Best internet TV platforms compared

Internet TV from Sony, Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Philips and more

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Call it what you want, but 'smart TV', 'connected TV' or internet TV is about to become big news.

With zero advertising so far it's the TV industry's best kept secret, but expect the big brands to break cover in 2011 and start shouting loudly about their portals, apps and widgets.

Just as Apple went from being a maker of unpopular computers to a major player in the entertainment industry when it invented the iPod and iTunes, so TV manufacturers are jostling for the role of content arbiters in a brave new world of TV and movie distribution.

And it's all down to the humble broadband router. Wi-Fi modules are in some TVs - for now usually only high-end models - while USB dongles are coming down in price, but what's to watch?

It's a rather strange state of affairs at the moment, with ring-fenced platforms and only a smattering of open web browsers in what has already become a very fragmented market.

Expect slick simplicity in 2011 as your TV begins to resemble a smartphone; cue a world of apps and customisation where choice is king, something that's bound to streamline services and get rid of the dross (and at the moment, there's plenty of that).

What is great about the world of connected TVs is that as well potentially lessening the need for a set-top box or DVD player, it relies purely on software updates; in short, your TV won't go out-of-date shortly after you buy it, with new apps and services likely to become available instantly.

Whether a particular interface from a particular brand of TV impresses or not often comes down to one very British preoccupation: BBC iPlayer.

As a public broadcaster, the Beeb's engineers work on a first-come, first served basis and show no bias, though the end result is a market distortion; some brands' portals have full access to BBC iPlayer, and others do not - yet.

But with Google TV a future possibility and the ever-delayed YouView slated to arrive on set-top boxes later this year, the race is on among TV makers to deliver a truly compelling smart TV experience - before someone else does.

So what's the best internet TV to buy? We take a look at the options...

Sony - Bravia Internet Video & Qriocity

Is Sony the current king of connected TV? Love it or hate it, you've probably used Sony's trademark Xross Media Bar on the PS3 or one of the brand's TVs or Blu-ray players.

On Sony's current range of TVs its latest content deals, widgets, apps and web-related options are integrated into the XMB; from all the web portals featured here, it's Bravia Internet Video that makes the most sense.

One moment you can be scrolling through digital TV channels, the next activating Lovefilm (albeit it at £9.99 per month) to stream the latest films - or even loading BBC iPlayer to look for last night's Question Time - and all from a simple and consistent grid-style user interface that lends unique uniformity.

Bravia lovefilm

MOVIES: Lovefilm joins BBC iPlayer on Sony's Bravia Internet Video service

Other services include Demand Five (exclusive to Sony), YouTube, Dailymotion, Twitter, Facebook, eBay, rolling news from Eurosport, and a plethora of small website channels like Videocast.com, FordModels and Singing Fool.

Weirdly not all Sony TVs have the same services; some only feature a basic service, which doesn't include the widgets (the headline acts there being eBay, Facebook and Twitter).

The provision of FIFA's World Cup video archives last summer was superb, but short-lived; at the turn of the year it was switched-off, which in itself is a warning; in this new age of connected TVs, software and services can be updated constantly, but it's not just about adding new content - it's about managing it.

Sony is currently in the process of taking the current concept and making it portable via its Qriocity service, which will eventually put all of your movies, music and games in the cloud to access from various Sony devices.

Sony qriocity

QRIOCITY: Sony's attempt at creating personal 'cloud content' across its TVs, PS3, PSP and Vaio laptops

Later this year Sony plans to fit Bravia Internet Video with an open Opera web browser, a Sky News video service, Skype (via a webcam, built into some models) and more comprehensive video and music streaming via Qriocity.

It will also feature control via a smartphone app, with Sony also confirming that more of its TVs will have Wi-Fi built-in. One thing is for sure' Sony's connected TV service is heavy on quality content, and growing fast - which suggests that Sony's States-side obsession, Google TV, isn't destined to visit these shores for some time to come.

Sony Bravia Internet Video appears on Sony's NX813, EX703 and HX703 Series.

Samsung - Internet@TV

Clumsily named but with more heritage than most, this once innovative platform is beginning to stale. The interface itself is a touch gaudy and not particularly quick to skip around … it's nowhere as slick as Sony, the only other platform that matches it for content.

