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Smart TVs Take Center Stage at CES

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LAS VEGAS-Major TV manufacturers are betting heavily on connected TV appliances at CES, with LG, Sharp Electronics, and Samsung all declaring marketing strategies based on smart design and functionality.

"2011 is all about smart product-smart TVs, smart mobiles, and smart appliances," said Wayne Park, president & CEO of LG North America.

All indicators point upwards for TV sets with built in net connections. DisplaySearch expects that 118 million connected TVs will be sold worldwide by 2014, while iSuppli predicts an even more ambitious 148 million globally for that year and Park Associates puts the 2015 figure at 185 million.

The growth of internet-fed TV will leapfrog ahead of 3D TV, as evidenced by the promotion of such devices at CES, where they have the kind of buzz that 3D had last year. At least two dozen manufacturers showed their net-enabled sets.

One rationale for the connected boom is the amount of programming available already, which ranges from established video sources such as Netflix, YouTube, and the online offerings of TV networks to the new creative video apps that are emerging to serve this market. This web content glut contrasts vividly to the relatively small library of 3D shows.

 "2011 will be the breakthrough year for connected devices," says Merwan Mereby, VP corporate development at Panasonic US.

Chris Fawcett, VP of Sony's business TV unit adds: "Our research shows that internet connectivity is a high motivator for sales and number three behind price and picture quality."

Eric Anderson, VP content and product at Samsung, sees synergistic value in connected TVs as part of the evolving three-screen environment (handhelds, desktop, and living room).

"We expect to see more of our content partners create three-screen experiences," he says. "The smart TV will be the device of origin for a number of new and innovative apps and services."  He believes that content suppliers will favor companies that sell product for all three platforms.

To round out their connected product offerings, CE manufacturers are introducing tablet devices. Samsung, for example, has already gone to market with its Galaxy tablet, and at CES Sharp announced the Galapagos e-media tablet and cloud-based bookstore. Both products will launch in the U.S. in the second half of this year, having already debuted in Japan.

Exact specifications for Galapagos, including its OS and screen size as well as price, have yet to be nailed down, but it will feature a 16:9 touch screen LCD and Wi-Fi capability, with 3G not ruled out.

Content including periodicals, books and movies will be formatted in Sharp's proprietary XDMF, which automatically adjusts content to the size of the screen.

According to John Herrington, President of Sharp North America, Sharp will extend XDMF to its smartphones and connected TVs "so users can seamlessly port content from one device to another most convenient to them."

Samsung expects 2011 to be a watershed year for connected TV. Almost all of its new 40-inch and above TVs will offer smart TV features. Select models will incorporate Smart Hub, which unifies content search across the TV and other DLNA-certified devices, networked PCs and mobiles, or internet and video-on-demand services.

The Smart Hub will also deliver content recommendations based on a user's viewing history,  a full web browser interface via the TV, and the Samsung Apps store.

"As we enter a new era of immersive and inclusive entertainment, Samsung has redefined the visual elements that will make our TVs the centerpiece of any room," said Sangchul Lee, senior VP of Samsung's visual display business. "People want to stay connected to the relationships and information that are important to them, and our latest line-up reflects a vision where smarter technology virtually and physically connects users through shared moments in the comfort of their homes."

After decades of defining TV as a receiver with limited broadcast content, now TVs can become retail points, deliver a plethora of content on demand, play games, connect us to social media, or send content to other devices.

How all these devices connect together and how they will be controlled and managed will be one of the major challenges facing CE manufacturers in the coming years.

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