By Etan Horowitz Orlando Sentine
l Staff Writer January 12, 2008LAS VEGAS
--In the next few years, televisions are going to become more than a place to watch shows and movies. They will also serve as digital concierges.
Home televisions will provide access to news and information -- as well as thousands of photos, songs and videos -- regardless of whether that content resides on a home computer, the Internet or an iPod.
The Consumer Electronics Show, which ended here Thursday, was full of television sets able to do all sorts of things: display photos and movies from a digital-camera memory card, connect to the Internet to play videos or access information, serve as an iPod dock, and more.
The trend is driven by manufacturers' desire to tap into the popularity of other forms of digital entertainment and by a demand from consumers for an easier way to manage their growing arrays of photos, music and videos.
It's also recognition of the popularity of broadband Internet, wireless home networks and large, flat-screen televisions that often hang on the wall like artwork.
"Ten years ago, you would make a television and that was the end of the story," said Shawn DuBravac, an economist with the Consumer Electronics Association, the industry group behind CES. "One of the trends [we are seeing this year] is something we are calling the '360-degree solution.' Content owners are coming together with service providers and device manufacturers to create a seamless, robust experience for the consumer."
Some manufacturers such as Panasonic, Sharp and Hewlett-Packard have chosen to build that functionality right into the TV, while others, including Sony, Polaroid and LG, are offering separate boxes that connect to the television.Ethernet connectivity
Sharp and Panasonic announced new sets at CES that have Ethernet jacks so people can plug their Internet connections right into the televisions to access select online content.
Sharp's online service, Aquos Net, will be available in certain sets this month and will allow users to display weather information, stock quotes and other information.
Panasonic has partnered with Google to allow users to watch videos on YouTube and access online photos if they have an account with Picasa. Its service is called VieraCast.
"This is not some distant future vision," Toshihiro Sakamoto, the president of Panasonic AVC Networks Co., said in a speech at CES. "Much of this is already happening in Japan, and it will become more and more popular in the next few years."
Panasonic also introduced TVs at CES that come with a built-in SD-card slot so consumers can pop the cards out of their digital cameras and view the photos or video they just shot without having to use any wires.
Although most of the products that aim to make the TV the digital center of the home focus on media files that reside on a computer, Sony hopes consumers will want to use HDTVs as computer monitors. At CES, the company introduced a model of its VAIO TP Home Theater PC, a sleekly designed product that includes a Blu-ray disc player, HD TV tuners and recorders and a full-blown computer.
The device will sell for about $3,000 and will start shipping by the end of this month.Wireless functionality
Others are taking advantage of the popularity of wireless networking to make devices that connect to the Internet and other computers without wires.
At CES, Polaroid announced a product called Freescape, which connects to a TV and acts as a digital clearinghouse for all the movies, music and pictures in a home. It serves as a cable box and digital video recorder and it is able to wirelessly communicate with computers on the same home network, so it can play the media files that reside on those machines. Freescape also lets users access all of that content from any computer with an Internet connection and gives them the ability to transfer music, photos or even recorded TV shows to a portable player such as an iPod.
Freescape will be available this summer and will cost $500.
Hewlett-Packard's MediaSmart TV has built-in wireless networking so it can access the Internet to play movies and connect to computers on the same home network.
Besides making it easier to play music and movies, manufacturers are touting these connected TVs as a way to restore family time. Panasonic has been referring to the connected TV as the "digital hearth" and argues that the ability to show photos from a family trip or easily watch video of a child's soccer game will bring everyone together.
And if the displays at CES were any indication, the push to use television to connect family members is going to continue.http://www.orlandosentinel.com/enter...10,print.story