Smart TV shootout
The major players go head-to-head
Review It’s about 18 months since I last rounded up internet-connected TVs - or "Smart TVs" as they’re now being named by all the manufacturers these days. Since then, all the brands have upped their game considerably, and just about all of their offerings are much more powerful than the 2009 models I looked at last time.
As before, I've focused on the connectivity and "smart" aspects of the sets, not the picture quality, remote control, or screen size.
Although smart functionality is appearing on more and more sets, including some from the budget brands, I’ve concentrated on the most popular names, and looked at sets from LG, Panasonic, Sony and Samsung.
I reviewed the main brands' Smart TV offerings on the following tellies:
Sony Bravia KDL-46EX723
Of course, the companies' smart TV platforms are available on a wide selection of televisions, across a range of sizes and price-points. Their smart TV platforms are common to all these sets, though older models may have inferior versions which aren't always upgradeable to the new UI and feature set.
Some, such as Sony, also put the same UI and connected content features on their Blu-ray Disc players and set-top boxes. Reg Hardware will be looking at these gadgets' strengths and weakness as IPTV devices in the new year.
BBC iPlayer and catch-up TV
Eighteen months ago, BBC iPlayer was something of a rarity, largely available only on Freesat HD kit. Now it’s something every manufacturer wants, and it’s also rolling out on Freeview set-top boxes.
LG’s iPlayer implementation makes good use of the screen, with plenty of graphics
All the sets I looked at incorporate iPlayer, though in the case of the Sony and the Samsung, what you get is really just the standard big screen version. It works, but there’s no HD and it’s a little basic – especially for a really large screen.
Panasonic’s iPlayer stands out for good looks, and lots of features - including the ability to browse the timeline of radio stations
LG’s offering is much more slick, but by far the best was the new Viera Connect implementation from Panasonic, which lets you do things like browse radio schedules, and provides richer graphics than the other sets. If you’re a Beeb fan, this could swing the balance.
Like Sony, Samsung’s iPlayer is the familiar ‘big screen’ version
On the other hand, if it’s Channel 5 that you’re keen on, then the Sony platform was the only one to have Demand 5 pre-loaded. It’s a shame that the players for all the main UK stations aren’t available yet – and that’s one area where YouView, when it appears, is likely to score heavily over what’s built into people’s TVs.
Next page: Video on demand
YouView if you want to....
So when YouView comes out in 6 months time. Will any of these TVs get firmware updates, or will I have to drop another grand on a new telly to get it?
Please review mobile phone control apps
At least Sony and I think Samsung have remote control apps which are really useful especially for entering text (but they could do so much more).
Makes a big difference when searching for content. Especially things like the Muzu music service (which I'm surprised you didn't mention although maybe it is common between the platforms).
It would be a useful addition to your review or you could make a separate article of it.
I have the 37" version of the LG TV you review. A few interface points for others considering it:
- It supports mobile control apps. I use my iPhone instead of the standard remote control. The app includes mouse control (proper cursor on screen, very nice) and text entry. For £50 you can also buy a 'magic remote' which is basically a Wii remote for the TV.
- It supports Plex media browsing and streaming from a Plex server, eg. your computer. Far superior to DNLA (especially for a machead like me), except that I'm not convinced that it always streams in the best resolution.
- The iPlayer implementation is superb, better than the iPlayer website or iOS app.
- My main criticism is the number of steps to go through the interface to get to what you want. I would like the ability to map buttons on the remote to iPlayer and Plex, or at least have them as the first selectable icons on the home screen; but it's not very customisable at all.
- Likewise, I'm not sure of the difference between the three areas of apps on the main screen - 'Premium', 'LG apps' and the bottom row - and I don't really care. I'd rather remove all the crap I don't want and keep the buttons I do.
Those niggles are minor though - I'm very happy with it, and would recommend it over the others purely for the Plex integration.
Think it's worth a mention that the LG has Medialink which is the name for their Plex client. There's also an unofficial Plex client for the Samsung which is rather slick.
If your Synology NAS is Intel based then it's worth loading the Plex software to manage your digital media. It also runs on Windows, MacOS & Linux.
Samsung has iplayer but...
I have a 3 month old Samsung 40" D7000 and it has largely failed to impress...
1. IPlayer doesn't work properly. 95% percent of the time 5 minutes into watching something, the screen will bounce back to the iplayer interface leaving the sound running. Pressing play will take you back to the video stream but it will then freeze after a couple of minutes. Samsung's response was that I should update the firmware - which is already updated so refuses to reload. (SD stream on a 50Mb connection and using the IPlayer in my Sony Bluray works fine)
2. Blinkbox has loads of content, though you can't watch anything from the BBC - all you get is a message saying content is not authorised on that device. If you can watch on a PC, why not a TV?
3. The screen has stuck pixels which I cannot shift. Interestingly Samsung's response was to update the firmware for this too - though how that'd help, I'm not sure...
4. bit off topic but 3D is terrible - loads of ghosting and the active shuttter glasses usually guarantee a headache... Have seen far better 3D on passive systems by LG
Overall, have been dissapointed with the Samsung. Reckon I paid over the odds for a 40" screen but bought it for the SmartTV hub.. 3 months in and the apps either don't work, or don't have the content I want to watch.