Although 3D is likely to remain a niche product in 2011, TVs that can access Web-based content will be mainstream. About half of the sets 40 inches and larger in our Ratings of 3D, LCD, and plasma TVs (all available to subscribers) can access online content via a broadband connection, and some 32- and 37-inch sets now have that feature.
There's more streaming content as well, including thousands of movies and TV episodes from fee-based services such as Amazon, Netflix, Vudu, and others. Free content includes news, weather, and sports feeds, YouTube videos, and more.
It's easy to get Web content onto your screen. You can use an Ethernet cable to connect an Internet-enabled TV to your modem or router. Some TVs can connect to a wireless home network as well. Many TVs have "apps" that let you access sites such as eBay, Facebook, and YouTube by clicking on onscreen icons, called widgets, provided by Vudu and Yahoo, among others. You might need to register using a computer the first time you use a site, but otherwise you just use your TV remote. Some TVs let you make Skype video calls when you use an optional camera.
Most Internet TVs limit Web access to specific sites and services, which vary by brand, but Android-based Google TVs offer full Web browsing via Google's Chrome browser. Sony has already started selling Google TV models, and Vizio recently announced its line. Google TV isn't the only option: LG and Samsung will offer new TVs that offer full Web browsing.
Internet connectivity can benefit many TV viewers, vastly expanding entertainment options. If you're buying a new TV, consider an Internet-enabled model, especially one with built-in Wi-Fi or the ability to add it. But don't break the bank, or even buy a new TV if your current one still suits you, to get those features. You can often get the same services on any TV for as little as $100 by connecting it to an Internet-enabled Blu-ray player or set-top box, many of which have wireless capability.