The best smart TV platforms

HDR? Eden? Android TV? Which 4K TVs combine great picture quality with streaming and smarts?

Best smart TV platforms
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The humble gogglebox is humble no more. Almost any television worth its salt these days combines its core ‘show pictures, make sounds’ capabilities with some degree of smart functionality.

From accessing the Internet for streaming movies and TV shows to letting you control your TV just by talking to it, Smart functionality has put the television at the heart of the modern home like never before.

At the same time, we’ve seen nothing short of a revolution in picture quality over the past five years. First there was 4K resolution, offering four times as much detail as the previous high definition TVs. Then there was the even more game-changing high dynamic range (HDR) technology, with its expanded brightness range and attendant wide colour range technology.

The arrival of these new picture technologies has caused a flurry of innovation in the TV hardware world. OLED TVs have discovered ways to keep finding more HDR-friendly brightness to go with their innate contrast advantages. And LCD TVs just keep getting better at finding ways to deliver more local control over their external backlight systems, so that they can partner their innate brightness advantage with better contrast.

What is a smart TV?

A smart TV is one that connects to the internet, usually via Wi-Fi, and offers up a whole world of streaming and catch-up services alongside your live TV offering. Different platforms will offer different services, so while Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Netflix are largely available, it’s worth checking that the services you use most are included in the platform you’re looking at.

As well as added entertainment content, smart TVs now often pack some level of smart home controls - and voice assistants such as Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa - alongside web browsing, games and music streaming.

While just a few years ago, smart TVs only made up the pricier end of the market, you’d now be hard stretched to find a TV without smart capabilities. That means it’s even more important to make sure you buy one that suits your needs.

You can, of course, also just plug a smart streaming stick into a TVs HDMI port to make it smart as well.

What about picture quality?

Of course, the main consideration when buying a TV is always going to be picture quality, and now really feels like the time to be choosing a 4K TV over HD, offering four times the resolution of its predecessor.

You’ll also have to make a choice between the two competing TV technologies – OLED or LCD (sometimes also called LED).

With OLED, every single pixel within the picture is able to create its own light. This means a few things – your TV will be slimmer as there’s no need for a backlight, blacks will be blacker and colour will be more precise. It’s pricey though.

LCD, often now referred to as LED, meanwhile, costs a little less but still has loads to offer, including bright screens for top-notch HDR (high dynamic range) footage, rich colour palettes and pictures that are just as sharp and detailed.

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If you’ve not heard of HDR, it works alongside all the added detail that a 4K resolution produces and makes it look even better, digging out enhanced highlight detail, improving contrast and creating even punchier colours.

Just be aware there’s not just one format on offer. HDR10 and HLG are the formats you want your TV to support as a minimum, but these days, Dolby Vision and HDR10+ are really worth looking out for.

These are the newest, most advanced versions of HDR, which improve the picture on a frame-by-frame basis, rather than applying one setting to the whole film or TV show. It makes a big difference, and to futureproof your TV, you’d be wise to seek them out.

In terms of content available, Dolby Vision is the leading format of the two at the moment, with UHD support from Netflix and the majority of 4K Blu-rays. HDR10+ is still playing catch up, with a handful of physical discs and a couple of shows on Amazon Prime Video.

Some TVs, like Philips and Panasonic, support both, whereas brands like Samsung have sided with HDR10+ only, and LG with Dolby Vision.

Now you know what to look out for in picture quality, read on for the lowdown on all the major smart TV platforms. It’s worth mentioning that you may find some smaller, more proprietary offerings from lesser known brands, but for a good, solid smart experience, we would largely recommend sticking with one of the below.


The best smart TV platforms

The best smart TV platforms

Samsung (Tizen)

Despite being derived from the Tizen OS originally designed for smartphones, that latest version of Samsung’s Eden smart TV platform is now impressively honed for TV use.

Its home page, for starters, only takes over the bottom quarter of the screen, leaving you free to keep watching TV while you browse the masses of content its menus contain.

Taking a leaf out of the Apple TV playbook, Eden adopts a two-tier menu approach. Along the bottom you get an easily customizable row of icons showing the different content sources - Netflix, Amazon, YouTube etc. - installed on your set.

Highlight one of these, though, and a second tier pops up showing direct links to specific content (films, TV shows etc.) available from the source you’ve selected on the bottom deck. Or at least that’s the case if the selected content provider has worked with Samsung to enable this handy short-cut feature.

With some apps, the second deck even delivers personalized links, such as access to the next episodes of shows you’ve been watching on Netflix. Or there may be links to the most popular and/or most recent shows.

