Smart TV shootout
The major players go head-to-head
Video on demand
With an internet connection, the theory goes, your TV could replace a cable or satellite subscription – so called “cord cutting”. Whether or not it can do that really depends on what content is available - and at what price.
Sony’s video selection includes LoveFilm as well as Sony's own Qriocity rental service
All the sets have some sort of VoD service, allowing you to buy or rent movies and TV programmes. But, we’d venture, none of them is quite ready to replace a pay TV subscription just yet. Sony has its own service, Qriocity, and LoveFilm, which is also found on Samsung and LG sets. AceTrax makes an appearance on all the TVs I looked at except the Sony, while Panasonic also adds BigFlix for Bollywood movies.
LG offers access to content from Cartoon Network, Box Office 365 and less mainstream channels, like StuffTV, while Samsung has BlinkBox, Cartoon Network and Box Office 365. My impression is that the Samsung will give you the biggest range of real programmes and films to watch.
There’s more video available than LG’s main menu might make you think
But it’s not always that straightforward. LoveFilm’s online catalogue is available only to subscribers, so you’ll have to pay at least a fiver a month to be able to access it.
AceTrax, on the other hand, can be used with no monthly commitment, so you can just pay as you go. But neither is going to make you go ‘wow’ at the selection. Dive into the Science Fiction category of either and you’ll probably wonder why there are only a handful of screens to browse through – many of which include films that made me think, 'Why’s that in this category?'
Samsung’s main menu looks cluttered at first, but turned out to be the easiest to use
And a lot of films seem to be available to buy only, rather than to rent, which can be doubly frustrating.
Samsung may – for now – be the winner in terms of breadth of content, but at the moment, video on demand is really just filler for when you can’t find something to watch. It doesn’t yet have a big enough catalogue to make you cancel a Sky or Virgin subscription, or ignore terrestrial telly.
Some would argue that Twitter could be very handy in a Smart TV, allowing you to follow the hashtag for the programme you're watching. But, sadly, it seems as if none of the sets with Twitter can cope with this.
A full-screen Twitter client - here on the Samsung - is rather missing the point
The main Twitter clients on Panasonic and Samsung, for instance, are full screen. And while the ‘Social TV’ app on the Samsung can run Twitter in a side panel – like the widget on the Sony Bravia sets – it’s still not possible to follow just a single tag.
Similarly, Samsung’s YouTube client is a bit of a let down, with no support for favourites and just a basic search. Panasonic’s might not look slick, but it will pick up material you’ve market as a favourite on the PC.
Sony’s Twitter widget sits at the side of the screen while you watch
Overall, functionality for services like Facebook and Twitter, on all the platforms, really comes across as more of a tick-box exercise than a serious attempt to integrate social media with TV.
All the sets were tested on a network with a Synology server loaded with a range of films. Given the numerous container formats, and the many, many codecs they may include, it’s impossible to be completely comprehensive, but all the sets played back standard DivX video without any problems, as well as MP3 audio.
We also had no problems with MKV files on any of the sets, with the exception of the Sony, which simply didn’t display them in the file browser.
If you’re playing with MTS (AVCHD) files, the Panasonic and Samsung sets worked flawlessly; the LG and Sony both had problems with one of our files, and the Sony wouldn’t play a DivXHD file either. None of the sets was happy with HD clips that used WMA for audio, leaving WMV HD clips silent.
Overall, the Samsung was the most reliable for playing back network media files.