Toshiba’s Places platform is very much the ‘johnny come lately’ of the Smart TV world. It only really emerged last summer, a full year after most of the other brands had managed to get some fairly substantial platforms up and running. And in some ways it’s all too obvious that Places still has a way to go before it even gets close to the more established platforms offered by other brands.
However, before we look at its shortcomings, let’s first talk about a couple of things Places actually does very well. First, there’s its presentation. It uses an unusual but very attractive and vibrant interface that runs counter to the Smart Hub screens of LG and Samsung by striving to keep onscreen content levels as minimal as possible.
This approach isn’t as well suited to quick ‘browsing’ as the Smart Hub screens, but it does make the Smart TV experience feel more friendly, accessible and manageable to casual/technophobic users. The division of apps into dedicated ‘places’ - eg social, video and music places - makes perfect sense and works well.
Toshiba has also blazed a personalisation trail with its Places interface. For as well as being one of the first Smart TV systems to support multiple users, complete with personalised mail accounts and ‘favourites’ lists, many Places TVs also include a built-in camera that can be used with integrated face recognition software to detect who’s using the TV and switch to that person’s Places ‘account’ automatically.
Similar personalisation tools are incoming from most other brands during 2012, but at the time of writing Toshiba is ahead of the game in this key area.
The most obvious problem with the Toshiba Places system is its shortage of content. Just before writing this feature it had, thankfully, added Facebook and the AceTrax movie cloud platform, which joined other highlights of the BBC iPlayer, Daily Motion, Viewster, You Tube, and the Box Office 365/Cartoon Network/HiT Entertainment subscription trio.
Overall, though, there really aren’t enough free video services or apps on Places right now to make it a satisfying service - and ironically the structure of the Places menu exposes this rather than hiding it.
It should be said, too, that while for the most part the Places operating system works brilliantly, it is rather let down by the fact that you can’t access either the iPlayer or YouTube apps from the main Places menus. Instead, if you choose them from within Places you get a message instructing you to quit Places and access the two key features from elsewhere in the TV’s menus! Bonkers.
Hopefully Toshiba will be able to greatly boost its Places content over 2012, and won’t be hamstrung in these efforts by the fact that it’s seemingly a rather small ‘player’ when it comes to negotiations compared with many of its rivals.