Do We Need the Internet on our TV Screens?
If you are already feeling over-connected, you might not like the fact that at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week most big TV manufacturers weren't really pushing the concept of Internet Protocol TV (IPTV). They have already assumed that we like it, we want it and it's here to say. In fact, at the keynote on Thursday morning, CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro made the prediction that in 2014, "consumers in the U.S. will purchase nearly 30 million Internet-connected televisions."
By the way, that's not a graphic of the TV on the wall; that's the TV on the wall. It's that thin.
IPTV is different than the MSN TV/WebTV that some people had on their televisions back in the 90's, a dusty keyboard resting atop their entertainment center. No, these are all crazy intuitive and offer streaming services, gaming options, great apps, ease of access for inner-home connectivity, options for connecting with tablets and so on. They're sleek, stylish and all the rage.
But I don't know if I like it.
Don't get me wrong: I love being connected. 3G access has kind of been jammed here in Vegas due to presence of hundreds of thousands of smart phone users all trying to tweet that the 3G access stinks. Not being able to Google what I want, check in with my co-workers or, when phone lines got jammed, talk to my family has made me kind of twitchy. I depend on my smartphone.
So what's wrong with these Internet capable TVs? After all, there was a time in the not too distant past that anyone who had a phone that did more than make calls and play worm was teased. "Why do you need a phone that does all that" Now the switch is, "Why do you need a TV that does all that?" Will these smart-tvs be our norm?
Let's face it, it seems to be moving in that direction. Sony and Time Warner reached a deal, announced here at CES, that streams Time Warner through Sony IPTVs. That's right: A cable company finally stopped the total freak out they've been doing for years and decided to become friends with Internet-based viewers.
But I'm still not 100% sold. I'm trying to make myself weigh pros and cons.
On the positive side, for families who can't justify the addition of multiple computers per multiple children, perhaps this is one way to kill two birds with one stone. While Little Suzy is working on her paper on the family desktop, Junior can play on Facebook and tweet about how annoying his sister is while streaming YouTube videos about dorky sisters. No fighting over the computer screen necessary. As the price of these televisions continues to drop, having a piece of technology that both accesses the Internet and serves the family's entertainment needs seems like a decent idea.
Another great point that I particularly liked was the whole lack of cords and boxes and fumbling with the back of boxes. They introduced the concept of "one foot connect." Meaning? If I want to do one of the workout videos I've downloaded on my laptop, I simply place my laptop within one foot of my Samsung IPTV and it connects. I can do my workout without getting a workout trying to plug the HDMI cable into the side (or searching for said cable as per usual).
Do I want to Skype with my parents on our huge TV? Sure! Do I want people to interrupt my television watching with a phone call? Uh, no.
But, of course, I come back to the, "Do we really need to be connected all the time?" They keep claiming that TV is no longer passive; it's an active participant piece of technology now. But what happened to kicking back on Sunday afternoon, watching the game and just disconnecting from the world? Is there still room for that? Some would say, "Well, just don't use the Internet if you don't want to." That's like telling a tech-addict not to check his email on his phone ten times per minute. If it's there, people want to use it.
Lastly, I'm concerned for our children, of course. I haven't really seen any of the big IPTV pushers (which makes these things sound like a really hot drug) talk about parent controls. I'm sure they do have parent controls, but having worked with such things before, as our younger generations get more and more tech savvy, will they be able to quickly get around something their parents set up? I also don't know if we should be encouraging more screen time with our children.
Just like my conflicting thoughts, reactions on the web are mixed as well.
Over at The 37th Frame, the writer wonders about the usefulness of Internet on TV.
I wonder about the usefulness of putting 'the Internet' on TV. I'm not talking about Internet video - this area has a bright future as long as the structure of the Internet can keep pace with the demand. I'm talking about Facebook and Twitter and getting Skype calls through your TV - these are experiences that are really better aligned with PC's, tablets and mobile phones. Reading text from across the living room just isn't that comfortable, and I really don't want to answer my TV when somebody is calling.
Jessi Hempel, writing for CNNMoney.com, asks, "What the hell is going on with TV?" She acknowledges that Internet TV is finally here, after years of false starts, but is confused about what to do about it.
But for the moment, all that promise translates into a proliferation of new boxes and services that are impossible to compare. Do I want an Internet-connected TV from Samsung or Sony (SNE), or should I just buy a separate box that hooks up to the Net, like that brick-size Logitech (LOGI) gadget that enables Google TV? What about the supercheap Roku box? Should I bother paying for Hulu's new premium service or just get a Netflix subscription?
Bianca Bosker over at The Huffington Post points out that the Internet-TV-marriage has been a love affair with trials and tribulations over the years. She asks some really pertinent questions as well.
Why has the living room proven such a quagmire for the likes of Apple, Microsoft and Google, enormously successful pioneers that have built empires and attracted millions with must-have offerings in smartphones, software and search? Can this sphere ever be conquered, or will it prove impenetrable, even to the same formidable marketing and engineering masters who have managed to convince us to turn their brand names into verbs and trade in our cell phones every two years?
I have this gut-feeling that connectivity via our TVs might be here to stay. I do know that I like it more than the equally big push at CES this year -- 3D TV. Or 3D gaming which vodkamom covered my reasoning for that quite well. We just bought a new TV. It is not Internet ready. Will we upgrade? Not anytime soon. When our children are teenagers? Maybe, but only if I know the parent controls better than they do (which I hope continues to be our trend).
What do you think? Will your next TV purchase be based on things like connectivity? How would you utilize it in your home? Would it be more of a hassle, a benefit for your family or something that simply went unused?
Contributing Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is a freelance writer and newspaper photographer. She attended CES 2011 as a part of the Blue Blogger Crew with Sears. Her travel was paid for, but her opinions are her own. Obviously. TV photo credit belongs to her as well.