digitally enhanced Mariah Carey moping around in a Santa outfit with Justin Bieber.) Call it fortuitous timing, but our old Sony CRT TV finally conked out prior to start of the holiday season. Gone. Kaput. Off to the see the Great Mother Cathode Ray Tube in the Sky. As its replacement, we bought a brand spanking new LG 42LS5700 for a low, low price. Its feature set blows anything twice the price from three years ago out of the water--resolution enhancement, 120 Hz, Internet TV with Flash player...you name it, Lucky-Goldstar has it.
Much to the chagrin of the software industry, piracy has become more difficult to control with the advent of torrents as invented by Bram Cohen. Back in the day when pirated physical media still played a large role, it was much easier to single out shady fly-by-night types who had machines that spewed copies by the thousands in unmarked warehouses in city centres. With the advent of torrents, it has become much more difficult to prosecute everyday people, AKA normal consumers like you and me. Industry associations are made to look especially bad by injudiciously suing teens in ill health and many others besides.
Fortunately for the almighty consumer, the hardware industry does not have similar objections to pirated TV series and films as I've found out after buying the LG. Why are prices going down rapidly to our benefit? It's because global shipments are already in decline. To no one's surprise, the world's most dominant players in this space are LG nee Lucky-Goldstar and Samsung. The competition is cutthroat, and they're supposedly the only two who make money selling LED TVs. For all their consumer appeal, let's just say LG and Samsung are not exactly the most scrupulous of operators, having bilked consumers via price fixing for years and years and being cited for doing so by various authorities.
With many watchdogs now monitoring their price fixing propensities, we are fortunate in that prices are tumbling and features are increasing as they seek to maintain a competitive advantage. One of the things I've found out--from intellectual curiosity about the workings of smart TVs, of course ;-)--is that the latest generation of units pretty much play whichever format you throw at them--WMA, MPEG, WMV-HD, MKV. Name your (perhaps less-than-legit) source and the TV will play it. While it isn't as foolproof playing these kinds of sources as the incomparable (and free) VLC, let's be realistic here. With three USB ports to mess around with, you can go knock yourself out with a lifetime's worth of high-quality video entertainment sources without paying a single cent for software. H.264 compression is your friend with video quality that outshines DVD (720p outdoes it) or nearly equals Blu Ray (1080p) standard as long as you can sacrifice some audio quality.
As you may have guessed, co-option of video piracy is no accident; LG has been demoing their TVs' abilities to play pirated movies for a number of years now. As I said, they're in the hardware business, not the software business. So, if their customers want to mess around with XviD and DivX, who's to tell them not to? While Korea's entertainment industry is burgeoning, let's just say that the K-Wave has yet to take over the world. Moreover, their software industry and its association have not exactly reached a scale substantial enough to take their piracy concerns to the likes of industrial giants LG and Samsung. (BTW, there is a K-Wave paid channel on my Smart TV which I obviously haven't tried yet.)
Real trouble over conflict of interest is for TV makers with substantial entertainment production holdings. I am of course referring to poor old Sony which long ago lost its TV street cred to the Korean duo. The loss of its brand equity to the likes of Apple in audio and LG/Samsung in video is well-documented, but I think that an underinvestigated consideration is that Sony has software interests in both audio (Sony Music Entertainment was formerly Columbia Records plus Bertelsmann) and video (Sony Pictures Entertainment was formerly Columbia/Tri-Star Pictures) software. Sony's longstanding love of proprietary formats aside, it has been slow to cotton up to playing newer formats favoured by software pirates to their (financial and market share) loss. While Sony has begrudgingly introduced TVs that play file formats Korean makes have no trouble with, let's just say playback issues are still plentiful.
As longtime buyers of LGs and Samsungs, I guess it's just desserts that we now have more features to play with given how long they've been manipulating flat screen prices. Bastards.