SHIFT: Networking your TV — it's not just for geeks anymore

DVICE writers take a closer look at the latest tech trends in our weekly column, Shift.

Show of hands, please: how many of you have an Ethernet jack in your living room?

Other than my own, I don't see many hands, and not just because this is a website and how could I possibly see? Maybe there are lots of hands raised, but I'd bet 95% of the world lack jacks of the RJ-45 kind in their living rooms. And that's assuming Ma and Pa Consumer even know what an Ethernet jack is, whether or not they have a "router," and if by "broadband" you mean the Pussycat Dolls.

Why do I care who has an Ethernet jack and who doesn't? I don't, but the divas of the HDTV and Blu-ray world should. Suddenly Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, et al. are hawking a new class of Net-connected living-room devices — specifically HDTVs offering Web access (e.g. Sony's Bravia Link, Panasonic's VieraCast, and the Yahoo! Widgets available on some Samsung and Sony models) and BD-Live decks.

Almost none of all of these new connected devices include any kind of wireless connectivity, Wi-Fi or otherwise. So a consumer will buy a connected HDTV or a BD-Live deck, get it home, and discover they can't connect it to the Internet without miles of cable.

Why the connection disconnect? Read on.

The solution for purchasers of these non-connected connected products, of course, is easy: buy an Ethernet wireless adapter.

But Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, et al., are counting on the profits garnered from the sale of higher-priced connected HDTVs. And the entire success of Blu-ray — which faces increased high-definition content competition from sources such as iTunes and Netflix and a burgeoning bundle of scheduled, video-on-demand (VOD) and DVR-recorded HD cable and satellite content — may lie in compelling BD-Live content (which, what little there is so far, is the opposite of compelling, but that's a whole 'nother column).

Considering the stakes, how could these otherwise smart companies not include wireless connectivity solutions so folks can get to said Web content?


HD Theater of the Absurd

I'm tempted to make some disparaging remark denigrating their product-development acumen, but I'm not into the current populist trend of loudly voicing an opinion sans relevant facts.

Oh, to hell with it.

Not including a wireless option for connected HDTVs and Blu-ray decks is as absurd as…

…Botswana bidding to host the winter Olympics… treating a vegan to dinner at Peter Luger's Steak House… opening a bikini shop in Tehran… attempting to delay a dimeless gang of galloping outlaws on their way to destroy Rock Ridge by placing a toll booth in the middle of the desert (I'll snatch any opportunity to watch this scene).

Seriously, why would anyone buy a living room device requiring a connection no one has in their living room? Allow me to extend a Laurel and Hardy handshake to these non-networking dummies.


Networking for Dummies

To be honest, I don't know why these devices lack a wireless Web option. I asked the Blu-ray product manager at a major HDTV and Blu-ray deck maker why said company (I withhold the name to avoid them unnecessary embarrassment) didn't include a wireless solution. With a straight face he told me that they were worried the wireless connection would degrade the incoming video signal.

That, of course, is just a cave full of fruit bat guano. You're obviously not streaming Blu-ray content over the wireless connection, just Web video (yeah, those YouTube clips are really going to suffer without a wired connection) or your PC.

What's really got me baffled more is adding a wireless connection isn't, to mix tech metaphors, rocket science. Most of the current media streamers such as Apple TV ($230, $330), Myka ($280-$390), the Kodak Theatre HD Player ($300), and the varying streamers from Netgear such as the Digital Entertainer Elite EVA9150 ($400), are equipped with Wi-Fi connectivity. And TiVo offers Wi-Fi adapters for its HD DVRs.

In other words, Wi-Fi connectivity can be easily built into or included for a living room device without adding appreciably to the price.


Making the Connection

Perhaps HDTV and Blu-ray deck makers lack the Wi-Fi wherewithall. Or, not — Sony and Samsung have each announced wireless Blu-ray decks: Sony will start to sell its Wi-Fi-enabled BDP-S560 ($350) in July; Samsung hasn't said when it will start selling its as-yet unpriced BD-P4600 and BD-P3600 Blu-ray players, which will include Wi-Fi dongles.

But that still leaves a lot of connected HDTVs and BD-Live decks with no way to wirelessly connect. As Sheriff Bart opined after extolling his own talent, "And they are so DUMB!"

Oh, you can put your hands down now.