My Top 10 Must-Play Videogames for the 2011 Holiday Season that didn't make the Nielsen's Top 20!

On Friday, September 30, 2011 0 comments

What would a holiday season be at my house without a boatload of new games to play! It is a joyful time where all the stars line-up and we get so many new PC and console games it is hard to keep up.

Nielsen's has published their Top 20 Games to Watch for Holiday 2011 and I thought we'd start there.

Nielsen’s Top 20 Games to Watch for Holiday 2011
TitleGenrePlatformsPublisher% Choosing
as Top 5
Key Elements of Online Conversations
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3Shooter360, PS3, Wii, PCActivision27%upcoming launch parties, changes in the new game, ‘darker mood’, hardened version vs standard
Gears of War 3Shooter360Microsoft Game Studios19%high anticipation for launch, best prices at retailers, sharing info on codes and downloads
Madden NFL 12Sports (Simulated)360, PS3, Wii, PSPElectronic Arts19%challenge matches, calling in sick in order to play
Assassin’s Creed: RevelationsAction / Adv360, PS3, PCUbisoft17%downloadable previews, multi-player functionality
Batman: Arkham CityAction / Adv360, PS3, PCWarner Bros Interactive15%new villains in the game
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward SwordAction / AdvWiiNintendo14%nostalgia for series brings back ‘old school’ gamers, similar feel to Ocarina Of Time
Battlefield 3Shooter360, PS3, PCElectronic Arts12%many feel this title is superior to competing titles in the genre, differences in game performance by platform
Just Dance 3Music / Rhythm360, PS3, WiiUbisoft12%excitement for new tracks announced
NBA 2K12Sports (Simulated)360, PS3, Wii, PC, PSP2K Interactive9%online demos, discussions of how to adjust schedule to allow more time to play
Need for Speed: The RunRacing / Driving360, PS3, Wii, PC, 3DSElectronic Arts9%exclusive Porsche models in the game, anticipation as a holiday gift
Uncharted 3: Drake’s DeceptionAction / AdvPS3Sony Computer Entertainment9%high expectations of this title being even better than the previous iterations
Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic GamesSports (Arcade)Wii, 3DSSEGA8%gaming experts mention this title alongside other titles announced at the 3DS conference
LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7Action / Adv360, PS3, Wii, PC, PSP, DS, 3DSWarner Bros Interactive8%sharing previews and speculation on the upcoming game
FIFA Soccer 12Sports (Simulated)360, PS3, Wii, PC, PSP, DS, 3DSElectronic Arts8%FIFA vs Madden, desires for more pro and career mode options in the new release
The Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimRPG360, PS3, PCBethesda Softworks8%M rating / graphic nature not a deterrent, daily countdown until release
Dead IslandAction / Adv360, PS3, PCDeep Silver7%looking for gaming partners for online co-op
Kinect Sports: Season 2Sports (Arcade)360Microsoft Game Studios6%high expectations for the upcoming sequel, considerable attention from casual gamers
Resistance 3ShooterPS3Sony Computer Entertainment4%franchise fans call it a ‘must have’ ‘game of the year’
Dance Central 2Music / Rhythm360Microsoft Game Studios4%enthusiasm for the ability to import songs from the original title
Deus Ex: Human RevolutionShooter360, PS3, PCSquare Enix3%best prices at retailers, differences in game performance by platform
Source: Nielsen

For me personally, I agree with 9 games on the list, might be talked into playing 4 of them and can live without 6 of them.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 - More solid shooting action
Gears of War 3 - Already played this and can strongly recommend it...more of the same great stuff from the original.
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations - Multiplayer additions look awesome and I love this series anyway
Batman: Arkham City - First game was well done but a bit claustrophobic...understand this one may address that.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword - You are "in the action" with Link via a Wiimote.
Battlefield 3 - No idea why the last game received such good was very stiff. Hope this game loosens up a bit.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception - Next edition of the best "Blockbuster Movie in a Game Wrapper" series.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Looks great...hope I can dedicate all the time it takes to play one of this series.
Kinect Sports: Season 2 - Hoping for a great holiday party game.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Just finished this and must have enjoyed it...otherwise I wouldn't have been able to live with the very long loading screens. Question: Did they make the loading screen take so long to give the "3rd-party advertising" enough screen time?

Need for Speed: The Run - Looks like it is going back to the series' roots. Might justify getting it.
LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 - There are good LEGO branded series games and some are not. Hope this is the former.
Dead Island - Just not a horror/shock player. The only series that I get up the courage to play are Resident Evil games. But reviews are not glowing so will most likely skip.
Resistance 3 - Not been a fan of this series. Always felt so generic.

No Thank You
Madden NFL 12 - If you know know I don't "get" sports.
Just Dance 3 - Looks fun but not my thing.
NBA 2K12 - More sports.
Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games - Probably another generic SEGA game.
FIFA Soccer 12 - Sports.
Dance Central 2 - More dancing.

Now that we have that formality behind us...let me give you my Top 10 that didn't make the list. And as to not overly bias this, these are not in any particular order.

Star Wars: The Old Republic 
(PC / Massively Multiplayer Online Role-play Game / Developed by Bioware)
The Old Republic, players explore an age thousands of years before the rise of Darth Vader when war between the Old Republic and the Sith Empire divided the galaxy. Players choose to play as Jedi, Sith, or a variety of other classic Star Wars roles...ultimately making their way toward the light or dark side of the Force. All this, in a big online, multiplayer universe!

(Xbox 360, Playstation3 or PC / First-person Shooter / Developed by iD...creators of Doom and Quake)
Rage is built on iD's new Tech 5 rendering technology that represents a world of lush and unique visuals. The game is centered around a not-too-distant future after an asteroid impacts Earth, leaving a ravaged world behind. Players will experience first-person shooter action, vehicular combat. Note to self: I hope they don't use cheap "monsters appear behind you" tricks this time!

Mario Kart 7
(Nintendo 3DS / Racing / Developed by Retro Studios and Nintendo EAD)
The latest Mario Kart carries on the tradition of the originals to the new Nintendo 3DS platform. Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto stated that the new sensation of depth from the 3DS helps delineate where everything is on the screen. New this time around is the ability to customize your vehicles and the addition of new gadgets like a hang glider add-on.

Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition
(Xbox 360 / First-person Shooter / Developed by Bungie)
Completely remastered in celebration of the 10-year anniversary of this groundbreaking game. It was "The Killer-App" for the launch of the original Xbox. The new version of the game includes new challenges and features as well as the return of classic multiplayer maps for the Xbox 360. Visually the game is radically refreshed and worth a revisit even if you already played the original. If you didn't...pick this up.

ICO and Shadow of the Colossus
(Playstation 3 / 3rd-person Platform / Sony)
If you have spent any time with me and we get on the subject of videogames, you will inevitably have to listen to me talk a great deal about the masterpiece called ICO. The game was designed and directed my the brilliant Fumito Ueda. The problem has been that the original was released on the PS2 and just never got the recognition it deserved. It is a wonderfully executed game designed around a minimalist world and a boy's attempt to help free a young girl from the castle. It is a classic character-based puzzle game. Sony has remastered this game and Ueda's follow-up that was also masterfully done in high-definition. Please pick this up and let me know if you enjoy it!

Saints Row: The Third
(Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC / 3rd-person action / Developed by Volition)
In the genre of Grand Theft Auto, this series goes to silly extremes. The previous two games in the series were definitely not as tight of executions compared to GTA but if you need your open-world, sandbox gaming satiated...this game can probably serve that purpose. This latest edition definitely looked like an upgrade in all definitely work checking out.

Portal 2
(Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC / First-person Puzzle / Valve)
Now Portal 2 has been out a few months and enjoyed a good run but I know a lot of people that haven't gotten this amazing game. It is a wonderfully engrossing 3D puzzle game full of physics-based problems to solve. It also has a wonderful cooperative mode that makes the game even more enjoyable.

