones and tablets with a free app that lets you use those devices as remote controls. Samsung’s Family Story even lets you connect to other family members through the television, complete with birthday calendars and reminders, photos and video.

Sony is in the same smart TV boat. They have the KDL46HX750 46" BRAVIA LED Internet TV, which on top of featuring Full HD in 1080p in a dynamic edge-lit LED, with a refresh rate of 240Hz, also features built-in Wi-Fi with access to the Sony Entertainment Network. This 3D television can access apps like Pandora, YouTube and Facebook. You can also connect your compatible smartphone, computer or Sony Tablet S wirelessly and "throw" your videos, photos and music files to your HDTV. The KDL46HX850 46" BRAVIA Internet TV features of all that, and throws in higher 3D “super-resolution,” which enhances the picture quality of 3D movies. 

Making Them Smarter

Are there ways to make televisions smarter than they already are? Probably not, but you can enhance their effectiveness with add-ons like a broken-in massaging recliner or mini-fridge with robotic serving arms. In lieu of that, you can always consider the Roku 2 XD or Roku 2 XS. These streaming players can enhance a smart television (and even the obtuse ones) by enabling you to access programming, movies games and more without a PC or premium payments to the cable company. You simply hook the Roku to your TV and let it access your existing subscriptions like Netflix, Hulu+ or HBO Go through your home network. You’ll even have access to on-demand content (separate fee may be required). The Roku 2 XD lets you view and stream up to 1080p Full HD content—the Roku 2 XS additionally includes Angry Birds, motion control for certain games, an Ethernet jack and a USB port.

Western Digital also has a digital media player, the WD TV LIVE Streaming Media Player, which uses either a built-in Wi-Fi or a hardwire Ethernet connection. You connect the box to your TV or other monitor and then stream high-definition music, movies or other digital media from your home network. It also lets you access Facebook, YouTube, Netflix and other streaming services (subscription fees for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu+ may be required). The WD TV Live Hub Network Media Player does the same but contains a built-in 1TB hard drive to store your downloaded digital data, like music, videos and photos. It does not have wireless capabilities, but you can purchase an optional wireless adapter. It also displays in 1080p Full HD via the HDMI connection.

For even more flexibility with your viewing options, try the Slingbox 350. This device hooks up to your DVR, cable or satellite box and allows you to view your programming in 1080p Full HD anywhere—in the world. That’s right, anywhere in the world. A built-in emitter and included IR relay cable enable you to command your set-top box from another room or across the planet. It hard-connects and then streams your programming across the Internet (you must have a bandwidth of at least 2 Mbps for HD content), so if you want to catch the game but you’re on a business trip to Dubai, fear not. Plus, there’s the Slingbox 500 as well, which features built in Wi-Fi, so no hard-wiring is needed.

If everything in your house has an Apple logo on it, you may want to invest in the Apple TV (1080p) media player. Powered by a single-core A5 chip, Apple TV allows you to stream movies, music, photos and all your digital content to your TV, Apple laptop or Mac computer (it works with other devices as well, but as they say, when in Cupertino…). Its compact size and sleek frame scream "Apple," but it serves its purpose well for streaming online content.

Of course, a smart television is useless without a well-informed operator, so make sure to ask the helpful Sales Professionals at B&H, who have years of experience with smartness, about smart TVs or any other of your television needs.