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Why connected HDTVs are the future

LG has finally launched its Netflix-bundled HDTVs. And although it's just one of very few Web-enabled HDTVs, there's a strong chance it's just the tip of the iceberg.

LG launched two broadband-equipped HDTVs this week--the 47-inch 47LH50 and the 50-inch 50PS80. Both televisions boast NetCast Entertainment Access, which provides consumers with the entire Netflix streaming library of more than 12,000 movies and TV episodes.

This LG HDTV streams Netflix content. Are you ready for more? LG

The LG HDTVs released this week require a broadband connection to work with the NetCast Entertainment Access service. To choose a film, users need only to surf through the items and make selections on the right of the screen. They can read movie synopses and rate films.

LG isn't the only company bringing connected HDTVs to store shelves. Toshiba is well on its way to bringing its Regza line of HDTVs into the streaming realm. When the connected HDTVs launch later this year, Toshiba plans to give consumers access to a variety of content, including local weather, top news stores, sports scores, videos, and more. The HDTVs will also be able to access multimedia content stored on a connected PC's hard drive.

Surprised by the sudden uptick in connected HDTVs coming to store shelves? Don't be--it's the future.

It's no coincidence that two prominent companies in the HDTV business are moving to the Web with their products. According to a recent study by market research firm Parks Associates, "2.5 million U.S. and Canadian households are ready to buy an Internet-connected TV." There's just one caveat: demand is that strong only if those connected HDTVs are priced no more than $100 higher than other sets on the market.

That shouldn't be a problem. The two Web-connected LG HDTVs released this week are priced between $1,599 and $1,999 online. That's certainly no more expensive than other comparable HDTVs on the market. It almost ensures that there will be demand for those products.

But 2.5 million households might not seem like the kind of demand companies would require to continue producing Web-enabled HDTVs. It's a strong number, but not one that probably won't drastically change the business anytime soon. But most companies believe consumer demand will increase dramatically over the next few years. And in that time, more connected HDTVs will hit store shelves.

Market analyst The Yankee Group said it expects 50 million connected HDTVs to be purchased by 2013. Ironically, the analysts predict that just 30 million connected Blu-ray players will be in the wild. It expects 11 million digital-media adapters to be in homes.

It's an interesting study that deserves some attention. In essence, a technology that is just in its infancy is expected to beat out two technologies that have a footing in the space. That's no small feat. And it speaks to the allure of connecting to the Web on your HDTV.

The technology is far from perfect. The LG and Toshiba HDTVs won't provide a "true" Web experience. You won't be able to do much more than watch Netflix movies, see YouTube videos, and check your stocks. It's not like hooking a Mac Mini up to your HDTV and enjoying a full online experience.

We also can't forget that your current HDTV isn't obsolete just because it can't connect to the Web. If you want to stream Web content to your HDTV, there are a variety of tools to help you do it. In fact, your Xbox 360, Roku Digital Video Player, TiVo, and PlayStation 3 will do just that. Plus, it's cheaper to simply buy one of those products than to junk your current HDTV for a built-in Web connection.

But in the end, LG and Toshiba are responding to demand. Web-enabled HDTVs are the future because they're convenient, useful, and offered at fair prices. And based on the aforementioned studies, I'm not alone in getting excited to buy one.

Check out Don's Digital Home podcast, Twitter stream, and FriendFeed.