Dark Souls
(Xbox 360, Playstation 3 / 3rd-person Die-a-lot / Namco)
While many games I mention above are nice, almost leisurely puzzle games or straight-forward action stuff...this is NOT one of them. This is a torturous game of fight, die and re-strategize on how to survive. If you played it's predecessor, Demon Soul...this one is MUCH harder. But Namco has delivered an amazing quality production. Visuals, sound, gameplay and tons of depth make this a compelling title. But it is not for the faint of heart or casual game player. You will get frustrated.

Forza Motorsport 4
(Xbox 360 / Racing / Microsoft)
This series has been amazing. Highest rated racing series of this generation of hardware. Stunning graphics. A wide variety of "real cars" and tracks. I got to play the Kinect version at E3 (video game trade show) and you literally sit in front of the screen, hold your arms out and drive! If you are into cars...get this game. And, it has Aston Martin's and the Ferrari Italia 458.

Rachet and Clank: All 4 One
(Playstation 3 / 3rd-Person Action / Insomniac)
I have been a huge fan of this series but the last couple title just didn't deliver to the degree of their predecessors. Maybe the brand is long in the tooth or the times have changed...but here we go with a new edition. What makes this game different, is the inclusion of 4-player cooperative mayhem. Now if I only had three other friends! You can play the game alone and the other three characters come along for the ride. What I experienced at E3 was promising but I will have to wait and see on October 18th if this one deserved to be bought.

I debated between this Ratchet game or Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) but I am worried the Mario game is just a gimmick on the 3D gameplay so I went with Ratchet. I'll be curious which one deserved to be on this Top 10.

A bit about the current state of affairs with the videogame industry...
This is a precarious holiday season. We have a slew of well-produced, multi-platform games available on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and/or Wii. There are killer Xbox 360 exclusives like Gears of War 3 and awesome PS3 games like Uncharted 3. The only thing Nintendo has going for it on the Wii front is Zelda. And two Mario titles and a Pokemon game on the 3DS to help it with its slump.

Will Microsoft maintain their #1 console title or is Sony's new lower price going to help them take the spot.

Sony could have probably benefitted from the launch of their new handheld Playstation Vita...but it looks like that is coming out in the spring in the US. I am curious how many people need a dedicated portable game system when we have these smart devices with us all the time nowadays?

I hope you enjoy some of these games. I can already recommend Gears of War 3, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, ICO, Halo and Portal 2. I've played and completed those...loved every minute of them.

Clothes Washers and Dryers can be pretty cool...

On Tuesday, September 27, 2011 0 comments

On a regular basis my wife talks about how her old clothes washer and dryer (probably when she is doing a load of laundry) were lightyears better than the new ones we have today. So that has lead to me on several occasions to research what types of washer and dryer options exist and is there a clearly better solution for us that justifies us upgrading.

Washers come in two primary configurations; Front-loading and Top-loading.

Clothes Washer - Front-loading (left)  and Top-loading (right) 
In an area of full disclosure, my wife is missing her top-loading washing machine versus the front-loader we have today. There are other variations on the theme that I am not looking at like Combo units or Compact washers and the like. For this write-up I am just going to stick with the two main segments.

Front-loading washers seem to have increased in popularity of late. Data indicates that the average household does 400 loads of laundry a year. With a conventional top-loading washer using 40 gallons of water to fill the basin whereas the front-loader uses a 1/3 of that water, so by the end of a year if you get one of the High Efficiency (HE) front-loading washing machines you can save roughly $850 a year in water and detergent. While the front-loaders have enjoyed High Efficiency and Energy-Star ratings, a new breed of Top-Loaders are starting to get this level of certifications. Though the more efficient top-loaders get these efficiencies through their load management features and water temperature options and not necessarily through the efficient water utilization in the front-loaders. So "more efficient" is clearly been a selling point of the front-loaders.

Capacity? The new ilk of front-loaders seem to look so massive but most have a storage stand they sit upon to raise the door to prevent too much bending over to look and reach inside. But front-loading washers also typically provide additional load capacity. This can lead to more efficiency IF you are filling it up with each load. But most top-loaders floor footprint is similar and is some cases smaller than their top-loading competitors. Of course, there are a wide range of you can't really call a winner here.

