Smart TV - What it is, and can I get it?

  • Already with us, but costly and hard to obtain
  • 12 Mbps speeds required
  • IPTV already common, with Fetch TV and BigPondTV

The word ‘smart’ gets bandied about a lot these days. Smart phones, smart fridges, smart home theatre systems. Smart usually just means internet-connectable, with some type of user interface allowing the user to download content or program their device from their phone or via a website. It’s a burgeoning technology, suggesting a bright future of inter-connectivity. More importantly, devices like smart meters and smart power adaptors will evolve to allow for much more efficient use of electricity and water.

Smart TV extends the idea to the big rectangle in your living room. Accessing the internet on a modern plasma or LCD set is no big deal – most laptops and PCs use connection standards that are compatible with televisions. Getting a set top unit that connects to the internet (via Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable to your modem), and then to your TV, is still not a big deal. Where Smart TV will take off is in the use of Apps that will access particular content libraries, record your shows and stack them according to your preferences, or even allow you to edit your own movies via your smartphone or tablet. Being able to sort and plan your viewing when you’re at work is nice as well. Being able to come home and have the TV come on to welcome you, and provide a new episode of The Simpsons as background noise while you make dinner for the family is no longer science fiction. But making it as easy as hitting “on” on a remote is still some way away.

Close, but just out of reach for most

All of this technology is already currently available, with LG, Samsung and Panasonic all offering sets that don’t even need a set top unit to get on the web, and Sony offering a wide eco-system of integrated entertainment. What is needed is a standard to bring it all together. Broadcast TV works well because most homes already have the equipment (ie. An antenna) needed to catch a standardized signal that all of the content providers use. An analogue TV signal is easy enough to catch with a twisted coat hanger, when push comes to shove. A high-speed broadband connection is heavily dependent on carrier, distance from the exchange, and underlying technology. Want to stream a marathon session of Season 5 of the Sopranos? In High Definition? No problem. Just make sure you’re on a connection offering at least 12 Mbps. That counts out most ADSL users, some Cable users, and pretty much anyone on a mobile broadband connection.Not to mention the fact that free-to-air TV is...well, free. Smart TV requires subscriptions, contracts, locking yourself with one service provider and specialized equipment.

Compression will get better, download limits will increase and speeds will get faster, but there’s no denying that truly interactive Smart TV will take some time to get to the same level of easy connectivity and use as analogue, or even digital TV. Services like Fetch TV, offered by Internode, and BigPond TV, offered by Telstra, are using IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) to deliver services that have already been compressed for international satellite broadcast. So it is coming. All that’s needed now is better content, but that’s one area where technology can only do so much.