Best Buy unveils Insignia Connected TVs with TiVo interface, Chumby widgets

The long-rumored Insignia Internet-enabled TVs are now official, with Chumby widgets and TiVo interfaces--but no DVRs.

Best Buy

Best Buy will begin selling Insignia Internet-enabled TVs with TiVo-powered interfaces and Chumby online widgets. The official availability of the products confirms most of the leaks originally reported at Zatz Not Funny.

The new sets, available in 32- and 42-inch sizes for $499 and $699, respectively, are the first fruits of the TiVo-Best Buy deal first announced in July 2009. As expected, the TVs do not include built-in DVRs; rather, they utilize the same interface found on TiVo's products, which Insignia has tweaked to maximize simple setup and ease-of-use.

The initial Internet apps offered on the new Insignia TVs are Netflix, YouTube Leanback, and Pandora, as well as CinemaNow and Napster (the latter two, like the Insignia brand, are wholly owned subsidiaries of Best Buy). Viewers can use the unified search interface to scan content across all of the video services (another featured borrowed from existing TiVo DVRs).

Also onboard is the Chumby app platform, which comes preloaded with seven TV-optimized widgets: Twitter, Facebook, Photobucket, Accuweather, Reuters News and Sports, Stocks, and Traffic. Insignia reps told CNET that users will be able to download and install any of the hundreds of other available Chumby apps as well. However, those apps are currently optimized for the tiny touch-screen interface found on existing Chumby products; the hope is that the developer community can quickly re-engineer the most popular Chumby apps to offer the best possible experience on the TV screen.

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• It lives: TiVo-powered Best Buy Insignia HDTV coming soon
• Best Buy + TiVo does not equal HDTVs with built-in DVRs

Except for the difference in screen size and price, the two initial Insignia Connected TV models offer identical features and tech specs. Both are 1080p LED edge-lit LCD panels (non-3D) with 120Hz refresh rates, offer four HDMI inputs (plus one VGA), built-in Wi-Fi (dual-band 802.11n), and are backed by two-year warranties.

There are also a couple of other unique features that speak to Insignia's "easy to use" pledge for the new Connected TV line. A fairly sophisticated universal remote is included that controls the TV via Z-wave, a radio frequency technology that doesn't require line-of-sight. The remote can also be programmed via the TV's onscreen user interface to control up to three other devices in the home (via infrared)--say, a cable/satellite box, disc player, and audio component. The idea is that a natural language onscreen interface is much more approachable than plugging in a string of random numeric codes--the standard operating procedure when programming the sort of standard multibrand remotes found on many competing products.

The Connected TVs also include a proprietary slot for adding Best Buy's Rocketfish Rocketboost wireless card. Once inserted, the $40 card will allow the TV to wirelessly communicate with compatible Rocketfish wireless audio products, such as sound bars and multiroom speakers.

Those looking for a cable-cutting dream machine will be out of luck, however. In addition to no integrated DVR (nor any support for add-on storage) and no CableCard slot, the Insignia Connected TVs also don't offer any sort of integrated electronic programming guide. So, while the TVs can view over-the-air programming (when an antenna is attached), the built-in search functionality is limited to what's viewable on those handful on non-Chumby apps--basically, Netflix and CinemaNow. You can't search TV programming available via antenna, cable, or satellite. On the bright side, there's no monthly, yearly, or lifetime fee, as is required with a TiVo DVR. (Obviously, fees for any premium online service such as Netflix will apply.)

The quick, behind-closed-doors demo we received from Best Buy/Insignia last week didn't offer enough exposure to make a buying decision, of course. My gut reaction is "wait and see." For TVs with built-in Wi-Fi and Internet streaming, the prices are reasonable, if not downright competitive--especially when looking at a comparable bundle (same-size LED TV, $99 Roku or Apple TV, $70-ish universal remote). I'd like to see how Best Buy and Insignia flesh out the app offerings (both for the "built-in" and Chumby apps). Moreover, the addition of smartphone or tablet control apps could significantly enhance the value offering here. Company reps confirmed that the TV should offer an "audio-only" mode; that plus the Rocketboost compatibility could make the TVs a decent streaming audio hub, for instance.

The Insignia Connected TVs should be available at Best Buy starting this week. CNET will have a full hands-on review as soon as we get our hands on a review unit.