One of the biggest concerns when buying a new TV is its smart platform. Now that pretty much every TV we buy has some form of smart TV platform in it you want to make sure it works for you – hence why you’re searching for the best.
The best smart TV platforms ensure they never get in the way of you and your content – these are still TVs after all, not giant wall-mounted tablets.
Where once it was about how many apps you had, the Internet connected television is now just as much about what OS is being used.
All smart TVs give access not only to top-tier services like Netflix and Amazon Instant, but to the various digital TV catch up services available, too. Separate apps are one thing, but increasingly the services formally offered by apps are being integrated into the user interface (take LG’s webOS 3.5, for instance).
For better or worse, there’s no one industry standard. Smart TV platforms tend to change every year or two among the big TV brands. Here in 2017 we’ve seen a new focus on operating systems, with the likes of LG, Samsung, Panasonic and Sony all opting for webOS, Tizen, Firefox and Android, respectively.
Let it be said that all of these platforms are usable, functional and most of the time downright enjoyable to use. But while they may look alike on the surface, under the hood there are a plethora of differences between them.
So, what’s the best smart TV platform? We’ve ranked the the world’s major connected TV platforms in descending order, putting just as much emphasis on ease of use as app selection, to help you as you buy into a whole new generation of online television.
- Want something to watch? Check out our best movies on Netflix guide!
1. Sony: Android TV
It’s official; Sony has the best smart TV platform for the year of 2017. The mere mention of the word Android in relation to a TV will automatically alienate half of all smartphone owners, but Sony is not alone in hoping that the other half will want to go Google in the living room.
Only Sharp and Philips have joined Sony in embracing the Android TV OS from Google, so we’re hardly talking about an industry standard yet, but Android TV is polished enough to put it in the running to become just that.
Unlike other new smart TV platforms, Android TV services are not built around icons along the bottom of the screen. Press the Home button on the remote and up pops a full-screen page that’s dominated by a carousel of videos from YouTube and from Google Video.
Scan down and there’s a row of Sony Select services (a mix of the main apps, such as Netflix and Amazon Instant), links to the Google Play Store, Google Play Music, Google Play Movies and TV, YouTube, Netflix and many more besides.
Further down is a list of the TV’s inputs and settings; it’s all fairly conservatively done.
Sony Android TVs are also unique in having some serious storage; 16GB is the default for 2017, which is far more than most smart TVs.
Owners of Android phones/tablets can use their device to control Sony TVs via the TV SideView app, which comes complete with a plug-in for voice search, while Google Cast allows video and photos to be natively streamed to the TV (iOS users can download the AirBuddy app to Google Cast). Controllers from Logitech and Razer also promise console-less gaming.
However, aside from Android TV’s interface exhaustive content that TVs from Sharp and Philips will match, there will soon be a Sony-only add-on. All UK Sony Android TVs now have built-in YouView services, too.
With Android TV and YouView, Sony has at last got smart TV right – thanks to Google.
Best for: content-grabbers
Five Sony TVs with Android TV:
- SonyKD-65XD9305 65-inch one of the year’s most exciting TVs
- Sony KD-55XD9305 55-inch has got 4K HDR
- Sony KD-65S8505C 65-inch curved 4K TV
- Sony KD-49X8307C 49-inch affordable Android TV
- Sony KD-65X8505C 65-inch 4K UHD on the cheap
2. Panasonic: Firefox OS
If you live in the UK, Firefox is the best-looking and most easily customisable smart TV platform around.
Panasonic’s smart TV interface got a complete overhaul last year and the new interface is actually called my Home Screen 2.0, though it bears no resemblance to version 1.0 from 2014. Make no mistake, this is all about Firefox.
Much like Samsung and LG, Panasonic has abandoned the concept of having a separate smart TV homepage in favor of pop-up icons. However, these colorful, circular and very large icons appear stretched across the middle of the screen in a dynamically responsive carousel.
It’s simple stuff, with icons for my TV, apps, devices, inputs, and specific TV channels all presented. It’s also by far the easiest smart TV interface to customize, with apps or services can be ‘pinned’ to the carousel in seconds.
There is also a Home page, but it’s a lot less cluttered than in previous years, containing just 14 apps, though the range is still limited.
Up front is a link to Panasonic’s apps market, alongside pre-loaded apps like Netflix, Amazon Instant, YouTube, AccuWeather, and links to the TV’s internal features and services including a calendar, inputs, TV channels and a web browser provided by – you guessed it – Firefox.
However, it is a fairly basic browser.
Panasonic also has a UK-centric digital TV; the aging ace up its sleeve.
Just as Sony is about to unleash YouView to its Bravia TVs, the Viera line-up is about to get Freeview Play, which will integrate catch-up TV services the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 into the core user interface.
Without Google Play, the Firefox OS doesn’t compare to Android TV on content, but Panasonic’s Firefox OS is less prescriptive and much easier to customize. It’s the best-looking, simplest smart TV interface yet.
Best for: your parents
Five Panasonic TVs with Firefox OS:
- Panasonic TX-50DX750 50-inch strikingly affordable 4K TV
- Panasonic TX-65DX902B 65-inch is a thrilling 4K HDR TV
- Panasonic TX-65CZ952 65-inch the only OLED TV from Panasonic
- Panasonic TX-65CR852 65-inch curved 4K TV
- Panasonic TX-50CX802B 50-inch takes picture quality seriously
3. Samsung: Smart Hub and Tizen OS
It may still be called Smart Hub, but Samsung’s smart TV platform for 2017 is completely new.
