This looks strangely familiar...
What is Samsung Smart TV?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 taken a leaf out of LG's book 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. Let's go through the new platform in detail and see exactly what the 2015 version has to offer.
TizenWhen it was launched we immediately recognised that LG's WebOS Smart TV platform was a game-changer, taking the idea of smart features and integrating them seamlessly into the overall operating system of the TV itself. This revolutionary approach has had a knock-on effect to just about every Smart TV platform this year but none more so than LG's main rival Samsung. Their new Smart TV platform uses the Tizen operating system and its similarities to WebOS are obvious. Cross-pollination between the technologies of the two companies is common, so the look of Samsung's new platform doesn't come as a massive surprise, especially when you consider how successful WebOS has been for LG. Aside from the obvious similarities between the two Smart TV platforms, once you begin to use Samsung's system you realise that there are noticeable differences. The system has been optimised for use with Samsung's smart motion controller but you can just as easily use a standard remote to navigate the new platform or indeed the remote app.
To access the system you just press the smart button, this brings up the launcher which is laid over the TV image along the bottom. You immediately see all the apps you've launched as icons in this bar, starting with the most recent on the left and then going back through time as you move towards the right. The launcher bar will show the 14 most recently opened apps as icons but you can also pin your favourite apps to the left and side of the recently opened list. At the far right is a waste bin icon, allowing you to clear all your apps or individual apps if you so wish. On the far left is the featured section, if you select this the recent list swaps around with the featured list and you get a selection of useful pages such as Apps, Games and a Search feature, along with suggested apps based upon what you have been regularly using. The system is simple to navigate and very responsive, making it easy to jump from one app to another. As with WebOS, everything is treated as an app so you can access HDMI inputs, connected devices and services such as Netflix with ease.
Although the new platform looks similar to WebOS, it remains uniquely Samsung.
EPG & PVR FeaturesAlthough the main smart platform has had a makeover, there are aspects of the system that remain the same as last year. So the menu system remains unchanged and can still be accessed by pressing the menu button on the remote control. The same is true of the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) and depending on which Samsung TV you buy, you'll have at least one Freeview HD tuner and sometimes Freesat tuners and dual tuners. The dual tuner equipped models in the Samsung TV range offer an alternative to a dedicated PVR with just the addition of a USB hard drive. The TV Guide is reasonably attractive and offers a seven channel/two hour view by default. There’s also a handy timeline, in blue, to show you where you are at that moment.
To schedule a recording it's as simple as hitting the OK button and selecting the appropriate option and to access recordings, it’s just a case of going to the My Content app on the launcher bar. Samsung recommends an HDD with a minimum speed of 5400rpm and we’d suggest utilising the USB 3.0 compatible port for best results. You will need to format the drive using the TV's software in the System menu which then makes the recordings viewable on that TV, and that TV only as it will apply a form a Digital Rights Management (DRM) to make them unplayable on other devices for copyright reasons. As well as the option of recording programming, users can also timeshift – pause/rewind/fast forward content from the internal tuners.
DevicesAnother aspect of the TV's system that remains unchanged is the Source button on the remote control that brings up a list of connected devices along the top of the screen. This shows any connected devices first, starting with live TV and then moving through the HDMI inputs, Screen Mirroring, connected USB devices and any networks to which the TV is connected. You can use this approach to easily switch between connected devices and access content such as songs on your network or recordings on an attached HDD. Tizen offers enhanced compatibility between Samsung's new platform and smartphones or tablets. This means you can easily stream content from your smartphone or tablet or throw content to the screen.
As is becoming popular now, if you own a Samsung smartphone (S4/Note 3 onwards) the TV can automatically detect the presence of the device and immediately make a connection. There are also optional devices that you can connect such as a camera for making Skype video calls. Thanks to the new launcher menu, you can also access any connected devices that way. When you press the Smart TV button, the launcher menu will pop up along the bottom of the screen and the most recently used apps or connections will be listed first. You can then just select the input you want from the ones you have used previously - be it Live TV, HDMI, USB or Network. There's also the My Content app that gives you access to all the content available from connected devices.
