Roundup: 2013 Smart TV systems [update]

Roundup: 2013 Smart TV systems [update]

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Are the latest smart TVs getting smarter? While their primary purpose remains unchanged, but it is now easier to share content between these panels and other devices. Many smart TVs now have wireless screen mirroring, second screen and near-field communication (NFC) functions. Here’s a quick overview of these features.

New features

Wireless screen mirroring

The Sony screen-mirroring function exhibited minimal lag. (Credit: Philip Wong/CNET Asia)

With this function, you can mirror all content displayed on your mobile device to the TV without using a cable. You can think of it as the wireless version of the Mobile High-Definition Link or MHL. Two versions are used by the TV manufacturers: One is based on Miracast technology, which is an open standard and transmits data using a Wi-Fi connection. The other is AllShare Cast used exclusively by Samsung for now.

The overall user experience can vary greatly between different TV brands. We’ve encountered a lag ranging from mild to severe, making some games practically unplayable. Furthermore, the resolution of mirrored content can also vary between standard-definition (SD) to high-definition (HD) quality, depending on the brand of the TV.

Second screen

You can now watch a TV show using the Samsung remote app. (Credit: Philip Wong/CNET Asia)

Instead of pushing content like screen mirroring, a second screen function pulls content from a TV. For LG, Philips and Samsung smart TVs, it allows users to remotely watch a TV show or movie via an app running on a supported smartphone or tablet. You can even watch different content from the one playing on the TV with the Samsung version.

Meanwhile, Sony’s interpretation of a second screen function is to use a mobile device for you to access the TV program schedule (EPG). This provides uninterrupted TV viewing for other family members, while you browse for new programs.

NFC

The NFC tag bundled with selected LG smart TVs. (Credit: Philip Wong/CNET Asia)

Currently supported only by LG and Sony, NFC technology enables both companies to further simplify the screen mirroring or second screen function. All that is required to activate these features is for users to place a NFC-capable device close to a NFC tag (LG) or a TV remote with an embedded NFC chip (Sony).

A NFC logo is sometimes available as a placement guide since the effective range of NFC is limited to just a few centimeters. Otherwise, you might end up spending some time finding the sweet spot.

Enhancements

This year also marks Panasonic foray into voice control, face detection and electronic touch pen features. LG and Samsung, on the other hand, have refined their own voice- and gesture-recognition functions to support more commands. All three brands have also equipped their high-end TVs with a Web camera to provide motion, gesture and face detection out-of-the-box. Toshiba, on the other hand, has adopted Android for its 2013 smart TVs, providing thousands of free apps via the Google Play store.

Here is the revised user interface for the Samsung Smart Hub. (Credit: Philip Wong/CNET Asia)

Panasonic has also introduced a new My Home Screen menu, which can be customized to display a live TV window or up to 16 apps and widgets. This is on top of a landing page to access the remaining apps. Browsing for content is easier with the improved Samsung Smart Hub, featuring an interface categorized by major genres, such as social-networking services and multimedia files.

What’s still missing?

Unlike smart TVs retailing in the US with plenty of video-on-demand (VOD) apps, such as Netflix and Hulu, there are still very limited VOD apps offering Hollywood movies and series. In Singapore, Samsung has partnered local pay-TV provider SingTel and StarHub to provide such content. LG has also announced a partnership with Singapore national broadcaster MediaCorp recently. Click here for more information.

Key capabilities of the 2013 smart TV systems from LG, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Philips and Toshiba

LG Samsung Sony
Smart TV system Smart TV Smart Hub Sony Entertainment Network (SEN)
Screen mirroring Based on Miracast technology, but compatible only with LG Optimus G Pro; mild lag; SD quality Based on AllShare Cast technology and compatible only with Samsung products; severe lag; SD quality One Touch Mirroring compatible only with Sony Xperia Z; another version based on Miracast technology; mild lag; HD quality
Second screen Displays digital TV broadcasts Display analog and digital broadcasts, as well as external A/V input TV program schedule (EPG)
NFC For activating screen-mirroring and second screen functions N.A. For activating One Touch Mirroring
Advanced control options Motion controller; gesture; voice; remote app Touchpad controller; motion; gesture; voice; face detection; remote app Remote app
App store (Estimated no. of apps available in Singapore) Smart World (268 apps) Samsung Apps (360 apps) Opera TV Store (75 apps)
Web browser Supports Flash and can open multiple Web pages Supports Flash and can open multiple Web pages Can open multiple Web pages
Hands-on Click here Click here Click here
Panasonic Philips Toshiba
Smart TV system Viera Connect Smart TV Android (Jelly Bean)
Screen mirroring Based on Miracast technology, but available only for VT60, DT60 and WT60 Viera TVs; mild lag; HD quality Based on Miracast technology, but compatible only with selected phones; mild lag; HD quality Based on Miracast technology; minimal lag; HD quality
Second screen Displays digital TV broadcasts Displays digital TV broadcasts N.A.
NFC N.A. N.A. N.A.
Advanced control options Touchpad controller; electronic touch pen; voice; face detection; remote app Remote control with a QWERTY keyboard and built-in “air mouse” function; remote app Easy remote wtih a “pointing” key; keyboard and mouse
App store (Estimated no. of apps available in Singapore) Viera Connect Market (70 apps) App Gallery (30 apps) Google Play store (2,600 apps)
Web browser Supports Flash Does not support Flash and multiple Web pages Can open multiple Web pages
Hands-on Click here Click here Click here

Conclusion

Best all-rounder

The Samsung Smart Hub is easily the best all-rounder in this round up. Not only does it come with one of the strongest selection of apps, it has an intuitive user interface. The versatility of its second screen function is commendable, too.

Ease of use

LG’s Magic Remote. (Credit: Philip Wong/CNET Asia)

While the latest voice, motion and gesture controls are more polished, they are still a novelty that you will unlikely use in the long run. This is unlike LG’s Magic Remote with its user-friendly point-and-click capability. The integrated scroll wheel is another nice touch for surfing the Web, making LG the easiest smart TV system to use.

Content sharing

This is where Sony, Panasonic, Philips and Toshiba shine with their screen-mirroring functions based on the new Miracast open standard. Still, take note that we have encountered compatibility issue during our testing. Take for example, we were unable to get a HTC Butterfly S to work with a Sony Bravia KDL-55W954A TV.

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