The most recent version of Eden lets you scroll down from the content deck that appears on the home screen to access further content ‘shelves’, giving you another option forgetting to content more quickly without the system taking up any extra screen space.

The Eden system also provides a content aggregation system called TV Plus, which tries to combine TV listings with on demand content in one straightforward menu.

Samsung’s smart platform is strong on content. It offers pretty much every video platform of note - including the relatively new Apple TV and Disney+ apps, and all of the catch-up apps.

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Eden TVs will play 4K and HDR video from any streaming apps that support these key picture quality technologies. The only exception is content created in the Dolby Vision HDR format. This adds scene by scene picture information to help TVs produce a more dynamic picture, and is supported by the Apple TV, Netflix, Amazon and Rakuten services among others.

No Samsung TVs support Dolby Vision, though, so they ‘downgrade’ Dolby Vision content to the industry standard HDR10 HDR format, which doesn’t have scene by scene data.

While Samsung doesn’t support Dolby Vision, it does support the similar HDR10+ system. Amazon Prime Video, though, is the only streaming service currently carrying HDR10+ streams.

Samsung’s smart TVs are excellent options, though, for sharing content from your other smart devices - both Android and Apple. Especially now they carry the Apple TV app and support Apple Airplay 2.

Finally, Samsung’s smart TVs now support strong voice recognition features. Samsung’s Bixby engine and Amazon Alexa are built in, with Google Assistant hopefully set to appear at some point via a firmware update soon.

samsung q95

Check out… Samsung Q95T

The Q95Ts are Samsung’s flagship 4K TV range for 2020 - and despite costing hundreds of pounds less than last year’s equivalent models, they still provide all the features we’ve come to expect from Samsung’s finest TVs.

Samsung’s ‘QLED’ Quantum Dot color system, for instance, is on hand to support a wide color range and huge brightness levels. There’s also advanced picture processing built on AI technology.

The backlighting system combines direct lighting - where the LEDs helpfully sit right behind the screen, rather than around its edges - with local dimming, which boosts contrast by enabling different amounts of light to be emitted by different clusters of LEDs.

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The screen even supports wider viewing angles than most premium LCD TVs.

The Q95T doesn’t use anywhere near as many separate dimming zones as its 2019 predecessor. However, it compensates for this with a new power management system for the Q95T’s backlighting that takes power from dark areas of the picture where it’s not needed and pushes it into bright areas where it is.

The result is spectacularly deep, rich black colors for an LCD TV combined with spectacular, HDR-friendly brightness and color range.


lg webos

LG (webOS)

LG’s webOS platform was the first smart platform to be truly and exhaustively designed and tested for use on TVs rather than other types of smart device. And it’s arguably still the classiest smart TV game in town.

The key to its success is its sheer simplicity and economy. It was the first smart system, for instance, to overlay a scrolling row of content source icons along the bottom of the screen. It also pioneered the use of graphically rich icons and folders to help you easily find content and was the first to use subtle animations to help you track your progress through the menus.

WebOS was also the first smart TV system to understand the importance of being able to customize the running order of icons in its home screen menu ‘bar’, to help you get to favorite apps faster. LG’s smart TVs now take this a big step further with an intelligent automatic ordering system, that can arrange content icons in the home bar according to how often you use them.

LG’s latest webOS platform supports a two-tier system, where a second layer of icons appears above the main home bar showing direct show/movie links from the app you’ve highlighted on the bottom deck.

Other new innovations include an improved ‘content search’ system that combines its results with intelligent recommendations; an improved Home Dashboard for monitoring and even controlling other smart devices on your network; and the inclusion on some models of a far-field mic, so you can speak to the TV without needing the remote control.

LG is ahead of the pack when it comes to voice control, too. As well as LG’s own ThinQ system you can use Alexa or Google Assistant, as you prefer - all without the need for an external listening device.

WebOS continues to excel at accessing content on external devices - especially now that Apple Airplay 2 support is well established.

Typically, webOS is as good as any rival smart system when it comes to the number of apps it supports. So, it’s no surprise to find 2020 LG webOS models carrying most of the big hitters you’d expect - Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Now TV, Rakuten and so on.

The apps that are there in 2020’s webOS system consistently support 4K and HDR (including Dolby Vision) playback where available. Note, though, that there’s no support for the HDR10+ dynamic HDR system favored by Amazon Prime Video. HDR10+ streams will ‘scale down’ to basic HDR10.

