During our review of Samsung’s spectacular new UE55F8000 TV a few days back, we mentioned that Samsung’s latest Smart TV multimedia/online platform was so sophisticated that we couldn’t possibly cover it properly within the boundaries of a normal TV review. So here is our more in-depth look at Samsung’s radically revamped Smart solution.
The most significant change from last year’s Samsung multimedia TV interface is the way the new one introduces five separate ‘home screens’. If you read our review of the excellent 2013 Panasonic My Home Screen interface, this idea of multiple home screens will already be familiar. Samsung’s approach even follows roughly similar themes for each home screen to those chosen by Panasonic. But there are also plenty of significant differences between the two rival platforms.
When you first switch your new Samsung Smart TV on, the default homescreen is ‘On TV’. This features a reduced version of the live picture from the AV input, or the broadcast you were watching when you last turned the TV off; a selection of six recommended ‘currently showing’ broadcast programmes to the right of the live picture; and a row of six ‘coming up’ programmes running along the screen’s bottom.
All these quick TV links are presented with full photo-quality icons of the shows in question.
The really clever bit about this page, though, is that the programmes on show are those the TV thinks you’re likely to be interested in, based on a record of your viewing habits. Yes, that’s right: Samsung has gone all TiVo on us, using the programme data digital broadcasters send with every show to build up a viewing profile of your favourite genres, actors etc.
Obviously the effectiveness of this system will increase over time, as the set is able to record a more detailed record of your preferences. But even after a few days of use while doing this test it had started to get at least a feel for what sort of stuff we were watching via the built-in Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners.
What’s more, since Samsung’s Smart TVs can set up separate accounts for and even automatically respond to the presence of different individual users, the ‘recommendations’ feature can be personalised to the extent that the TV will track different viewing patterns for different logged in users separately.
For all its attractiveness there is something a little confusing about the layout of this home page though. The main reason for this, we think, is that it focusses too much on recommendations, when perhaps allowing space for an EPG programme list down the side might have been helpful. Strangely, by limiting the options available to just 12 recommended ones, you actually feel a little as if the TV is trying to dictate to you what to watch, rather than trying to make your life easier.
To put it another way, unless you happen to want to watch one of the recommended programmes (which in the early days of getting the TV you most likely won’t), the On TV page can sometimes feel more like a barrier to search than an aid.
At least the On TV screen provides links to three more screens along the bottom that turn out to be extremely useful. The Guide one (which is only available if you’re watching one of the tuners) calls up an attractive full electronic programme guide. The Timeline calls up a gorgeously graphics rich list of what’s showing on your five favourite channels at each hour ahead from the current time. (Though again, it seems a shame you can’t also scroll down on this screen to see all the other channels too.) A final link takes you to the library of recorded TV shows you’ve got stored on a USB HDD or memory stick.
The bottom line is that all the information you want can be accessed from the On TV menu sector, but we don’t entirely agree with Samsung’s decision to put Recommended services on the first screen. Personally a more fulsome listings-style page to kick off with would have suited us more, with a Recommended link appearing below.