Less space? There is an obvious benefit that front loaders can for the most part be stacked whereas the top-loading door gets in the way. If you have limited space...stacking is a great option.

Gentler? The agitator mechanism in a top-loading machine is pretty aggressive and can put your clothes through a tough workout. The top-loading washer has an agitator that cycles at 650 revolutions per minute (RPM), compared to the 1,000RPM of the standard front-loader where a tumbling motion cycles the clothes around in the water. In theory, the front-loader is more gentle on your garments.

Convenience? The top-loader may have a bit of an edge here. Don't like the bending over to feed the clothes in and out of the front-loading washer versus dropping them into a top-loader? What about dropping something in after the cycle has started? For the most part, this is not an option with a front-loading machines...yes, there are a few that let you open for a bit but those have limited versatility.

GE Top-Loading Washer
Price? This is where is gets a bit more complicated. Out the door a comparable front-loader can cost double what a top-loader costs. A solid, conventional top-loader like the GE GTWN3000 that can be found online for under $400. Whereas a good, front-loader like the Whirlpool WFW9750 can cost over $800.

GE GTWN3000 is your standard top loading washing machine. It has a 3.7 cubic foot capacity. Like most top-loaders, it is not Energy Star rated. Its agitator runs at 630RPM spin speed. The washers strength is its overall cleaning ability and is rather gentle with regular clothes but it is lacking a "delicate cycle" mode. At the end of the day, this one is mentioned here due to its price. It is a very good product at the bottom end of the scale if you are not fixated on an efficient device.

Whirlpool WFW9750
Whirlpool WFW9750 is a solid performer in the front-loading category for the money. It actually has a very nice 3.9 cubic foot capacity. The WFW9750 is Energy Star rated as well as CEE Tier III qualified (the most efficient level). This level of efficiency may qualify you for local utility company rebates! Due to its 1,400RPM spin speed, the clothes get rather dry at the end of the wash cycle. Like other front-loaders, the Whirlpool can be stacked with the dryer. A slight area of concern, is that Consumer Reports did comment in their write-up that this Whirlpool can have maintenance issues but nothing online vets this out. The reviews are very positive. Another negative is that the wash cycle can run long with certain options activated like the Sanitize feature.

If your heart is stuck on a top-loader but you want some of the benefits of a front-loader, consider this...

Maytag Bravos X HE
Maytag Bravos X HE (MVWX600XW) is an efficient top-loader that is Energy Star rated and CEE Tier III qualified (check for local utility rebates). It has a 3.6 cu. ft. capacity and advanced features like a stainless steel wash basket, 800 RPM spin speed, low water wash cycle with EcoConserve...all for around $600 retail. Very strong consumer feedback online and definitely worth a look.

If your looking for "my recommendation" on the right price and feature front-loader, consider this...

Electrolux EWFLS70JRR is the clothes washer I would buy and not just because it comes in this very cool red hot color! You can get it in a ton of shade, so you can find a color to match your decor. But Electrolux really appears to make a spectacular product based on the consumer dialog online. Solid, dependable and feature rich. It's not cheap ($1,600 range) but as long as you see a washer as a many year proposition...this makes up for the cost in a history of proven reliability. Also keep in mind that the front-loader will save you on water and energy like discussed earlier. The Wave-Touch interface is well laid out and easy to use. You have access to 65 different wash cycles, a 1,400 RPM spin speed, "My Favorite" configurable settings, Energy Star/CEE Tier III certification and NSF-certified sanitation cycle options. can change the end-of-cycle chime to your own personal liking. :-)

If price is not a concern and you are looking for a top-loader...

King of the Top-Loaders
Whirlpool Vantage WTW7990XG
This high-tech marvel includes a 7-inch full-color touch-screen that allows you to fine-tune the types of fabric are in the wash cycle for great levels of control/care of the garments. It has a substantial 4 cu. ft. capacity and 1,100 RPM spin. The built-in USB port allows for future upgrades to the firmware and programming. And for those that want to showoff their clothes washer, it features a self-lifting automotive glass lid! Yes, this is product is Energy Star rated and CEE Tier III rated.

