Tech Trends '09: Screen Dreams
Each year, people like me attend the Consumer Electronics Show hoping to see indications of a forthcoming display technology that will make current TV tech - LCD and plasma, mostly - seem as outdated as the tube TVs piling up in landfills around the world (or not - see "Tech Goes Green" on page 56 for more on that story). At the 2008 CES, Sony gave attendees something to froth over when it not only previewed but actually introduced the first OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) TV aimed at the consumer market. This year, no similar products inspired giddy daydreams of a tech- fantastic future on the horizon. What we did see were lots of new variations on the flat-panel LCD and plasma theme: thinner, greener, and better-connected TVs; TVs with picture-refresh rates twice as fast as last year's models; TVs that require you to wear funny-looking glasses to watch the 3-D images they're capable of displaying.
What if I were to tell you that the future of TV was Yahoo Widgets? Would you A) embrace that notion with enthusiasm, or B) abandon TV watching altogether? If you answered "A," plenty of stuff should grab your attention over the next year. Internet portal Yahoo's Connected TV Initiative aims to bundle popular Web destinations for display on network-connected TVs. These take the form of onscreen "Widgets" - basically, a more sophisticated, Web-driven version of picture-in-picture (see the bottom of page 40). Using your remote control, you select Widgets from an onscreen menu to launch overlays with sports scores, news headlines, Flickr photo streams, YouTube videos, eBay auctions, and more.
Companies intending to release Widget-friendly sets in 2009 include Samsung, LG, Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic, and Vizio. Of course, each manufacturer has its own name for the feature - Samsung's Internet@TV, for instance - as well as its own specific menu of content that can be accessed. (See "Gently Down the Stream" on page 43 for details.) More exciting than mere Widgets, however, are new TVs that can stream movies direct from online video services. LG's forthcoming PS80 plasma will let viewers screen any movies they've queued up for Instant Viewing in their Netflix account when the TV is connected to a home network. Panasonic's VieraCast models, meanwhile, can access titles from Amazon Video on Demand. And Vizio anticipates big things for sets incorporating its Connected TV platform (estimated ship date: late 2009). So far, the list of content providers Vizio expects to connect to include Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, and Blockbuster onDemand.