Smart TVs: How Do They Work?

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Smart TVs were everywhere at CES. I must have seen two hundred of them while I was there. I could report on specs, resolution or 3D screens, but really, I am more curious about that word “smart” than I am about the raw specs. Is it merely the sum of new features that defines what a Smart TV is or should be? Just what exactly is it that makes a Smart TV, well…smart?

It probably has something to do with apps right? Maybe. Internet connectivity? Likely. Gesture controls? Possibly. Rather than speculate, I decided to visit a few people at the CES booths of Samsung, Sony and LG in order to get their take on Smart TVs. Basically, I asked them all the same 2 questions: How do you define what a Smart TV is today and what is your company’s vision for Smart TVs in the future?

Here’s what they said:

Samsung defined Smart TVs as sets that can run apps, have web browsing capability, smart search (meaning easy ways to locate content), and social media connectivity.

Their future vision of Smart TV technology includes a convergent content model—content distributed across multiple device touch points. For example, what if you could start watching a movie on your smartphone during your cab ride home from work but then could easily and seamlessly pick up where you left off on your larger screen the minute you arrive home. (Wait, doesn’t Netflix do that already?)

Sony defined a Smart TV as one that is “connected” for content consumption (e.g apps, entertainment network, etc) but also for interaction with social networks. Additionally, internal or external integration with other content systems (like Google TV) is a must.

At Sony their vision for the future of Smart TVs also has to do with convergent content experiences. According to their spokesperson Sean Cassady, that vision is not limited to TVs alone but instead is more of a company-wide attitude.

LG defined a Smart TV as one that is interactive, connected to the internet and capable of running apps. No one was available to comment at the time about their future vision.

Overall, few of these responses surprised me. How about an external opinion though?

Smart TVs could be somewhat of a misnomer according to Dan Shust, Vice President of the RI Lab at Resource Interactive. “‘Smart’ would imply some kind of intelligence or predictive behavior. While we are starting to see bits of that functionality, these TVs still aren’t totally there yet. What if my TV is not only connected to my social graph, but is making show recommendations based on things I’ve ‘liked’ or commented on in my social network of choice? “

Mr. Shust continued by saying “To me, the perfect TV would be one that takes content from any source (TV, movie, podcast, whatever), then watches my consumption habits, and can make intelligent recommendations deeply within the content I consume. For example, if the TV recognizes that I watch Jimmy Fallon clips on Youtube a lot, it should just start recording the regular show for me in the background. It could connect the dots and even notify me that a band I ‘liked’ on Facebook is going to be performing on Jimmy Fallon. That would be truly Smart.”

I think I agree. This potential view of Television would have seemed scary or like science fiction a mere 15 years ago but when viewed within the lens of the current capability of social and content networks, it seems to me more like a question of “when” not “if” .

When we do reach a point where TVs are equipped to handle preference management, I’m sure those kind of intelligent features will be able to be disabled, for those with privacy concerns.

Where does that leave us though? It still leaves us with some pretty fabulous displays, that are more powerful than ever and increasingly laden with features that increase the viewing experience.