Amongst a lot of clutter are Internet@TV's crown jewels, with BBC iPlayer nudging in front of Lovefilm movie streaming (Acetrax is also present), though all the 'essential' apps are here - Twitter, Facebook, AccuWeather and Google Maps - alongside some filler services such as Dailymotion, Picasa and, er, Getty Images. Other so-so options include Rovi (TV listings), The History Channel (a bland 'this day in history' feature), Muzu.TV (music) and USA Today (news).

Samsung tv apps

SAMSUNG APPS: Internet@TV is content-rich, though uses a rather tacky, dated design

Much like Philips' Net TV platform, these services can be added from, or sent back to, the Samsung App store. In December 2010 Samsung claimed the 'one millionth download' from its app store, though that's misleading - it's far more about customising which apps you want on the main home screen, and not at all about purchasing and downloading.

We're guessing that will change, with something akin to Apple's App store the presumed endgame for all connected TV portals. In 2011 Internet@TV will be replaced by Smart Hub, which premiered at CES in January. It looks decidedly phone-like and wisely includes apps aimed at kids as well as adults.

Also featuring recommendation software, Smart Hub ties-in with other devices on your home network (much like LG's Smart TV also promises to do), searching on the TV for a particular artist might produce a concert from, say, Lovefilm alongside some MP3 files on your PC, and relevant Twitter feeds.

The current Intenet@TV features are available on Samsung's C9000, C8000, C7000 and C6500 LED-backlit LCD TVs, its C750 and C650 LCD TVs, C7000 and C6500 plasmas, and BD-C7500, BD-C6900, BD-C6500 and BD-C5500 Blu-ray players.

LG - NetCast

LG has been a bit behind the curve when it comes to its internet TV platform, but has big, big plans; expect to see this brand shouting about its new-for-Spring Smart TV concept just as loudly as it was about 3D.

Until late November, LG's NetCast portal appeared to be a mere placeholder, with just a trio of services on its pretty home screen; Picasa, YouTube and Accuweather. More services have just been added - via a firmware download - that at last makes NetCast worth a look.

The most important is BBC iPlayer, a feature that's certain to help persuade many to invest immediately, but there's many more; Acetrax movie streaming (see the Panasonic section for details), Vtuner (web radio), MLB.tv (baseball), Accedo (games), Viewster (more movie streaming), Google Maps and the social networking duo of Facebook and Twitter.

LG netcast

NETCAST: BBC iPlayer, Facebook and Twitter have recently been added to LG's NetCast interface

It doesn't end there. Premiered at CES was LG's redesigned Smart TV platform, which will feature across its new spring range of plasma and LCD TVs. More movies, customisable apps, videos and open web browsing is promised as is a QWERTY keyboard app - crucial if you want to browse the web on a TV - for both iPhone and Android.

A TV Apps section also forms part of the dashboard, which will divvy-up services between TV Live or Premium Content icons. It's unclear whether this new platform will be an upgrade for current LG TV owners, though we do know that the web browser will only be available on 2011 models - though LG is also making a tiny Smart TV Upgrader ST600 box available for those wishing to upgrade, or get Smart TV without buying a LG TV.

There's another reason to buy-in to LG's Smart TV; Plex. Demoed to us at the CES, Plex is based on a popular open source platform called XBCM that aggregates all your content into one interface, whether it's stored within the TV's interactive services, on a PC, phone, online movie streaming service or media server on the same home network.

LG smart tv

COMING SOON: LG's Smart TV interface will be unveiled in Spring

The current NetCast platform is available on LG's LED-backlit TVs, including the LX9900 (47 and 55-inch), LE8900 (42, 47 and 55-inch), LE7900 (32, 37, 42, 47 and 55-inch), LE5900 (32, 37, 42, 47 and 55-inch) and LE4900 (32, 37 and 42-inch). It also features on the LD790 (32, 42 and 47-inch), LD690 (32, 37, 42, 47 and 55-inch) and LD490 (32, 37 and 42-inch) LCD TVs, and LG's PX990 (50 and 60-inch), PX790 (50 and 60-inch) and PX590 (50 and 60-inch) plasmas.