The video services will be fairly comprehensive once ITV Player and Demand 5 have been added.
Video-on-DemandIf there is one area that Samsung have dominated over the last few years, it's the number of video-on-demand and catch-up services on its TVs. Although that dominance is changing this year, until now Samsung have been the only manufacturer that offered all four UK catch-up video services on their TVs. This year will eventually be the same but perhaps due to the speed with which Samsung developed their new platform in the wake of WebOS's success, it has taken time for all the main services to be added.
So far there is Netflix, Amazon Instant, YouTube, Vimeo, Curzon Home Cinema, Wuaki TV, All 4 and, most recently, BBC iPlayer. Still to be added are ITV Player and Demand 5, both of which are coming; which means the only major video streaming service that Samsung don't support is NOW TV. Of course in the case of the Netflix, Amazon Instant and YouTube apps, on Samsung's Ultra HD TVs these services now offer native 4K content, allowing you to take full advantage of your new TV.
Samsung Smart TV System 2015 Video Review
Media PlaybackWhilst there are a number of ways to access content from devices connected to your Samsung TV, the easiest is to just bring up the launcher bar and select My Content. From this single page you can access any connected device (USB, DLNA etc.) and then watch videos, look at pictures or listen to music. We found connecting to our home network was easy and we could quickly access music stored on our media server.
Samsung's media player can handle a wide variety of files and in fact we couldn't find any of the popular file types that it didn't support. The interface is reasonably intuitive, although not all the album art was displayed. However, other than that the player was very intuitive to use and extremely responsive. The performance was seamless and controlling and navigating the media player was easy and enjoyable.
The file support is excellent and the media player is seamless and easy to use.
Lifestyle & GamingSamsung's smart platform includes a multitude of apps covering everything from Sports, Lifestyle, Information, Education and Kids. You can find all the available apps in the Apps section and then all you need to do is download and open whichever one you want to use. The next time you open the launcher, the app will be there as one of your recently opened apps. Aside from the video services, the most popular apps will be in the lifestyle section, where you'll find popular social networking apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Skype.
One area that is growing, not only on TVs but also on many other devices, is gaming and Samsung now offer an entire gaming section. You can access the available games either via the Games app on the launcher bar or by entering the Games section on the Apps page. Either way you have a wide choice of games available that have been optimised to play on your TV. There are both free games and games that you need to purchase but there's plenty to keep the kids occupied on a wet afternoon.
Web BrowserAs with previous years the Smart TV platform includes a web browser and these are certainly getting faster and easier to use. The interface is specially designed for the TV and offers you not only quick access to your favourite sites, but also supports the latest remote features – like the smart controller, the remote app or a keyboard for easy typing. When you launch the browser you’ll be greeted with a nice clean interface that looks suitably tailored to the display's panel. There's a choice of Featured and Most Viewed websites, along with a search bar at the top for inputting the URL or a keyword.
We found that web pages loaded quite quickly, especially with the higher-end models that have better processing. Using the smart controller or remote app, it was easy to navigate around and we found the browser’s featured and most viewed options to be quite useful because, when you first open up the web browser you immediately have the opportunity to navigate directly to your favourite websites without having to type anything into the bar at the top. Web browsing on a TV still isn't as quick and easy as using another device and many of the popular sites like YouTube have their own apps but it's definitely getting better.
Despite its derivative design, Samsung's smart platform is responsive, extensive and intuitive.
- Intuitive layout
- Attractive design
- Easy to use
- Extensive apps
- Responsive system
- Excellent file support
- Limited customisability
- No recommended feature
Samsung 2015 Smart TV System ReviewSo how does Samsung's new Smart TV platform measure up? Well it has clearly used LG's WebOS as the basis for its design but that's not necessarily a bad thing. 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 slow and buggy but after a number of updates the system is much faster and more reliable. How fast will depend on your TV but the firmware updates can be quite large, so bear that in mind if you have a slow broadband connection. 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 with the 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 good job of combining the intuitive approach 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.
Ease of Use9
Media Playback Quality9
Applications - Software9
Applications - Hardware9
Voice and Motion Controls8
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