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What is Smart TV, and why Does it Matter?

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HD, HDMI, SCART -- there's so many TV acronyms to navigate, these different buzz words sometimes make it harder than it should be to figure out what matters most when it comes to television. Now they're talking about "smart TV"! What's that? Calm down and hang onto your TV remote (which will one day be your smartphone) and I'll try to explain...

Smart TV (also called "Connected" or "Hybrid" TV) is big news at this year's IFA trade show, where the likes of Samsung and LG are showing-off their connected TV products.

These televisions are televisions with Internet access, which enables you to use the TV as a portal for all manner of online services. Surf the Web, share email or access any supported video-on-demand service, including YouTube. And much more...

Reinventing television

You see, these televisions also support applications -- things like Twitter and Netflix, so your TV becomes much more useful and responsive to what you want and when you want it than ever before.

In future, some TV channels will be made available as apps on these next-generation devices - Euronews this week announced a deal with Samsung to offer its shows on that company's connected TVs.

In years to come, it seems you'll subscribe to the channels you most like directly as apps, using these apps on your television, computer, iPad and smartphone.

This will transform existing broadcast business models, and will require new cooperation between trans-national licensing bodies as broadcasters move to cater to increasingly international audiences with their content, and content providers seek compensation for the shows they create.

You take command

These moves reflect changing audience patterns. We already spend less time watching scheduled television, and more watching DVDs or catch-up services.

"We noticed last season, actually with every passing season, that more and more fans are watching Sons off their DVR. Such is the future of television. There will be no programming, only content." reports Sons of Anarchy writer, Kurt Sutter.

You needn't think of Smart TVs as computers, but as computer-like devices. They may do most of the things you might already enjoy doing with your smartphone, albeit on a bigger screen, but you'll still need a computer for more advanced tasks.

For things like online interactive media, Internet TV, on-demand streaming content and for access to streamed music, movie and TV show collections, these televisions will become your front room media hub.

Evolution, revolution and TV

In future the ecosystem will extend. Here's four potential examples to illustrate this:

-- If you have an iPhone you might want to watch a film held on your device on a nearby Smart TV, streaming it from your phone via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

-- Personal media lockers will become ever more important. Apple's iTunes/iCloud services will enable most users to access their media from any registered device, this will become standard practise in future.

-- Voice recognition technologies mean that you will eventually be able to ask your TV for what you want to watch, schedule a recording be made, or even have a show recorded and then made available via your online content locker for playback on another device. You should also be able to achieve this remotely, using another device.

-- Social networking with these TVs will enable things like PiP (Picture In Picture) video chat with other families while watching a show, an exchange of reactions from Twitter -- imagine watching Question Time and watching the Tweets as politicians offer their weasel's wisdom.

The smart switch

In a nutshell, that's the future of smart TV. It isn't here yet: at present just 40 percent of televisions sold with the capacity of being connected to the Internet actually are connected to the 'Net.

This means manufacturers haven't yet managed to convince consumers to use these new features. That means the smart TV market is one that's just aching for someone to get it right.

It won't be long until someone does. Buoyed by the success of iTunes, the iPod, iPhone and iPad, Apple is expected to enter this market next year. Microsoft, Google and other tech giants also have plans in place.

Jonny Evans writes a daily Apple-related column at Computerworld in the US. Follow him on Twitter if you want to keep up with tech news, Apple news and the evolution of 21st-Century media.