The leading electronics companies in Japan and South Korea are going head to head over the development of a new generation of televisions that have been dubbed "smart TVs" and combine the functions of a flat-panel TV and an advanced personal computer.
Sony Corp. launched its first Internet-capable TVs in the U.S. in October, but South Korean giants Samsung Electronics Co and LG Electronics Inc., as well as Japan's Panasonic Corp., are rapidly devising new products that push the boundaries even further.
Sony has based its smart TVs on Google's open platform Android system, allowing users to surf the Internet at the same time as they watch high-definition television programmes.
"Sony Internet TV is the world's first HDTV that combines the big-screen impact of television and full Internet search to deliver an unrivalled entertainment experience," said Mike Abary, senior vice president of Sony's Home Division at the unveiling of the new technology. "Finally, you can seamlessly search for your favourite TV programmes and web sites on the same screen, at the same time."
Sony plans to launch the TVs in Japan in the future, although no date has been set.
Home electronics firms have high hopes that smart TVs will soon prove as popular as the Internet-enabled mobile phones that have recently evolved into smart phones.
And while Internet-capable TVs have been available in some markets for a couple of years - Apple, for example, released the first version of its Apple TV as far back as 2007 - makers point out that their Internet functions are limited mainly to video-on-demand services.
The attraction now is the addition of a wide array of Internet functions.
Samsung and LG Electronics, already the leaders in global sales of televisions, are promoting their products' applications for games, karaoke, Internet shopping and interactive communications, such as Twitter.
Panasonic prefers not to call its products "smart TVs," company spokeswoman Kyoko Ishii told Relaxnews, instead opting for Viera Cast.
"Panasonic Viera TVs combine high picture quality, smart networking and stylish design and offer the ability to network with many other devices through features such as Viera Link, the Viera Image Viewer and Viera Cast," she said.
The popularity of large televisions with Internet connections is expected to narrow the gap between TVs and computers, with U.S. market research company DisplaySearch predicting that fully 41 percent of all televisions sold globally in 2014 will be Internet-capable, up from just 10 percent in 2009.