Special detergent? Many front-loading HE washers recommend using an HE low sudsing detergent. They are pretty easy to get nowadays but worth keeping in mind.

King of the Front-Loaders
Miele W4842
Miele W4842
Miele has been in business since 1901 making laundry equipment for commercial applications. With the introduction of the Miele SuperCapacity series based on their commercial units, Miele brings there years of experience to the home. This is a substantial product, well engineered with a beautiful stainless steel honeycomb drum that is designed to provide gentle care of fabrics. While some manufacturers are going high-tech with a wide assortment of configurations, Miele is sticking with quality and ease of use. That's not to say they don't have some of the most sophisticated technologies inside their units like an Intelligent Wash Action, custom wash programs, delayed start functions, a SpinClean mode that accelerates the drum on bulkier items to ensure they are properly cleaned and an on-board water heater that can ramp up the water temperature to 158F which is well beyond your home's hot water for a "Clean Machine" cycle. Another unique feature is the RemoteVision wi-fi connectivity to Miele's quality monitoring service. Should a fault be detected, Miele will contact you to schedule a service repair. One item of note, this model is not stackable. And yes, it is Energy Star and CEE Tier III rated.

Looking for high-tech clothes washing? Check for these next-gen technologies...

STEAM - Many new front-loading washers include a steam wash that in theory is even more efficient, helps permeate the clothes and loosen up dirt. This is a common, high-end feature for brands like LG, Whirlpool and Samsung. While in a way it makes sense...I have seen too many reviews where washers without steam clean the clothes better than the steam versions. So I'd say the jury is out on this feature???

QUIET - Almost every manufacture is focused on making their units as quiet as you are willing to pay for it. It seems that as you move up the price scale, the more noise dampening the product gets. Just something to keep in mind.

INTELLIGENCE/SENSORS - Washers are getting so smart sets of sensors and advanced programs that track water usage based on the load size. Programming that allows you to set when the cycles will run. And a range of features and multi-cycles treatments to handle the type of load from "bed comforters" to "delicates".

TOUCH-SCREENS - No longer do you need to turn a clicking dial! You can punch in a whole mess of parameters to your delight and even save favorite configurations.

ANTI-BACTERIAL - Manufactures are starting to use materials and technology to further sanitize your garments. A benefit of this is that you can use colder water to product your delicate clothing but still get them clean.

CONNECTED - There are washing machines with USB ports,  and others coming out that feature wi-fi connectivity to track quality/fault issues or to even make sure you know when your clothes are dry!

A look at great flat-panel TV's but will Apple reinvent the category?

On Tuesday, September 20, 2011 0 comments

I am perplexed by the television manufacturers and the overall television/movie industries in general. It seems like they are trying to squeeze more and more features into their TVs but I just don't know if consumers care. Sure this economy has you second guessing every major purchase but what do you expect from a TV on your wall anyway?

I'd assume you expect the content you care about will be viewable at the level of quality you are willing to pay for. But do you need 480Hz refresh rates? Do you even know what a Hz does? (Before you ask, it is the number of single frames on the screen per second. A movie is typically 24 frames per second, so the more Hz typically means smoother fast motion on the screen. But you'd be hard press to tell the difference between 120 or more).

What about 3D? Internet applications? I don't know if you have tried calling up an app on some of these TVs but it can be a huge test of patience. The processors inside these TVs are for the most part underwhelming/under-horsepowered. It can take a fair bit of time just to open and search for the feature you are looking for. And are you ready for your TV to crash and need to reboot?

While I don't have all the answers to the questions above, I will endeavor to address the current landscape of flat-panel TVs and my thoughts of where things are going.

So what type of product discussion would this be without noting the latest and most viable TV's in the market currently.

Now there are some wonderful LCD displays in the marketplace and a wide range in size and features. I am going to fixate on the "sweet-spot" size of 46-50" displays. This is really the smallest range to enjoy the benefits of a full-HD 1080p display.

Let's start at the bottom and work our way up to the top...

