Panasonic's latest incarnation of the connected-TV paradigm is called Smart Viera, which includes not only movies and TV shows but social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and the newly resurrected MySpace. Users can load apps from the Viera Connect Market, and a new graphical user interface makes control easier than ever. One app of particular interest is Flixster, which implements UltraViolet, the emerging service for storing your purchased movies and TV shows in the cloud, watching them on a variety of devices, and sharing them with up to six family members or friends.
As with most of the major TV manufacturers, LG announced big improvements in its Smart TV functionality, which is available in 60 percent of its 2012 lineup, including the LM8600 series shown here. In addition to content from providers such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, and many others, LG offers 3D Zone, which streams 3D content and almost 1200 apps from the LG App Store. Also new this year is a full web browser with Flash and HTML 5, allowing you to access just about anything you can find online.
With all the talk about OLED and 4K at the show, it was easy to overlook the other 2012 TV introductions. Panasonic's new plasma lineup includes four series (from flagship to entry-level left to right in the photo above)VT50 (55 and 65 inches) with Infinite Black Ultra panel; GT50 (50, 55, 60, and 65 inches) and ST50 (50, 55, 60, and 65 inches), both with Infinite Black Pro panel; and UT50 (42, 55, and 60 inches). Not shown are the XT50 (42 and 50 inches) and 50-inch TC-P50U50, the only TV in Panasonic's lineup without 3D capabilities.
To combat the glare and reflections endemic to plasma TVs, LG has created a TruBlack filter for its flagship PM9700. As you can see in this photo, the screen has a distinctly matte finish, greatly obscuring reflections that are especially problematic in dark scenes.
One of the most important themes from CES this year is the continuing development of Internet-delivered content, which is quickly maturing into a viable alternative to cable and satellite. For example, the ES7500 LED-LCD TV (shown here), ES8000, and other premium Samsung TVs provide Smart Content, which offers over 1400 apps from providers such as CNBC Real Time, ESPN ScoreCenter, Hulu Plus, MTV Music Meter, Netflix, and Time TV. New apps in 2012 include Bravo, Technicolor M-Go, and The Daily as well as Media Hub, which was previously available on Galaxy S smartphones and Galaxy Tabs. This powerful app offers a diverse selection of movies and TV shows the day after they air as well as past seasons of the shows; some movies are available the same day they are released on DVD and Blu-ray.
Another important new app in the Samsung suite brings Verizon FiOS live TV directly to its Smart TVs and Blu-ray players. This app allows FiOS subscribers to watch 26 live TV channels and access more than 10,000 video-on-demand titles through Verizon's Flex View service without the need for a set-top box. Also provided is a full web browser.
As one of only three major manufacturers of plasma TVs, Samsung continues its tradition of excellence with the E8000 flagship line, which offers screen sizes of 60 and 64 inches. A dual-core chipset is said to provide enhanced performance, with excellent 2D and 3D picture quality and deep blacks thanks to the company's Real Black filter. Its Smart TV functionality includes Samsung's Smart Content and Smart Interaction technology that lets you control the TV by motion and voice, and Smart Evolution lets you upgrade the hardware as new features become available.
I learned more about the flagship of Samsung's 2012 LED-LCD TV lineup since the press conference last Monday. For example, it will be available in screen sizes of 55, 60, and 75 inches. Like all Samsung LED-LCDs, this one is edgelit along the sides, and a new Micro Dimming Ultimate algorithm provides pseudo local dimming with more zones than previous versions. Also, Smart Evolution lets you upgrade the TV's hardware as well as firmware, making it essentially futureproof.