Other features of note are an AI learning system, which tracks your viewing habits and makes intelligent recommendations accordingly, an impressive contextual help system that can be called up at any point to help you figure out where to go next from the menu you’re in; and LG’s innovative ‘Magic’ remote control, which can simply be pointed directly at the screen to select menu options.

LG OLEDCX

Check out… LG OLEDCX

LG’s latest generation of OLED TVs combine their clever, user-friendly smarts with gorgeous picture quality.

As usual with OLED TVs, dark scenes look incredibly rich and black thanks to the way each pixel in an OLED screen produces its own light. This year, though, LG has managed to combine this traditional OLED strength with its most sophisticated picture processing system yet. This delivers small refinements to a wide range of picture areas, adding up to comfortably the most consistently gorgeous, dynamic, colorful, detailed and immersive OLED picture LG has ever produced. Which is saying something.

You can watch the latest OLED TVs from any angle without picture degradation too, and the CX models stands out from LG’s 2020 range by being the cheapest models to carry the brand’s latest and greatest Alpha 9 Gen 3 picture processing engine.


sony android tv menu

Sony (Android TV)

Sony turned to Google’s Android TV platform for its smart features in 2015 - and the first couple of generations of Android TV, at least, were honestly pretty poor. Today, though, they’re mercifully greatly improved.

For instance, one of the biggest issues with Android TV on Sony TVs historically has been its stability. Bugs and crashes have been commonplace - and while you might put up with such things on a computer, you really don’t want to find them happening on something as passive as a TV.

The apparently heavy processing demands associated with running Android TV has also led to sluggish menu response times, especially on Sony’s relatively affordable TVs.

Fortunately, the 2020 iteration of Sony’s Android TV system is way more (though still not quite 100%) stable and runs much more slickly than any of its predecessors. The latest interface also does a much more intuitive job of integrating Sony’s set up options into the Android interface.

Android has always carried an impressive number of apps - more than 5,000 at last count. Though in the past this has arguably been more a hindrance than a help, cluttering up the smart TV experience with stuff that will only be of niche (if any) interest to TV users.

And actually, despite the high number of apps Android has supported, it’s long lacked a number of pretty important ones - including the catch-up TV services for many of the UK’s terrestrial broadcasters. Sony’s latest TVs, though, have got every base covered.

A recent update for some 2018, 2019 and 2020 Sony TVs also added the Apple TV app to Sony’s Android TVs, which already covered the key likes of Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Now TV and Rakuten.

The streaming apps typically support both 4K and HDR streaming, including Dolby Vision (but not HDR10+).

Sony’s Android TVs also support direct Chromecasting from other Android devices, and following firmware updates this year, many of Sony’s 2020 and 2019 TVs also support Apple AirPlay 2.

There is, though, still room for improvement. For instance, the Android TV Home page still takes over the whole of your TV screen, meaning you can’t keep watching TV while you browse the Android menus. Its long vertical list of themed icon ‘shelves’ feels rather clunky by today’s standards too. Especially as you can only fit three shelves on screen at once (despite the GUI containing lots of dead space).

The Android TV platform isn’t as clever about learning the sort of stuff you like to watch as many rival platforms either, and nor is it as easy to customize. Though it’s certainly much better in this latter respect than it used to be.

Finally, the system can still crash or fail to act on an instruction more often than any other smart system, despite being much improved in this respect.

Overall, though, Android TV - especially on Sony’s latest TVs - has finally become a comprehensive and accessible smart platform that no longer feels like a barrier to enjoying online content.

sony XH9005

Check out… Sony XH9005

The XH9005 TVs are near-perfect mid-range models. For starters, they use direct LED lighting with local dimming, for better contrast than you typically get from LCD TVs. They also deliver impressively bright, color-rich pictures for a mid-range set, making them great at unlocking the potential of today’s HDR sources.

The XH9005 doesn’t carry Sony’s class-leading X1 Ultimate processor, but even the slightly less powerful version it does get delivers better clarity, motion and upscaling of sub-4K sources than the processors of pretty much any similarly priced TV.

The XH9005s are also the only series in Sony’s 2020 range that carry HDMI inputs capable of dealing with the 4K/120Hz graphics outputs promised by the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 game consoles.


hi sense roku

Hisense (Roku/Vidaa/Android TV)

Hisense’s smart TV story is… complicated. Its global range includes sets that use Android TV (complete with Google Assistant voice control) and Roku TV. In the UK, the main platform Hisense uses is its own Vidaa system.

This does a pretty passable job of impersonating Samsung’s Tizen and LG’s webOS platforms - albeit in stripped down form.

