So I Own a Smart TV. Now What?

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My final Christmas present was a new TV which prompted me to basically reconstruct my entire “battle station,” as many gamers like to call it these days. As it turns out my new set is a smart TV, so I can finally see what all the commotion over them is about.

This comes after an NPD report saying that most people are using smart TVs to… well watch TV, and not much else. I don’t think it’s hard to see why really. Watching online video on your television screen is great — for a lot of people it’s replaced cable, but I think most of us agree that the preferable method for this is to buy a $100-$300 box and hook it up to their TV instead of buying a new $1,000 TV.

But nonetheless I ended up getting a deal on a Samsung 6100 series (lower than the one at the link) and only later discovered it was a smart TV. Already having an Xbox and Wii (among a bunch of old consoles that have no business near a 46” LCD screen) connected to it, I’m messing around with the TV’s own OS seeing if there’s any reason I’d use it.

So far the one reason I’ve found to care about a smart TV at all is the fact that it has HBO Go in its app store (which I was surprised even existed). For those who aren’t HBO subscribers who use Go regularly, it is frustrating how few television devices offer it. HBO intentionally disabled AirPlay functionality in the iOS Go app, and the software is nowhere to be found on the PS3 over a year after they first announced it. Other than this TV, The Xbox 360 and the Roku box are the only living room devices I know of that run HBO Go. It’s literally one of two remaining reasons I still pay for Xbox Live Gold.

Despite all the video apps the 360 acquired over the last year, I still don’t really see it as a video-playing device. That’s probably just my own perspective — maybe it’s because I still own the fat white 360, or because I still don’t own a remote for it, or simply because the PS3 feels like a more natural choice for online video. I first bought my PS3 for Blu-Ray movies and have used it for viewing photos and videos of various kinds almost more than I’ve played games on it. It just disappoints me that Sony has allowed Microsoft to beat them in this area.

But enough about my anger over set top boxes not rising to Xbox’s challenge, from my view the smart TV’s uses are few at this point. Oh, the Samsung app store has a Ustream app, which isn’t available on any box that I know of. All the other software I see using here I could just as easily use on another box I already own. Possibly the most useful feature of this thing in my situation is going to be its USB ports.

The TV itself may only carry a paltry 800MB of internal storage, but the fact that I can hook up my new terabyte hard drive to it means it may yet become a video-playing powerhouse on its own. The 360 has ridiculous size and format limits regarding playback from external media. The PS3, while compatible with a wider range of formats, still has some small but critical limitations that I won’t go over here.

Most importantly, the Samsung’s instruction manual says it’ll play MKVs.

Now I haven’t gotten them to work yet, but for years now getting MKVs to play on a TV screen (with subtitles) has been something of a holy grail of mine. Doing it on a PS3 or Xbox requires a whole lot of conversion or some streaming over a very good internet connection. I know there are a handful of boxes (Roku?) that can do it, but none that I own.

Still, all these abilities that a smart TV might have to make it useful are merely due to exclusions and limitations enforced by set top box manufacturers, not the fact that it’s a whole television set. It’s still obvious that there’s no real inherent advantage here.

This is why I still don’t quite understand all the speculation of Apple building their own smart TV. The main advantage there would be the emergence of a living room device that runs the iOS app ecosystem. That alone would be huge, affecting the smart TV, set top box, and even game console markets. I just don’t see why Apple can’t simply release a buffed-up Apple TV and charge a few hundred dollars for that instead of charging over $1000 for a whole TV set. Why can’t they let me control my iPhone or iPad by remote when it’s hooked up over HDMI? Manufacturers in general are just gonna have to realize that most people aren’t going to replace their TV sets every three years. It’s more like a refrigerator than a phone or computer when you think about it.

Really though, it’s all one more reason for me to eventually just hook up a computer to my TV. From everything I’ve seen it kills at least five birds with one stone.

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