The clean lines of the Vizio E3D470VX
Best Value
I like Vizio as a brand and a good many of their products are very well reviewed. They are best know for getting you an exceptionally well featured LCD TV for your money. A standout product in their current line-up is the Vizio E3D470VX 47-Inch LCD TV. This TV was designed to address short-comings of the original expensive 3D TV's from last year. Priced at roughly $850 you get a 47" LCD that can display 1080p (high-resolution video) at 120Hz.

This TV is built on some older backlighting technologies. The current trend is to backlight the TV with an array of LEDs (very small bulbs of light stacked in hundreds of rows along the back of the display) compared to the old generic single light across the back. The LED solution allows you to adjust the darkness of an area of the screen to get a deeper black. As a result, this TV doesn't have the deep blacks I tend to prefer. Good just not great.

Don't let the backlighting issue overshadow the beautiful imagery this TV displays. It has a clean and natural color palette and its 3D picture quality is extremely competitive. There is really nothing down in this mid-$800s range that competes.

You get two passive 3D glasses similar to what you get when you go to a 3D movie at the theaters. The set also includes wi-fi connectivity to the internet and drives the included apps like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora and Facebook.

Pros: Good price vs features/size, clean lines, very good picture quality, newer trend of passive glasses versus the chunky and expensive active glasses from last year.

Cons: Blacks not as deep as I like. The built-in speakers are weak so hopefully you are hooking up to a stereo. Was not a fan of the remote which is needed to drive many of the included apps and access the keyboard.

Conclusion: Strong contender versus the competition. Most TVs that offer this level of picture quality have moved up scale with LED lighting and can cost almost double.

Panasonic Viera TC-P50ST30 is not the
prettiest packaging but it has it where it counts.
Great visuals but not the most visual appealing packaging
I need to come straight and admit I am bias to plasma technology over LCD. My experience has been that the plasma sets have more uniform colors, lighting and the best blacks in the business. Now LCD TVs can be incredibly bright and more resistent to bright rooms with lots of outdoor lighting filtering into the room and this is there best competitive advantage for those situations.

A great entry into the quality plasma realm is the Panasonic Viera TC-P50ST30 50" Plasma TV. This is a $900ish 3D TV but oddly does not come with any 3D glasses! You have to purchase them separately which moves the price up a bit. And these are the active variety which are not as inexpensive as the passive, movie theater style glasses but they do deliver a good 3D experience overall.

The picture quality is what you come to expect from Panasonic's plasma product line. Beautiful colors, great dynamic range, wonderful uniformity and deep blacks. This set is not a suped up version so it is not operating on the super high refresh levels of some models but watching some fast paced action in a series of movies leaves you scratching your head as to why you need more Hz? Panasonic has developed a new dejudder processor that in theory addresses the movement between the 24 frames a second of your typical Blu-ray movie.

The internet application suite includes the usual suspects; Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora, etc. You get a wi-fi adapter that plugs into one of the TVs USB ports to give it wireless access to our home network and internet. I definitely like the layout of the Viera Connect user interface. It is a very clean line of tiled apps.

Pros: Great video 2D and 3D imagery. Excellent black-levels. Wi-fi apps.

Cons: Unattractive packaging vs competitive set. Not the brightest set in the bunch and as such probably is not the best set for a brightly lit room. Like all "built-in" speakers...definitely need to hook up to a stereo system. No costly active 3D glasses included.

Conclusion: For the price you have an excellent 50" 2D television if you are not a tech fashion snob.

Samsung PN51D8000 is very skinny 
One to rule them all...for right now
My home is dominated by Panasonic plasmas and that is usually a very safe bet. I typically tell people to buy the best Panasonic plasma they can afford! But this year, I would have to say that the best set on the market is the Samsung PN51D8000 51" Plasma TV. This is a stunning next-generation looking package. Sleek, slim and vibrant. But we are moving up the price scale and this set typically goes for $1,700-2,000.

Samsung provides you with a 1080p plasma with an amazing screen refresh. This TV is wonderfully flawless at watching sports, fast-paced movies and videogames.

