HDTVs Get Smarter

One of my public speaking topics in recent years was “Why Your Next Computer Will Be a Television.” Even without the network-connected “Smart TV” features that are commonplace now, HDTVs have long relied on powerful processors and other components that outperform the standard desktop computers of not-so-long ago. But even back when I gave this talk, I don’t think I foresaw how far this aspect has develop in such a short time.

Smart TVs connect to the Internet through your home network’s high speed broadband connection, and the widgets or applets or whatever you call them can access information and put it on your screen. Weather forecasts, sports scores and schedules, stock prices, news headlines, traffic reports, and much more are just a remote control click away. These TVs even capture streaming video from Web services, such as Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Amazon on Demand. All that takes some processing horsepower, but it’s nothing compared with what comes next.

Let me describe a new product that was announced by computer-maker Lenovo at CES today. It has a dual-core processor running the Android operating system, 1 GB of memory, an 8 GB hard drive, and support for SD card storage. It also has a built-in 5 megapixel camera. What is it? A new tablet? An entry-level personal computer? Nope; it’s a 55″ LCD HDTV with an LED backlight. The remote control includes a touchpad, and reportedly the system will respond to voice commands. Lenovo also announced a 42″ model. Both will ship this spring, but just for the China market initially. The company plans a later roll-out for the worldwide markets. No prices were announced yet.

This raises the ante for what constitutes a Smart TV, and it marks the entry of a major technology manufacturer in the already-crowded HDTV market. (The pundits are looking for who will be next to drop out of the market, rather than who is looking to join the fray.) With all the rumors of recent months about televisions with motion control and speech recognition commands — many of these rumors paired with the as-yet unconfirmed Apple TV product — Lenovo’s entry kick starts the competition and could set the new standard for what we expect from our televisions.