We don't mind admitting that we've always found TVs just a bit magical. Their fundamental trick of plucking waves or bitstreams out of the air and turning them into pictures never grows old.
But these days a TV's ability to produce pictures is just a tiny part of what they can do for you. Bitter competition has led to more and more TVs thinking quite literally outside of the box, offering new integrated features and tool sets that make them more like fully fledged home entertainment centres rather than mere screens.
In fact, things are moving so fast that we thought it was high time we took stock of where we're up to.
Get the hook up
The most fundamental sea-change in TV thinking can be seen in the extent to which many modern TVs now communicate with external devices. At its most basic level, most TVs can now shake hands with digital sources like Blu-ray players or games consoles so they can determine, for instance, the best resolution for the source to be set at.
Most TVs now take this a step further though, allowing your TV to actually transmit control signals via HDMI to compatible sources. So, for instance, the TV can turn on a Blu-ray player when you select the appropriate AV source. Or with TVs equipped with 'CEC' technology you can actually take almost complete control of compatible source equipment using the TV's remote.
CEC features usually appear under brand-specific names like SmartLink or VieraLink, but such systems are generally compatible with each other, so you don't necessarily have to buy all your AV equipment from one manufacturer to make this work.
TVs' external communication powers really get interesting though, when you get them talking to PCs and the internet.
It's increasingly common to find TVs carrying an Ethernet port - or even Wi-Fi - so that they can access files stored on a PC drive. So long, at least, as that PC is certified by the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA). This is a great way of freeing, for instance, digital photos from the vault of your PC, with its likely relatively small screen and (probably) inconvenient location.
Allowing TVs to access the internet is where the most exciting developments seem to be happening, however. Philips - uniquely at the moment - actually allows full internet access via a built-in browser and reasonably well-organised text input system. The browser isn't as fully featured or flexible as a typical PC browser, it has to be said. But the system should still handle the vast majority of web pages you want to look at.
However, the awkwardness of trying to use the internet through a TV-style interface, worries about viruses, and concerns over child access to inappropriate material has led to the vast majority of brands who offer online services through their TVs using a so-called 'ring-fenced' approach. This means each brand provides its own dedicated portal to specifically sourced, sometimes brand-exclusive online material that's generally been redesigned to be easily accessible via a TV remote, rather than a keyboard and mouse.
The big catch with this approach, obviously, is that it doesn't give you the freedom you get with the full internet solution; you can only watch what your TV brand has managed to get round to providing on its servers. And believe us when we say that the differences in the quality and quantity of the online content offered via ring-fenced online TV systems are currently extreme enough to make them something you really need to look into when buying an online-enabled TV.
Some brands - mostly the second tier ones, but also Sharp and Toshiba - don't currently offer any online services at all via their TVs. But of the major brands that do, LG's platform is currently the weakest, with just Accuweather, YouTube and Picasa photo-sharing.
Next up the ladder it's a toss up between Panasonic's VieraCast and Samsung's internet@TV platforms. Both offer a solid amount of content, including movie streaming services, Skype and the inevitable YouTube. Panasonic's interface is slicker and cleaner, but the Samsung also supports Yahoo Widgets to deliver some extra small content apps that might balloon into quite a content library in the coming months.
The online services of Philips' high-end TVs are excellent, meanwhile, with that full internet access noted earlier joined by an also pleasingly expansive set of ring-fenced service providers for a more streamlined experience.
Our current favourite online TV platform, though, is Sony's Bravia internet video system. This carries unprecedented quantities of ring-fenced video content, including the LoveFilm movie service, Channel 5's Demand Five 'catch-up' service, golf advice, howto.com, DailyMotion, YouTube, and Sony's Digital Cinema Concert series. And by the time you read this, it should have become the first TV to offer the BBC iPlayer service too.
One slightly irritating side effect of TV brands following the ring-fenced rather than full internet route is that the services available have become a battleground, with brands trying to negotiate exclusive deals with particular service providers. It was probably inevitable that this would be the case, but it does mean that if online features are important to you, you're going to struggle to find one single brand of TV offering all the services you might ideally want.
Still, we guess you could say that having any sort of online features on a TV can be considered a bonus given that brands seem to be giving you them for relatively small price premiums. What's more, crucially, any TV that can go online can have its services updated automatically - and for free - as and when brands do deals with new service providers.
This facility for your TV to keep getting better and more feature-laden in the days and months after you buy it is in itself another huge leap forward for the TV world.