Look behind the superficiality of 3D and there was a second trend permeating the living room at CES 2011, one about which I have even greater reservations: smart televisions…
Walk the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Centre and in every direction were TVs that looked more like PCs than your traditional goggle box. Complex user interfaces showed off widgets, apps, app stores and even full web browsers. We were told the time for dumb TVs was over, that today's TVs are smart, connected and just as capable as your PC.
The obvious question is why would you want your TV to be as smart as your PC? After all the role of your PC is to be your PC. We don't ask our toasters to be kettles and I doubt we ever will do.
The Argument For
In short it comes down to an old favourite: size. Every TV manufacturer I spoke to had the same argument: the television is "the largest screen in your home". It is also at the centre of your home and in front of your comfiest chairs so what could be better than having all the functionality of your computer right in front of you while relaxing on the sofa? It is the natural evolution of TV, it is step forward for convergence.
To which I say TV makers have completely missed the point.
The Argument Against
Personally speaking - after all this is an editorial and therefore an individual, rather than site-wide, opinion – I can't think of anywhere convergence should be less welcome. The last five years have seen the technology sector go convergence mad. Most notably the smartphone's ability to integrate the functionality of MP3 players, cameras, sat navs and high quality gaming into one device has convinced companies the more they can cram into one box the better.
What they don't understand is TVs are purchased in a fundamentally different way to almost all of our other gadgets. Take the smartphone: a long contract typically lasts two years, then we upgrade to the latest and greatest handset with little thought given to our old model. A desktop lasts around three years before upgrades are needed, a laptop is going to be seriously dated in four years. On the other hand choose the right TV and it should be good for at least six years… or it is until you put software on it.
You see what dates these other products is software. It is the evolution of software platforms and the programmes designed to run on them that put the strain on the hardware at their core. The Atom processors and moving parts hard drives at the heart of the latest Bravias, Vieras, Regzas and Aquos are choking the shelf life right out of them.
Furthermore it isn't as if the software is ground breaking. For years the same manufacturers have struggled to make settings menus anything other than soul crushing Labyrinths, so why do they suddenly think they're creating the next iOS or Android? Panasonic pushes 'Viera Cast', Sony offers 'internet TV' (small 'I'), Samsung promotes Internet @ TV, Philips offers 'Net TV', LG has 'Smart TV' and each and everyone one makes a Desire HD look like Skynet.