Friday, January 13, 2012

CES 2012 Smart TV Round-Up

Slash Gear - Riding high on Android and with its expertise in search, Google should’ve swept the board when it first turned its hand to smart TV. Instead, Google TV was lambasted for its confusing interface, patchy functionality and ever-changing line up of content (made unpredictable by Google’s apparent refusal to pay for licensing deals but instead attempting to harness free online streams). With the second-gen system now ready for prime time, the search giant has managed to coax some big names back onboard, as well as tease gamers with the promise of OnLive for console-quality play without any extra hardware beyond a wireless controller.

Samsung, Sony, LG and Vizio were all expected to bring Google TV powered sets to the show, and all but Samsung delivered. LG spared us the heavy-duty specs, only saying that its two Google TV sets would drop later this year and use a homegrown quadcore ARM chipset. Like Vizio, which announced the R-Series of Google TVs, LG has reskinned the core Google UI to suit its own interface styling. Vizio also had two set-top boxes, one adding a Blu-ray drive, the VAP430 and VBR430, which promise to make Google TV more affordable.

Sony, meanwhile, took another approach, not bothering with fully-integrated Google TV HDTVs but instead looking to two new set-top boxes instead. It’s possible the company learned the hard way from its first-gen Google TV sets, though the new Network Media Player NSZ-GS7 and Blu-ray Disc Player NSZ-GP9 are arguably more useful given there are plenty of people content with their existing TV but still wanting a smart upgrade.

Finally, Marvell brought along its ARMADA 1500 chipset and a reference design Google TV STB to demonstrate it. The company is pushing the design to its hardware partners, along with a useful upscaling addition that promises to make lower-res content and UI look better on a 1080p Full HD display.

As for Samsung, it stuck with its homegrown smart TV platform for CES, though reiterated its support for Google TV and promised that “a forthcoming offering will deliver an entirely distinct experience in the category” later in 2012. That’s not to say its hardware this week has been underwhelming, however. Our playtime with Samsung’s 60-inch smart TV – which packs Kinect-style motion and voice control – suggested the non-traditional navigation may be gimmicky but the core software is very strong, while integrated DIRECTV support and the potential for hardware upgrades along the line shows services aren’t being left behind either.                 More