Long besieged by interactive solutions such as PCs, video game consoles and smart phones, the title of America’s favorite leisure-time spender (waster) has escaped the poor, passive TV in recent years. But thanks to the following innovations, which promise several engaging new ways to interface with television sets, there are plenty of reasons to stay tuned in this fall. (Well, besides another season of Glee.)
Nintendo’s Wii MotionPlus already allows enthusiasts to play games via physical gestures. But Sony’s new wand-based PlayStation Move ($50) offers greater accuracy with hard-core outings, including fantasy and sci-fi epics. Better yet, Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360 ($150, out Nov. 4) goes several steps further, making your body the controller so you can casually video-conference or browse music/movies with a shout or a flick of the wrist.
Just like the iPhone and other mobile handsets, new Web-ready televisions, Blu-ray players and home theater systems from Samsung can download and play handy little software apps. Rival TV manufacturer Vizio’s Internet Apps platform also offers similar features, including access to Vudu, Flickr and Netflix. These programs promise to add plenty of functionality — indefinitely extending the life of compatible sets.
Five hundred channels and nothing on? Try surfing the Web instead, as new boxes and sets featuring the rival software platforms Google TV and Yahoo Connected TV put the Internet at your fingertips. The former lets you scan online sites and services (not just cable networks) for favorite shows and related videos. The latter offers bite-size widgets (programs) that deliver on-demand movies via Amazon or Blockbuster, breaking news, Twitter updates and more.
Wirelessly beaming songs, photos and videos to your TV isn’t anything new. Being able to casually do it with no technical knowledge, however, is. Credit D-Link’s Boxee Box (under $200, due in November), a futuristic cube that makes accessing streaming media simple. Users can easily transmit files via home network or access YouTube clips, Facebook updates, Pandora tunes and more on demand.
In a scene straight out of The Jetsons, Internet-connected sets also allow for free video-calling straight from your couch. With the popular program Skype, a high-speed broadband connection and a custom webcam — such as Panasonic’s TY-CC10W Skype-enabled camera ($170, www.abt.com) — you can chat up friends and family nationwide. But be sure to brush: Some models feature smiling faces in high-definition.
** From 3-D interfaces to on-demand software delivery, video game systems are especially pushing the limits of TVs in revolutionary new ways. For more info, tune into AW contributor Scott Steinberg’s new show, Game Theory (www.gametheoryonline.com). Available online, it takes a deeper look at the trends and technologies that promise to reshape home entertainment.