Is 3D television the next big thing in consumer tech? Splashy, flashy, and (virtually) in your face, 3D TV is getting a mega-promotional boost by its backers, including Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony, all of whom hope you'll be so bowled over by 3D's visual splendor that you won't mind paying a few thousand bucks for the 3D-at-home experience.
Well, 3D is pretty cool, I must admit. But its charm is limited to certain types of programming, and the unresolved problem of pricey, non-standardized 3D glasses will turn off a lot of potential buyers. And that's why 3D TV will take a back seat to Web services in the HDTV features war.
Web TV Arrives
Televisions with built-in Internet connections, typically an Ethernet port and/or Wi-Fi, are becoming increasingly common as manufacturers roll out their 2010 models. These HDTVs, such as LG's Web-ready lineup priced from $1,300 to $2,700, make it easy to access a rapidly expanding universe of Internet-based services, including movie-streaming services like Netflix and Vudu, as well as TV widgets that bring online content such as news, weather, traffic, stock quotes, and social networks (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) to the living room.
Even better, a Web-enabled TV can save you money. Do you need a Roku Digital Video Player if your TV is Internet-ready? A Blu-ray player? I'm guessing "no" to both. Vudu already offers 1080p movie streaming--provided your broadband connection is fast enough--and competing video services will soon follow. (Note: Not all Web-enabled TVs support Vudu, and I suspect many more will now that Wal-Mart has bought the company.) Bottom line: Web-connected TVs allow you to avoid additional set-top boxes, movie players, and shiny discs.
Internet-ready TVs are still in their infancy, and they're far from perfect. I've tested a few set-top boxes and Blu-ray players, and found them a bit flaky at times. They might, for instance, drop a Wi-Fi connection in the middle of movie and not be able to reconnect without a reboot. And in residences where the broadband router is far from the living room--perhaps in an upstairs home office--users may find it difficult to bring the Web to the TV.
Over time, however, these glitches will be resolved, and the Internet-TV relationship will bloom. So the next time you're shopping for a new HDTV, remember that Web connectivity is far more important than eye-popping 3D graphics.