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Internet on the TV: 2010 version

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.

Related: App-etite for comparison: Internet services on TVs

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Vizio's Bluetooth QWERTY remote

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.

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Yahoo widgets

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.

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Vizio apps

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.

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Vizio multitasking

Unlike any other Internet service, Vizio lets you run apps on top of streaming services.

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Samsung apps

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.

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Samsung apps download page

New apps on Samsung's TVs are categorized nicely.

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Sony Bravia Internet Video

Sony's service focuses on video, and in addition to the big names includes a lot of niche services like Minisode network, Blip.tv, Style.com, Howcast.com, and numerous video podcasts.

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LG Netcast screen

The claim to fame of LG's Netcast service is a background that shows the weather and time of day in your area. It's nice in Texas.

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Panasonic VieraCast home page

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.

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VieraCast customization

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.

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Vudu

Vudu is available on most Internet TVs, allowing high-def streams on a pay-per-view basis.

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YouTube on LG

Every maker has its own YouTube client aside from Vizio, which lacks YouTube at the moment. None of them handle the site's high-def video, however.

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YouTube on Sony

YouTube clients are pretty much created equal.

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Facebook on Vizio

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.

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Rhapsody on Vizio

Rhapsody's subscription music service is currently a Vizio exclusive as well, and it our testing it worked very well.

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eBay Yahoo widget

The eBay widget is one of the more-advanced offerings on the Yahoo platform, enabling you to search, follow auctions, etc.

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Sony Yahoo widgets with FrameChannel

Sony allows you to place your Yahoo widgets anywhere on the screen, and one of its exclusives is an RSS reader called FrameChannel.

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VieraCast Bloomberg

Panasonic's VieraCast service lacks a traditional news widget, but makes up for it--at least as far as business-centric uses are concerned--with the full-featured Bloomberg widget.

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LG games

Simple games are available on most platforms as well, although most are as lame as LG's attempts here. We suspect it's just a matter of time before the Farmville widget arrives, however.

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