"Smart" TVs and Blu-ray Players
A major trend in recent HDTV and Blu-ray players is Internet connectivity, providing built-in access to Web-based entertainment and information. There are two ways to get at these online goodies – through a single-purpose "app" that lets you access a specific online service, or through a Web browser. Each has its pros and cons when it comes to watching online video.
Like an app on a smartphone, a smart TV app gives you one-click access, without having to worry about typing in a Web address. Of course, since you need a different app for every service, the screen can start to get cluttered. A smart TV or Blu-ray player will come with apps for online video services such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Hulu Plus, though the specific services available vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. You'll also find apps to access music, photos, news and more. Still, there are lots of online video sources that aren't available in a handy app package.
That's where the browser alternative kicks in. Both LG and Samsung offer smart TVs and Blu-ray players with full-fledged Web browsers. This gives you lots of freedom to Web surf as you please, if you can get over one hurdle: entering Web addresses. On its higher-priced sets, LG delivers a cool remote that works like a Wii videogame controller — a pointer moves on the screen as you move your hand in the air. That lets you type in Web addresses by pointing at an on-screen picture of a keyboard. Easy to understand, but letter-by-letter input is a little tedious.
Samsung took a different approach, with a dual-sided controller that has a small keyboard right on the back. It's not a bad system, as long as you have slender fingers and good aim.
Panasonic takes an apps-only approach to its smart TVs. That's true for Sony, too, for the most part, but they do offer a few sets and a Blu-ray player incorporating the Google TV system discussed below.