A single horizontal bar of icons runs along the bottom of the screen, providing access by default to the key video streaming services in your region. You can add more apps via an easy to find app ‘store’, and it’s child’s play to rearrange the app running order to prioritize your favorites.

The icons are larger than they need to be, meaning you can’t see many on screen at once. But you can scroll through them pretty crisply, and in truth most households only regularly use a handful of video streaming apps anyway.

Vidaa doesn’t support as many apps as most rival platforms (or Hisense’s own Roku TVs), with the most high-profile absentees being Disney+ and Apple TV. It does cover Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Rakuten and Freeview Play, though. In fact, Hisense remote controls now typically provide direct buttons for many of these streaming services.

HDR (including, on Hisense’s flagship U8QF models, both the Dolby Vision and HDR10+ premium HDR formats, but just Dolby Vision on Hisense’s other 2020 sets) and 4K streaming are supported where a service carries them.

Hisense has added built-in Alexa voice control support on its latest Vidaa models.

Hisense’s Roku TV range, meanwhile, provides a slick if slightly dated looking interface that’s essentially identical to the interface you get if you use an external Roku TV box or stick. The home screen takes over the whole screen, which is a pity, but it runs smoothly and stably, is easy to customize and makes sensible of use of at-a-glance text menus alongside the main content icons to help you streamline your searches.

The Roku platform is extremely rich in apps and content, including such recent arrivals as Disney+ and Apple TV. But it’s also good at prioritizing key video apps on its default home screen.

The Roku system provides handy connectivity with external smart devices, including the ability to use the Roku app on your smart phone to search for content using your voice.

Hisense B7120UK Roku TVs

Check out… Hisense B7120UK Roku TVs

While Hisense prefers Vidaa for most of its 2020 range, including its flagship models, the most all-round appealing Hisense TVs right now - especially if you’re interested in smart features - are its Roku-based B7120 models.

As noted earlier, Roku delivers an exceptionally easy to use and comprehensive smart experience, and this translates over to the B7120UK TVs from Roku’s usual external streaming boxes/sticks extremely well.

Being able to get your hands on such a content-rich, fully rounded smart system as Roku TV at the sort of budget pricing the B7120UKs sell for is reason enough to consider getting one. Especially if you’re looking for a feature-rich but affordable TV to go into a second room. But the B7120UK range also delivers surprisingly good LCD picture quality for its money, with solid contrast, rich colors and more brightness than most budget models.

It even makes the most of its slightly chunky design to partner its surprisingly tidy pictures with a pretty effective sound system, reducing the need for an additional soundbar.


Panasonic (My Home Screen 5.0)

Panasonic (My Home Screen 5.0)

Panasonic’s clumsily named smart TV system is much more straightforward to use than it sounds.

As with all the best smart TV platforms these days, it’s built around a home page that consists of a simple row of content platform icon links overlaid (in a shaded box) over the bottom section of the picture. So, you can keep watching TV as you browse.

You can scroll down from the ‘Home’ apps row to reveal other shelves of content providing direct access (in the UK) to recommended shows and videos on the Freeview Play catch up service, Netflix and YouTube, as well as a shelf providing set up options such as adjusting the running order of the GUI shelves.

Out of the box, the only three icons that appear on the top row of the home page are Devices, Apps and Live TV. Devices opens up a straightforward interface for sharing content from your external smart devices; Apps opens up a full-screen shop of apps you can download and opt to add to the home screen; and Live TV takes you to the TV tuner and channel listings.

Once you get behind this strikingly simple and attractive home page arrangement, the system notably lacks the sophistication and depth of Samsung and LG’s rival smart platforms. The Apps market feels pretty old school in its presentation, for instance; in fact, it doesn’t seem to have changed significantly from the days of Panasonic’s earliest smart TVs.

No voice control system is built into Panasonic’s 2020 TVs. But you can use Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa via external listening devices.

Panasonic doesn’t offer as many apps as most of its big-name rivals. In particular, there’s no support for Disney+, Apple TV or Now TV (meaning you’ll probably want to factor in the cost of an Amazon Fire TV stick or something similar). Though the streaming services that are supported generally play back in 4K and HDR where available.

What’s more, most Panasonic TVs for 2020 support both of the HDR10+ and Dolby Vision premium HDR formats, rather than just backing one or the other.

In the end, Panasonic’s My Home Screen platform lacks the app depth and sophistication to make it a smart TV A-lister. Though for relatively casual users, there’s a lot to be said for its core simplicity.

Panasonic HZ1000B

Check out… Panasonic HZ1000B

The combination of Panasonic’s HCX Processor (developed in Hollywood with input from genuine movie industry creatives) and OLED screen technology comes together beautifully for the Japanese brand’s HZ1000B range.

