Internet-Enabled TVs: Fast Track to the Web

As you peruse the latest TV ads, you might notice phrases like “Internet enabled” or “Yahoo widgets,” or even more-cryptic names like Samsung Media@2.0 and Panasonic Viera Cast, and wonder what it's all about.

In a word: connectivity. During the past year, TV makers including Samsung, Panasonic, Sony and LG have started building Ethernet ports into their TV so you can view online content on the TV screen, using your remote control to navigate. All you need is an Internet connection, generally wired, but in some cases wireless. You don’t have to use a computer or any external device.

Your TV can only access specific online content, so don’t expect to browse freely around the Web. When this capability first arrived, about a year ago, all you could get was pretty basic stuff, like RSS feeds with news, stock updates and weather info. But now you can get to YouTube, eBay, photo sites such as Flickr, and—possibly the killer app—movie services such as Netflix, Amazon on Demand, Blockbuster OnDemand and Vudu. Content varies by brand and even by model. In our TV Ratings (available to subscribers), we note the level of access each set provides on the detailed model page.

Many of the TVs we’ve seen use Yahoo’s "TV Widgets"—small, colorful onscreen icons—to accomplish this. As Yahoo explains: Press one button on your remote to bring up the TV Widget Dock, select a TV Widget, and view content. With each TV Widget you can also create a Snippet or shortcut for quick access to the content you want. By pressing a button on your remote, you can connect directly to your friends' photos on Flickr.

We’re trying out sets from the various TV brands to see how their offerings and usability compare and will be reporting on the experience soon.