Panasonic does offer the similarly priced Panasonic VIERA TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma which is a clear competitor. Both are very comparable but I would give the Samsung a slight edge due to its overall design and category leading feature set.

Here is another 3D TV without any 3D glasses in the box and they are also the more expensive active type. The 3D glasses introduced by Samsung this year are substantially different from last year and rely on a much better/reliable solution built on Bluetooth technology. Samsung did run a promotion during the summer that included the perhaps they will do it again for the holidays?

The wi-fi internet suite of applications and great remote with QWERTY keyboard work wonderfully. The interface is not as streamlined as the Panasonic Viera Connect but it is much more ambitious. Very nice set of apps with the one notable omission of Amazon Instant Video but it does include a more than capable built-in web-browser. Another cool feature is the ability to interface a web-camera to the TV to enable Skype video-conferencing.

Pros: Stunning plasma with amazing refresh rate. Deep blacks and very bright for a plasma. Industry leading suite of internet functionality and definitely more snappier interface than last year's models.

Cons: Expensive. Smart Hud internet application interface is busy and somewhat difficult to navigate. No included 3D glasses and they are the expensive, active type. No Amazon Instant Video.

Conclusion: You want the best, go get a Samsung 8000 series plasma. It is available in 51", 59" and 64" versions.

The Elite Comes Back
There was an era in the mid-2000's where Pioneer manufactured the finest flat-panel displays in the world. These featured industry leading plasmas with outstanding color, brightness and uncontested black-levels. But these sets were expensive. Double...triple the price of nearly comparable plasmas from the likes of Panasonic. But they were great products in their own right. A great benchmark that others pursued.

We'll the Elite is coming back. This time as a premium LCD line from Sharp. While the jury is out on the overall quality vs price debate, this is a great move that will give Sharp access to the high-end AV industry alongside Pioneer's Elite audio products.

The 60 and 70 inch displays will be launched later this year and it will be exciting to see how they match up to the top of the line Samsung and Panasonic offerings like those I mentioned above.

Another entrant...a game changer?
Rumors abound that Apple will get into the TV manufacturing business. Not the AppleTV accessory they sell today to provide iTunes content to a TV in the house. They may bring a "real TV" to market.

Initially it seems a bit out of place for them. TVs are not updated at the pace that Apple likes to reinvent their products. But Steve Jobs did mention at the All Things Digital conference last year, the obsolete industry practices that TV manufactures and cable/satellite operators function under today.

Apple is probably asking themselves questions like: Why do I have to get the "O Network" when I never watch it? Nothing against Oprah mind is just an example. Why do I have to watch the shows when the network wants to air them? Obviously TIVO and DVRs in general somewhat address this but there should be more "on demand" solutions.

Why do my internet applications run so slowly on smart TVs like those I mention above and not as smooth as my computer or game console? Why can't I have access to millions of apps like those at the Apple store? Or access to my music and video library directly on all the TVs in the house?

I'd like my content and applications to flow from computer, tablet/smart-device and TV as I move from room to room.

Look at what Apple has done. Truth be told, Apple invented the iPad first but they decided the best, most cost-effective and broadest offering would be to miniaturize it and make a phone...thus the iPhone was launched. Once the iPhone was well underway, they moved back up the scale to the iPad. So if you wanted to move up the scale again, why not a big iPad you mount on the wall? It would share all the content, applications and services of its smaller siblings.

It makes some sense.

Now a nice practical offering would be to have a "computing module" that could be swapped out in the monitor as people are not going to unseat their mounted TV on the wall and display technology doesn't necessarily move at the pace that it needs replacing every year or so. But Apple is not about practical offerings so I am not holding my breath on that feature like I am not holding my breath for a SD memory slot on an iPhone 5 or iPad 3!

A new TV standard could really shake up the old-school industry which is in a slump. 3D did not make everyone run out and trash their flat-panel TV they bought 2-years ago. The apps are nice but kinda innovation. Content is so scattered across the web...a new standard is needed and Apple may have the horsepower and consumer awareness to make it happen.

Just my 2-cents,