Picture quality is gorgeous. All the customary OLED ‘hits’ are there: spectacular local contrast, pretty much infinite viewing angles, and richly saturated colors. But Panasonic’s peerless experience with so-called self-emissive TV technologies (its plasma TVs were also excellent back in the day) means the HZ1000B can unlock more subtle detail in dark areas while also suppressing noise; provide pretty much flawlessly subtle color blending; and ensure that while the screen’s colors are vibrant, they also always look natural and authentic.

Panasonic’s big ‘story’ is delivering pictures that look like their creators designed them to look. And the HZ1000 delivers on this promise remarkably well, despite being one of Panasonic’s most affordable 2020 OLED TVs.

It’s a shame the HZ1000’s HDMIs don’t support the variable refresh rate and 4K at 120Hz graphics features being promised by the Xbox Series X and PS5. It’s a pity, too, that you will need to add an external streaming device if you want access to Apple TV or Disney+. But picture quality enthusiasts will struggle to find a more accurate picture.

Philips (Android TV/Roku TV/Saphi)

Philips (Android TV/Roku TV/Saphi)

As with Hisense, Philips has a complicated smart TV story, with the system you get depending on where you are in the world and whether you’re buying a high-end or budget set.

Both the US and UK carry Philips TVs with the latest Android TV platform built in - complete with Google Assistant voice control and Chromecast support. There’s no need to cover this again in detail here, as it’s explained in the Sony section. The Philips version does, though, tend to run more stably, and uses the Freeview Play system rather than YouView to get around Android’s UK broadcaster catchup service blind spot.

At the time of writing, Philips Android TVs do not support Apple TV. But most of the other key streaming services are there.

The Roku system found on some US Philips models also doesn’t need covering again given that it’s covered in the Hisense section.

The Saphi system widely used on Philips’ more affordable European TVs, though, does warrant more attention. It’s a cutely presented Linux-based platform that follows the increasingly common GUI approach of presenting rows of content service icons on a shaded backdrop along the bottom of the screen.

There’s also a second tier of icons, though unlike the similarly presented Samsung and LG approaches, this second tier is not contextually based on what you’ve selected in the main row. It’s essentially just a list of links to ‘pushed’/promoted content.

A handy row of simple text options above the main content icon row lets you access other non-streamed content, such as your AV sources, TV channels, the App store, a search tool, and your TV settings.

Some of Philips’ remote controls in Europe carry handy full QWERTY keyboards on their rears to help you type in passwords, email addresses, search terms and the like. Though you can use your voice for searching too.

Saphi doesn’t carry as many apps as the best rival platforms (or Android TV), and experiences of it so far have found it a bit sluggish. It’s more than acceptable as a budget TV smart interface, though.

 Philips OLED805

Check out… Philips OLED805

This OLED TV from Philips’ European range is a truly unique proposition. Naturally it delivers the stunning black level response and local contrast that OLED is renowned for. Thanks to Philips’ powerful P5 processor, though, it also delivers some of the most consistent brightness and punchiest light highlights ever seen on an OLED TV.

Colors are extremely intense too, and somehow the Philips picture engine manages to make fine detail levels look 6K even when the screen is only 4K.

Pictures have been substantially improved for 2020 by the introduction of AI technology to Philips’ already powerful video processing system. What’s more, this great new AI tech has been added without increasing pricing. In fact, the OLED805s are among the most affordable OLED TVs you can buy.

On top of all this picture excellence, Philips is the only brand around that combines OLED pictures with Ambilight - a technology that uses LEDs tucked behind the TV’s edges to produce an aura of colored light around the TV that

The humble gogglebox is humble no more. Almost any television worth its salt these days combines its core ‘show pictures, make sounds’ capabilities with some degree of smart functionality.

From accessing the Internet for streaming movies and TV shows to letting you control your TV just by talking to it, Smart functionality has put the television at the heart of the modern home like never before.

At the same time, we’ve seen nothing short of a revolution in picture quality over the past five years. First there was 4K resolution, offering four times as much detail as the previous high definition TVs. Then there was the even more game-changing high dynamic range (HDR) technology, with its expanded brightness range and attendant wide colour range technology.

The arrival of these new picture technologies has caused a flurry of innovation in the TV hardware world. OLED TVs have discovered ways to keep finding more HDR-friendly brightness to go with their innate contrast advantages. And LCD TVs just keep getting better at finding ways to deliver more local control over their external backlight systems, so that they can partner their innate brightness advantage with better contrast.

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