Philips Android TV System 2015

Hands on with the Philips Android TV System 2015

Last year Philips tried to bolster its Smart TV arsenal by introducing

Android TV to some of its 2014 TV range. None of these Android TVs found

their way to UK shores, but that may have been for the best – they used

the outdated Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, meaning the TV experience they

delivered wasn’t all it might have been.

Thankfully Philips is

getting much more serious with Android in 2015. For starters it’s moving

to the new 5.0 Lollipop flavour, which is far more television-friendly

than the previous version. Also, Android is now available across a much

wider selection of Philips’ new TVs than before – 80% of the latest

range, in fact.

We took an early look at some of these new Philips Android TVs at a launch event in Barcelona…

SEE ALSO: Best TVs Round-up

Philips Android TV

The

first thing that struck us during our time with the new TVs was how

much more effort Philips has put into foregrounding the Android

experience. There’s now a dedicated button on the remote control, and

this immediately opens the same Home Android menu screen familiar to

users of other Android devices, including Sony’s upcoming TVs.

This

menu is much cleaner looking and better organised than Philips’

previous Android attempt. It’s organised in so-called shelves that you

can scroll along horizontally, with the top shelf showing recommended

content. These recommendations can come from any app that chooses to

support them, such as YouTube, Google, and video apps like MaxFilm.

Netflix has opted out for now, though, as it prefers to use its own

recommendation metrics.

It’s worth adding that the

Recommendations shelf will only feature content suggested by apps you’ve

installed on your TV, so you won’t find yourself clicking on a link

only to be presented with a “you need to download the app first”

message.

The second shelf down is the Philips TV shelf. This

shows links to stuff Philips thinks you might like, such as new apps or

popular apps you might not have downloaded yet. It’s easy to imagine

this descending into a glorified advertising shelf, but Philips assures

us it intends to treat it instead as a means of helping you expand your

experience. During our hands-on, for instance, the shelf was suggesting

that we tried out the new Spotify app – something you may not have

realised was available, but which you may well want to use.

Philips Android TV

Below these two top shelves are the app store, game and Setting shelves, which do exactly as you’d expect.

One

thing that feels like it’s missing from this shelf list is an easy way

of accessing and tracking TV broadcast content. Instead, Philips has

added a separate TV menu – accessed via another dedicated remote control

button – which lets you separate TV shows into specific types and

genres. It’s just not as neatly integrated as it is on some rival Smart

TV offerings, such as LG’s webOS 2.0, Samsung’s Tizen-based system and, to some extent, Panasonic’s Firefox OS-driven My Home Screen 2.0, which all treat broadcast content as apps.

Another

limitation of the Android home screen is that it doesn’t permit

customisation. So, for instance, you can’t set up your own personalised

shelf containing just links to your favourite apps. Nor can you tailor

the home page in any way – even the recommendations shelves – for

individual members of your family, say. The same home page greets all

who access it, and the recommendations made cover the gamut of show

types watched by everyone in your household. Though fans of “mature”

content will be pleased to note that the recommendations list is time

sensitive, and so won’t suggest material that’s not suitable for

children ahead of the watershed…

Obviously you have to allow the

TV to share your viewing habit data with Philips’ servers if you want

the recommendations system to work effectively. If you don’t, this shelf

will only be able to show content that’s generally popular in your

territory.

Philips Android TV

Getting

back into more positive territory, Android supports

multitasking, enabling you to have multiple apps running

simultaneously. In fact, a multi-view option lets you actually see two

at once. Plus there’s “hot-swapping”, so that if you switch from one app – YouTube, for example – to another and then go back to the original one, it

will pick up that first app where you left it.

Android opens up a few extra control options too. There’s now a

mic built into the newly designed remote control to support voice

recognition, and Google Cast support for enhanced control and content sharing with other Android devices.

The new

Philips smart remote also features a swipeable area, so you can move around

the menus and built-in browser more quickly without having to use a

normal set of up, down, left and right buttons.

We were

disappointed to note, though, that the new Philips Android TVs don’t

support free floating point control – in other words, you can’t use the

same highly effective “point and click” approach possible with TVs from

LG and, more recently, Samsung. This is because the Android platform

doesn’t support point and click, not because Philips didn’t want to

offer it as a control option.

Also, the remote’s swipe pad and voice control options are only available on the

relatively high-end 7000 series models in Philips’ new range. You don’t

get the smart remote on the 6000 series or below.