It’s based around the Korean manufacturer’s Tizen OS now being rolled-put on all of its gadgets. That may be so, but the layout of smart TV services bear more than a small than a passing resemblance to LG’s webOS interface.
That’s largely because icons, apps and shortcuts are all accessible via dynamic icons on a horizontal strip across the bottom of the screen.
Replacing the separate, rather boring grids of app icons from 2014, the Tizen interface monitors what you watch/use, suggests new sources, and allows some customization. A dynamically changing “Recent” box in the far-left corner cycles between recently used apps, TV channels etc.
A featured section in the centre promotes apps you haven’t used lately, which can feel like irrelevant adverts, and they keep returning (Twitter on a TV?). This isn’t based on your activity or habits, which is a shame.
However, the chance to customize the on-screen icons is the highlight; a sense of permanence is welcome when it comes to some AV inputs and key apps you use everyday.
This is all an effort to dodge clutter, and it mostly works well, though there are plenty of occasions when it’s necessary to go hunting for a specific app. Thankfully that’s made easier by a Smart Hub multimedia page that divvies-up content from apps and from your own USB sticks/home network.
In may no longer be front and centre, but there remains a Samsung Apps panel that lists all downloaded apps, too.
It may not have Freetime or Freeview Play, but what Samsung does boast is access to all UK catch-up TV apps; BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD, Demand 5 are all here, as is Netflix, Amazon Instant and YouTube. In fact, the only significant app that’s missing from Smart Hub is Sky’s NOW TV.
In the US, there’s Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, HBO Go / HBO Now, YouTube, Spotify and Vudu. (Want even more apps? Check out our 10 best Samsung Smart TV apps gallery.)
There are a few nice extras in the Tizen version of Smart Hub, too, such as a split-screen option for watching live TV while browsing an app, but Samsung’s effort can’t quote match Android TV or the Firefox OS.
Best for: Samsung phone owners
Five Samsung TVs with Tizen OS:
- Samsung UE55KS9000 55-inch flagship TV
- Samsung UE65JU6000K 65-inch that rocks old hardware in style
- Samsung UE48JS8500 48-inch petite 4K UHD TV
- Samsung UE48JU7500T 48-inch mainstream curved 4K TV
- Samsung UE48JU7000T 48-inch little brother of the 4500T
4. LG: WebOS
With the arrival of webOS in 2014 , LG’s smart TV offering was completely refreshed. All LG smart TVs from 2014 and 2015 got webOS 2.0, and 2016 saw the release of webOS 3.0 via a firmware update.
That was then, but now you can expect to see webOS 3.5 here in 2017
Much like Samsung’s Smart Hub, webOS3.5 is built around a taskbar that pops-up from the bottom of the screen.
Apps, whether a content hub like Netflix or simply a HDMI input on the TV, are treated the same, with a dynamically changing roster across the bottom of the screen. The app icons pop-up, they jig about, they drop-down, and they change order.
It’s fast – really fast – but locating something not on this Launcher Bar is actually very difficult. Nor is customising WebOS as easy as it could be.
Content-wise, it’s pretty good, with only ITV Player and 4OD missing from a line-up that includes Netflix, Amazon Instant, the BBC iPlayer, YouTube, the underrated Blinkbox, Wuaki.tv and – exclusively – Sky’s NOW TV.
For US folks there’s your standard Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and Google Play TV and Movies, as well as Hulu, VUDU, MLB.TV, Spotify and FandangoNow.
There’s a nice flicker panel for scrolling through ‘live’ sources and apps, and a Today panel across the middle of the screen that gives one-flick access to scrolling cover art for live TV programs and movies.
Dynamic, colourful, but often rather dizzying to use, WebOS is inconsistent in design and dynamics, and takes a while to get to know; all but the tech-savvy can find themselves baffled.
Best for: the tech-savvy
Five LG TVs with webOS:
- LG 49UF770V 49-inch great value, mid-range TV
- LG 55EG920V 55-inch affordable curved OLED TV
- LG 65EF950V 65-inch flat-screen OLED TV
- LG 65UF950 65-inch slim, beautiful TV
- LG 55EG960V 55-inch 4K OLED king
5. TCL, Sharp, Hisense, Haier: Roku TV
But Samsung, LG, Sony and Panasonic are established players in the TV space. There’s a new kid on the block that wants to shake up the industry: Roku TV.
Announced back in 2014 for TCL TVs, Roku TV has quickly grown into the go-to pick for many of the low-cost TV manufacturers. In 2017, you can find Roku TV on some Haier, Hisense, Insignia, Sharp and TCL TV models with more partnerships in the works for next year.
Here you’ll find a robust universal search function that will scan over 30 different apps like Netflix, Google Play TV and Movies, Amazon, VUDU and more to find you the lowest price on the TV show or movie you want to watch.
Add to that the most channels than any of its competitors (3,000 at last count) and you have all the trimmings of an up-and-coming star.
Best for: the binge-watcher
Two TVs with Roku TV: