Best Buy Gets Connected

With a pair of new smart TVs, Best Buy's not looking to win prizes for putting out the biggest or most full-featured devices in their class. But the Insignia Connected TV (available in 32" and 42" sizes, at $499 and $699 respectively) is aiming to bring a new class of consumer into the smart TV market.

It wasn't too long ago that Web-connected TV was exclusively the province of geeks (you're reading S+V, so I'm pretty sure nobody here'll be terribly offended - we know who we are), and maybe those on good enough terms with geeks to be walked through what could be a fairly complex setup routine. The two Insignia sets offer solid specs (1080p, LED-backlit LCDs), and a dead-simple installation process. A wizard handles setup of cable and Web connections based on minimal user input, so consumers should be up and running in minutes.

Built-in WiFi lets you connect easily to video and audio content from Netflix, CinemaNow, YouTube, Pandora and Napster, or get social with Facebook and Twitter. The apps themselves run on the chumby framework, and hundreds of additional apps can be added as desired. The interesting spin here is that the UI was provide by TiVo; the look and feel mirrors that of the company's DVR software, though there's no actual DVR functionality built in. Still, the expectation is that viewers coming over from cablecentric viewing will find themselves at home. A central search function is designed for operation with a traditional remote; the overall design goal here is a complete lean-back experience, so everything's designed to avoid leaving the viewer feeling that a QWERTY input device is a necessary addition.

Also onboard is support for Rocketboost's wireless audio system (Like Insignia, this is a product range that's part of Best Buy's own Exclusive Brands program.) You can mix-and-match wireless speakers and soundbars to create anything from a stereo to 5.1 setup, or add accessories like outdoor speakers and wireless headphones. The set also accepts wireless audio input via a range of Rocketboost transmitters and transceivers for various devices, so integration with other audio gear shouldn't be too big a challenge. (We're going to try to take a look at some of the newer Rocketboost accessories soon.)

The question remains whether in today's rapidly changing market for Web video services entry-level consumers want a Smart TV, or if they'd be better served with a separate box (whether a game console, Blu-ray player, or a set-top digital media receiver along the lines of the Roku or Apple TV) handling the heavy lifting. The new Insignia sets come it at very attractive price points compared with entry level connected TVs from LG and Vizio, so if the demand is there, Best Buy will certainly be moving a lot of these. We'll be curious to see what happens.

Last week I got a chance to sit down with the Best Buy product management team behind the new Insignia sets, and they say that their ongoing consumer research (based on thousands of daily face-to-face interactions with the retail giant's in-store staff) suggest that there's a desire for a single, easy-to-use device; based on what happens in the market with these sets Best Buy will consider further connected options - obviously they were mum on specifics, but a bigger set is likely in the works, probably in the mid-50-inch range, with other connected devices possibly on the horizon as well.