Given the huge

amount of apps available on the Android platform, any Android TV is

going to have to come equipped with some storage. Most of

Philips’ new Android sets give you 8GB of internal memory, while the

7000 series doubles this to 16GB. However, given that a chunk of this

memory – as much as 4GB – is eaten up by the requirements of the OS, and

some of the games you can download from the Google Play store come in at

5GB each, it’s good to know that you can expand the available memory via

USB drive.

Philips Android TV

One

of the most important things about the new Android Lollipop system on

the latest Philips TVs is the way it can automatically strip out apps

that just wouldn’t work on a TV for graphical or control

reasons. So you get far fewer apps in the Android TV

environment than you do through phones and tablets. However, you still get a very impressive number of apps by

typical Smart TV standards – and vastly more than Philips offered through its proprietary Smart system.

You can circumvent Android TV’s app screening process by “sideloading” .mpk app files if you wish –

though it’s hard to imagine many circumstances where this would be a

particularly good idea.

Clearly both Philips and Google will be

hoping that app developers will start to work on future apps with TV in mind – and indeed, there are already some promising signs

that this might be the case. For instance, Philips assured us that

although there’s no Netflix or Amazon UHD streaming support currently

available for Android Lollipop TVs, they’re expecting these apps to appear

by the summer. Philips also announced new

relationships with Electronic Arts and Gameloft, who are busy optimising

some of their most popular games for use on the Android TV platform.

This

new game support comes on top of the OnLive streamed game

platform that was introduced on last year’s Philips Android TVs. What’s

more, Philips was keen to stress during our discussions with them that

OnLive has been busy making significant improvements to latency, which can so negatively affect streamed gaming. In fact, OnLive

has taken the stance of only rolling its service out to different

territories once it’s confident that it can achieve a suitable level of performance.

Intriguingly,

integrating Android Lollipop into the latest Philips TVs has opened up

the possibility of some smart home applications on top of the usual

video streaming, gaming and infotainment content. Particularly promising

is the work being done with independent UK developer

MyLiveGuard to offer integrated control via Android TV of your home’s

lighting, doors, security cameras and even a Nest heating control/smoke

alarm system if you have one installed.

Philips Android TV

An

increasingly important element of any Smart TV platform is its ability

to grow and adapt over time. However, it’s impossible to forget that the

Android system introduced on Philips’ 2014 Android TVs can’t actually

be updated to this year’s Android Lollipop system. The leap in

functionality offered by the latest platform is just too great to be

delivered via anything other than a hardware implementation. Google is

keen to stress, though, that it believes it will be able to update the

Android Lollipop TV OS for three years without the need for new

hardware, so a 2015 Philips set won’t be out of date as soon as you get

it home.

We mentioned to Philips the possibility of turning

towards some sort of external, upgradable processing box for future TV models, along the lines of

Samsung’s OneConnect box. But Philips’ response was that their research

suggests people are more interested in having all their functionality

built into their TV than they are in paying to upgrade external devices.

While

there are many things to like about the latest 5.0 Lollipop version of Android on

Philips TVs, there are a few concerns too. First, the lack of any

personalisation options could make for an awkward and, if your family

viewing habits are varied, unhelpful look to the

Recommendations shelf that’s such a key part of the

content-finding experience.

Next, Android isn’t well equipped to

offer the localised catch-up TV services we’re used to finding on Smart TVs now. Philips is continuing to also offer its

home-grown Smart TV OS alongside the Android one, but that platform also

fails to offer anywhere near the full gamut of key UK catch-up services.

SEE ALSO: All of our TV reviews

One

other intriguing issue is that any brand that uses the Android OS

is suddenly making itself dependent on Google

rather than having its entire business model in its own hands. This is already affecting Philips, as it finds

itself unable to launch these new TVs until

the summer while Google irons out a few

wrinkles. Also, Google is a distinctly global organisation, not as

accustomed as the TV brands to the sort of localisation processes and deals

required for optimising TVs and app support for different sales

territories.

On the other side of the coin, though, partnering

with Google saves TV brands a small fortune in R&D compared with

trying to put together their own individual Smart platforms and content packages. This could potentially help TVs become cheaper, and

certainly allows brands

to suddenly expand their Smart offering substantially.

Our first look

at Philips’ latest Android TVs underlines our expectation that 2015 is

likely to be a pivotal year in the development of Smart TV, as in-house

systems such as LG’s webOS and Samsung’s Tizen go head to head with “third-party” Smart engines like Sony’s and Philips’ Android TVs and, to a

lesser degree, Panasonic’s Firefox OS.

Keep an eye out for future

reviews to find out which of these very different Smart TV approaches wins

out.