Smart but simple, that's the key
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3,263The TV in your living room is getting cleverer, with new smart systems, platforms and operating systems that are design to integrate seamlessly into your viewing experience.When Smart TV systems first arrived, many people questioned their usefulness. After all what was the point of using your TV to surf the web or catch-up with friends on Facebook, when it was easier and faster on a tablet or phone. However the arrival of TV catch-up services and video streaming changed everything. Now there was a smart feature that people not only wanted but that your TV was perfectly positioned to deliver. These days you wouldn't consider buying a TV that didn't offer Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and BBC iPlayer and some offer many more video services besides. The ability to access video content via streaming isn't only changing how we watch TV, it's also driving new technology with both Netflix and Amazon Instant offering Ultra HD 4K content with support for High Dynamic Range (HDR). The way that you interact with Smart TV systems has also changed fundamentally over the last two years, thanks primarily to the success of LG's WebOS.
This revolutionary approach to Smart TV was a genuine game-changer, integrating all the smart services into a single unified platform that treated everything including live TV and inputs as apps. Manufacturers realised that people wanted their TV to be smarter but they also wanted it to be simple to use, intuitive to navigate and responsive. The addition of motion controllers and voice control have helped and today's Smart TV systems are a far cry from those available only a few years ago. Whilst LG continue to develop WebOS, Samsung have used the Tizen operating system to power their platform and Panasonic have adopted Firefox. Sony and Philips have gone with Android TV, although they may be regretting that decision given the delays that the system has caused them. Android TV may show its full potential next year but so far it's proved to be problematic and, based upon our experiences and the feedback from owners, Sony in particular released their new models before Android TV was ready. So, in no particular order, here are our favourite Smart TV systems of 2015.LG Smart TV powered by WebOS 2.0
WebOS 2.0 is the latest iteration of LG's game-changing Smart TV platform they first launched last year. When WebOS first arrived it presented a revolutionary approach to Smart TV by treating the features as an integral part of the TV itself. It did this through the simple but highly effective idea of treating them as apps that are accessed via a central launcher. It's an indication of how successful LG's approach was that all the other manufacturers now offer Smart TV systems that look suspiciously familiar. The new version of WebOS looks very similar to last year's platform, with the only major change being the addition of a series of shortcut menus down the right hand side of the screen and a My Programmes page for greater customisation. Otherwise it's business as usual with the main launcher allowing you access to everything, including inputs, as apps, whilst LG’s superb Magic Remote enables you to quickly and easily navigate to your choices.
There's no denying that WebOS remains a highly effective Smart TV platform and what changes LG have made are minor and probably unnecessary in our opinion, largely included to differentiate this year from last. It's more responsive and there have been some minor cosmetic changes such as the addition of a shortcut menu and a My Programs page. Where LG could genuinely add value is in terms of including all the video-on-demand services but we appreciate that this comes down to licensing agreements and contracts. However by resisting the urge to tinker with a winning formula too much, LG have positioned themselves very favourably this year. Samsung's Tizen powered smart platform looks a lot like WebOS, whilst Sony and Philips have been at the mercy of third-party providers, resulting in serious delays. However WebOS works and thus hasn't delayed the launch of any of their TVs, making it still the system to beat.Samsung Smart TV powered by Tizen
Samsung's new Smart TV platform has had something of an overhaul since last year, gone are the multiple pages within a separate section of the TV's internal system architecture. Instead Samsung have been influenced by LG’s WebOS and now use an overlaid launcher bar that can take you from one app to another without leaving what you're currently using or having to go to a different page. This new platform uses the Tizen operating system and whilst it is superficially similar to WebOS, Samsung hope that it retains enough features to make it uniquely their own system. The idea of integrating the smart features into the system architecture of the TV makes sense and having a launcher bar overlaid on the image along the bottom makes accessing different apps easier and more organic. The choice of recently used apps and also featured ones is great and the idea of treating everything as an app including inputs and connected devices makes sense. There's also the option to pin your favourite apps to the launcher bar.
When initially launched the Tizen powered system was missing some apps but after a number of updates the system offers more choice and is faster, although how fast will depend on your TV. There is limited opportunity to customise the layout and currently there is no recommendation feature but otherwise Samsung's new system looks good. As you'd expect the support for all the video-on-demand and catch-up services is comprehensive and now includes plenty of Ultra HD 4K content for their SUHD & UHD TVs. The connectivity is good and there is greater integration between the new platform and Samsung's latest smart devices. The media player was also impressive and the overall file support is excellent. There are a multitude of apps available, along with the usual web browser and the option to add a camera for Skype video calls. Samsung's Smart TV has done a good job of combining the intuitive approach of LG's WebOS with the simplicity of Panasonic's Firefox based platform, resulting in an attractive and comprehensive system that is fun and easy to use.Panasonic Smart TV powered by Firefox
For the last couple of years Panasonic have been using their My Home Screen smart TV platform which, whilst good, represented an older approach to the feature where you had to enter a home page and move through other pages to select what you wanted. When LG launched WebOS last year, they introduced a revolutionary approach to Smart TV where the system is an integral part of the internal architecture. It also had a slick, simple and attractive user interface, making it very intuitive for consumers to navigate. As a result the impact was immediate with manufacturers rushing to redesign their platforms. Samsung's Tizen powered platform has sought to mimic WebOS, whilst other manufacturers have turned to third party operating systems with differing degrees of success. Sony and Philips have used Android but issues with that platform delayed the release of their TVs and resulted in systems that didn't initially work properly. Panasonic enlisted the help of Firefox to overhaul their platform and despite being officially called My Home Screen 2.0, Panasonic's new Smart TV system is very different from last year. It has been completely redesigned, making it intuitive to use, simple to customise and open source for easy development.
The options available when you first turn on your Panasonic TV feel left over from last year's system and somewhat redundant. However once you press the Home button on your remote you access a system that is simple in its design but effective in its implementation. The platform offers a multitude of channels, apps and devices, all of which can be pinned to the home page, allowing you to customise and access the content you want easily. In terms of content streaming, Panasonic have most things covered including Netflix, Amazon Instant, Wuaki TV and YouTube; and now that they have added Freeview Play, Panasonic is able to offer all the UK TV catch-up services as well. The layout of the new system also makes it easy to connect to other devices and networks, playback other media, access any recorded content and even browse the web. There are also social networking apps like Facebook and Twitter, whilst the EPG and PVR features have had a overhaul, making the entire system feel very cohesive. In fact we really like Panasonic's new Smart TV platform, it's well designed, simple to use, responsive and comprehensive - which is all you can ask from a platform.
We recently discussed the ten features that your next TV must have and one of those is an effective Smart TV platform because we will be watching more streamed video content with each passing year. The systems that we have highlighted above are all comprehensive and intuitive, offering Ultra HD 4K content with HDR support and all the various catch-up services. So the next time you buy a new TV, think about the smart features because there's a good chance the majority of the content you'll be watching in the future will be streamed via an app.
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