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.
Next page: Ease of use and interface
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.