Let's break down what people really mean when they say they want an "Internet-connected TV" - here are things you can do today by connecting a TV to a PC (or Mac):
- Watch movies and TV on demand - while still only subscribing to basic cable. With Netflix and other sites (Hulu and Joost plus broadcaster websites to name just a few) offering up hours of video content via your PC for free or as part of a subscription offering you get a taste of true on demand programming that complements your DVR. (And TiVo has figured that out - now partnered with Netflix. And Disney has figured that out - leading the charge getting TV content on to the Internet and now bought into Hulu).
- Watch any baseball game from anywhere (excluding blackout restrictions) via MLB.TV. I'm a huge Blue Jays fan and moving to California in 2000 meant being cutoff from my team - not anymore. Getting a slimline PC connected to our living room flatscreen was justified by this application alone.
- Stay connected with the whole story - not just soundbites. The 2008 election cycle really brought politics into the 21st century. It is now possible to watch just about every major speech - in full and in high quality - via YouTube and other websites, plus leave your two cents behind as commentary.
- Watch and enjoy your personal media (music / movies / photographs) on the flatscreen in your living room. Remember all those media adapters? Applications like Orb.com turn PCs into Internet media servers.
- Webcam calls with family and friends - Skype and other applications make it easy turn a webcam into a personal videoconference tool (which is even cooler when connected to a living room flatscreen).
- And more... (didn't even mention gaming, for example)
The point is you can accomplish all of the above with a single device - the PC (or Mac) - or you can string together a combination of purpose-built devices.
Here's the catch - purpose-built devices, like a TiVo or cablebox or gaming console are very robust because they are purpose-built. They are not open and therefore tend to be less flexible. The latest addition to the purpose-built device realm is the Internet-connected TV (and this is round 2 - remember WebTV which morphed into MSN TV?)
Can you achieve both - flexibility and robustness? The evidence to-date is no. The cost of flexibility is more things break. The constraint of robustness is you better like what you get (because you can't easily change it) - or be prepared to have a bunch of purpose-built devices.
The debate over "is the Internet-connected TV useful?" is over. Internet-connected TVs are very useful. The only question is how to best connect the Internet to the TV - and that will be an interesting debate for years to come.