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In Defence of Smart TVs

What I’m predominantly talking about, of course, is streamed video. For me, anyone who’d rather watch, say, downloaded film rentals or free catchup TV shows from the BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD or Demand Five on their laptop rather than on their big TV - especially given the constant improvements in quality being offered by the smart TV video servers - is just deranged. TV shows were made to be watched on TVs, so just because I’ve missed an episode of a favourite show, I shouldn’t have to be punished by having to watch it on a tiny computer monitor. Especially if it’s a show the whole family wants to watch together.

Yes, of course, you could stream something off your PC through a media hub and onto your TV - if you have the technical ability to set such an arrangement up, and can stand the extra box. But even if you manage to do this, you’ll be dealing with a web-based video source that may or may not deliver the sort of quality needed to look half decent on a TV. With the walled-garden platforms offered by smart TVs, the content you downstream is - or at least should be - configured and encoded to look good on even pretty big TVs.

Samsung's new D8000 TVs feature a totally revamped smart TV menu system, and come with a

touchscreen remote that at least streamlines the handling of smart TV content.

It’s true that smart TVs don’t offer nearly as much video content as you can find on the Web at large. And it’s also true that there may be some annoying situations where exclusive deals done by one particular TV brand deny access to some good content for people who own other smart TV brands. But I think many of you might be surprised by just how much video content is already available, especially on Sony’s Bravia Internet Video platform. And the more we heard at CES 2011, the more it seems that these video content levels are going to rocket - so much so that truly exclusive deals are starting to look less and less common.

Gordon rightly (again, damn him!) points out in his article that the sheer difficulties involved with delivering a suitable interface for a smart TV system and a TV remote control could put an average user off persevering with smart TV systems. But the first thing to say to this is that the operating systems for smart TVs are being improved radically across the board for 2011.

I’ve had the chance to play at length, for instance, with Samsung’s new smart TV interface, and can report that it’s a revelation in terms of ease of use and accessibility compared with last year’s Internet@TV system. It also integrates your other multimedia sources, like USB sticks, into its smart TV menu, and even allows you to search 'universally' for stuff across all your connected devices - including the open Internet if you wish - without needing to input text into multiple search fields.

The arrow shows this screen is working in 'Magic Wand' mode, where you can select icons

just by pointing the Magic Wand remote directly at the right part of the screen

Some of LG’s upcoming 2011 'Smart TVs', meanwhile, even allow you to point your remote 'Wii-style' at 'Smart TV' icons on the screen, taking remote control navigation issues out of the equation completely. It further appears to be only a matter of time before some premium sets ship with 'smartphone'-like remotes where you just touch the icons on the remote’s screen to activate the corresponding icons on the TV menus. At which point operating smart TVs will be something my four-year-old daughter could do with her eyes closed (judging by the way she handles my iPad!).

In any case, even inputting a bit of text via a TV remote every now and then on current online TV services is still easier than having to fire up a PC somewhere before hunting the Net for something I want to stream, and then getting it to send out this content without issues through an external media hub and onto my TV!

Jason Mullins

June 28, 2013, 10:33 am

To answer your questions first - yes, I bought a new Samsung Smart TV (series 6) last year and gave it all a go. And 'Tech Savvy' would be a good description of our house.
One year later the TV acts purely as a nice screen and we -never- touch the smart TV stuff (or even the remote). There are a number of reasons for this:
1/ the built-in Freeview is good, but you can't pause, record, etc, so...
2/ content is all delivered by Vigin Tivo, or Freeview+, or Apple TV
3/ the apps and interfaces on all of the alternatives are much easier to use - browsing YouTube on a tablet and then streaming to AppleTV is soooo much easier than a smart TV (as is iPlayer, Netflix)
4/ the apps are shoddy and mostly pointless, with the exception of the catch-up services but I can get these elsewhere. I mean, web browsing, facebook and twitter on a TV?
In the end the SmartTV became another remote, another device to learn that isn't as useful, or as easy to use.

For me, I'd be happy with a completely 'dumb' screen at a cheaper price rather than packing everything into the TV - that way I can choose my input devices, sound system, and upgrade them all at will.

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