For some time now, televisions have been moving away from simply displaying content delivered to them by a digital tuner, Blu-ray disc player or home theatre PC. An increasing number of TVs on the market from brands like Sony, Samsung and LG have extra features that allow you to access files from USB sticks or computers on a home network. Some will let you record your favourite shows without purchasing another device.
Are these features worth the extra premium? We take a look at some of the novel features found in the TVs that have passed through our Test Centre recently.
USB connectivity and memory card readers
Almost every new television released by the big brands includes a side- or rear-mounted USB port for displaying pictures and playing music. In some cases, they will let you play video files too. Some manufacturers have gone for a different tack: Panasonic TVs have SD card readers. These will let you display photos off your digital camera, and AVCHD video from compatible camcorders.
Are these features useful? We think so. USB flash drives are ubiquitous, and everyone has something — holiday pictures, for example, or a quirky cat video — they’d like to share on a big screen. The interfaces are usually simple and easy to understand.
DLNA and network streaming
Mid-range televisions like the Panasonic TH-P42S10A plasma often have a 10/100Mbps Ethernet port that lets you connect to your home computer network. Some TVs have wireless networking available, though you will have to purchase an optional (and expensive) USB adapter. This will let you hook your TV up to your network without any extra unsightly cables. Televisions that support DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) can easily share media on a network; if you’ve got a Windows PC turned on then your television will be able to access it and play back video or music files from its hard drive.
If you don’t have a nearby Ethernet port to connect your TV to and you don't want to use a long cable, you’ll need to plug the television into a bulky wireless access point or an Ethernet-over-power adapter, which will be an extra expense. Often televisions only support a limited number of file formats; most televisions won’t be able to open Apple music collections or compressed video file formats. In the future this will hopefully get better. However, at the moment we aren't convinced these features are a big drawcard.
Internal hard drive recording
Korean manufacturer LG has released several televisions with internal hard drives for recording digital television content; essentially a digital video recorder inside the TV. Its latest is the PS80 ‘Time Machine’ series. This feature means you don't need a second device (and a second remote control!) to record TV shows, for example.
You can upgrade the hard drives of some external digital video recorders and media centres, which is not an option with these TVs. However, the simple interface and ease of use is a decent trade-off. For a minimal price increase compared to a standard plasma television, a second digital tuner (so you can watch one channel and record another) and a 250GB hard drive are well worth it.
Internal content libraries
Samsung’s recent LED televisions have included internal content libraries with artwork, food recipes and more.
While they’re a novelty you can show off to your friends who want to see everything your shiny new television can do, we doubt many people are rushing home to check what tonight’s dinner is according to Samsung. The picture frame modes are the most useful in our opinion: if you’ve got friends over for a chat you can easily put on a slideshow to provide some ambience.
Integrated DVD/Blu-ray players
For years small screen televisions, like the 22in Teac LCD228HDM, have been available with integrated DVD players. An interesting recent development is Sharp’s decision to include a Blu-ray player inside its new AQUOS LCD televisions.
We think this is a great feature: it saves you a few hundred dollars and gives you instant access to Full HD movie content. We haven’t seen any televisions with integrated Blu-ray players in Australia yet, but Sharp’s new TVs are only a few months away.