Is Smart TV the future of television?

If you were watching the Oscars Sunday night you may have caught Samsung’s commercial for its intriguing new Smart TV. If you haven’t heard of this next generation of television sets yet, you will.

Smart TV is the baby your computer, smartphone and television set would make if they all hooked up–without the HDMI, DVI or VGA cables. It’s the traditional broadcast box we all know and love, tricked out with Internet capability, apps, gaming, streaming media and social sites. You’ll also hear it called “connected TV” or “Internet-ready TV.”

Most Smart TVs connect to the Internet via an Ethernet cable connection on the back of the unit, but some sets will accept a wireless Internet adapter.

Like smartphones, all Smart TVs include a few bundled apps and feature an app store  on the homepage. Don’t expect the sort of expansive selection you’re used to within iTunes and Android marketplaces–but if you want to hear some tunes or rent a movie, there’s a smart TV app for that. Expect to find familiar old chestnuts like Facebook, Twitter, Hulu Plus, Netflix, YouTube and Pandora, plus weather, sports, gaming and photo apps. A Web browser should loaded as well.

Smart TVs probabaly won’t replace your laptop when you want to email your friends or dash off the next great American teen supernatural fantasy romance novel. But imagine huddling the kids and the dog around the set for a big-screen, long-distance video Skype chat with family and friends. Nice.

Smart TV tech may seem new but it’s hardly fresh off the boat–this technology has slowly been evolving since the mid 1990s. Now that Samsung, LG, Panasonic and Sharp have embraced it, it should start really revving up this year. And if Apple TV follows in its company’s usual trailblazing footsteps, expect the Smart TV platform to take over completely.

That said, we wouldn’t rush out just yet to upgrade a unit that’s working fine–not when a Blu-Ray player, laptop or set-top box of your choice can do the same things for far less. But if you’re in the market for a new set and can afford the several hundred dollars more for a smart TV than its conventional counterpart, it may be worth checking out.

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