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When people talk about the future of TV and entertainment, brands like Samsung, Apple, Comcast and Boxee tend to come to mind. Apple-watchers in particular expect that company to turn its longtime hobby into a game-changer by releasing their own HDTV set later this year.
Whatever happens, the living room of the future will look very different from what even the most cutting-edge gadgetry offers today. But how will it look? The latest vision comes from a very unlikely source.
Swedish furniture retailer Ikea unveiled the Uppleva, an all-in-one entertainment center that merges consumer electronics with the furniture that has traditionally housed them. It's an HDTV, Blu-Ray player and 2.1 surround-sound stereo packed seamlessly into a single, visually customizable unit.
At its heart, this product is all about design. Ikea's early marketing touts the Uppleva's ability to hide unsightly wires and encase everything in one clean, sleek-looking package. It's not unlike a certain Cupertino tech giant that often takes its cues from minimalist, European design.
In addition to looking pretty, this initiative may offer clues about how entertainment systems of the future will work. The HDTV itself is, of course, "smart" in the sense that it connects to the Internet. That's pretty much a given at this point. It's also integrated directly into the furniture, as is the stereo system and media players. The system uses a single remote for everything, addressing another age-old user experience problem of TVs and entertainment systems.
It's well-packaged and consolidated, but it's also fully extensible. USB and HDMI ports on the TV allow for any number of gaming consoles, set top boxes and other devices to be attached, and they can be stowed away in a dedicated compartment under the TV. It's not clear if it includes a VGA port, the lack of which might inhibit device compatibility.
It's this customizability, now standard in HDTV sets generally, that will ensure that those who chose to purchase Ikea's new system can continue to experience TV's future as it evolves, regardless of platform or provider.
The Uppleva doesn't leap over any major technical hurdles, but its focus on streamlining the user experience is likely to be something we see more of in the living rooms of the future. Even if this model doesn't become the standard, it's a bold try and one that is sure to influence other players in the market, should it catch on with consumers.