What a difference a year makes. In 2009, which saw the first serious attempts at TVs with built-in Internet services, we reviewed plenty of mixed bags. On the plus side, essential streaming video services like Netflix and Vudu seemed to work relatively well, but on the minus side, utility widgets (mainly powered by Yahoo) were sluggish, remotes were unwieldy, Wi-Fi was nonexistent, and content selections were limited. In 2010, most if not all of those problems have been addressed by many makers.
The following photos are screenshots from 2010 TVs' Internet services. You can mostly ignore the pricing on those slides since it applies to the (generally expensive, big-screen) models we reviewed only but feel free to click through to the reviews for more details.
First up is, deservedly, Netflix. Hands-down the most popular streaming service on non-PC devices, it's available on the Internet-connected TVs of every major manufacturer.
OK, so this one isn't a screenshot, but it's pretty dang important. If you want to get the most out of Internet services like Twitter and Facebook, let alone keep your sanity inputting usernames and passwords, you'll want a keyboard on your remote. Vizio is the only one to offer it.
Here's a look at the Yahoo widget taskbar, which is used by Sony, Samsung and LG as a place to access nonstreaming services and utilities like weather, news, stocks, etc., as well as more advanced widgets like eBay. Its main issue is sluggishness, although on Samsung's new models we tested it's much zippier.
Vizio also uses Yahoo's design with the bar along the bottom, but it integrates all streaming services (Netflix, Vudu, etc) down there, too, providing a sort of one-stop Internet service shop. Response time is snappy, but it can get crowded when you get a lot of services, widgets, etc. in there.
Samsung's main apps page gathers everything into a convenient tile view, similar to a certain other app-centric device from, well, Apple. Integration doesn't feel as tight as Vizio because there's still a separate Yahoo widget bar for many utilities, but less scrolling is necessary.
Panasonic eschews Yahoo widgets for its own VieraCast interface, which has been revamped for 2010. In addition to Netflix (coming in July) the service adds Pandora and a couple of other names. The breadth of content lags behind most of the others, however, and the interface seems somewhat archaic. The services are designed to take over the entire screen instead of overlaying whatever you're watching.
One advantage of Vieracast, however, is customization. You can place the apps and streaming services you want on the first, second, or third page in any of seven slots arranged around the central picture window. Most other interfaces, aside from Yahoo widgets, don't let you rearrange content to the same extent.
At the moment Vizio has the only Facebook app. It can show your wall, photos, profile info, friends, and news feed. You can also update your status from within the app. We'd like to see slideshow functionality, basic messaging or chat, but the basics are here and we had no problem using it.