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Smart TV Portals: Window On Your Smart TV

Buying a Smart TV is about more than just the physical features of the TV itself. It's about more than the picture quality and whether it's a 3D TV, a plasma, a QD TV, or an OLED. It's about ease of use and content delivery, and the way that the major manufacturers deliver access to content - and make that content easy to access - is via their Smart TV portals.

The interest in internet connected Smart TVs is growing at an astounding rate. Every major brand is offering its own proprietary portal, giving access to streaming TV services, video sharing, and social networking websites. In fact, to eveything the internet has to offer.

And there are some every good portals. Those Smart TV manufacturers have realised that they need to make content abundant and easy to get to. They're using their Smart TV portals to ensure the experience of accessing entertainment over the internet via your TV is an enjoyable one. Therein lies the answer to increasing sales and profits.

Much of the Smart content accessible is common across the different portals. Good examples will be Youtube and the BBC iPlayer. There are many others. Some manufacturers have focussed on building portals around downloadable Smart TV apps. Others are placing their attention on providing a combination of free streaming content with subscription or one off payment video on demand services.

Certainly, if you're looking to buy a Smart TV for the first time you'll want to be thinking about which portals offer access to the best and biggest range of Smart content options. Any exercise in studying Smart TV reviews needs to place a focus on the wider issue of content availability, in conjunction with how the sets perform and look.

Which Smart TV Portal Is Best?

So, which of the Smart TV portals give the widest and most easy to use experience?

It's important to note that Smart formats and apps can vary between products as well as between portals. At this stage Samsung lead the way with the largest selection of apps - both downloadable and subscription based. Samsung have put a lot of effort into building their high quality 3D channel known as Explore 3D. This does add another dimension to their overall offer. Plus the Youtube clent on Samsung's offering is a good one. Everybody uses Youtube, so this is a definite bonus.

Aside from Samsung, personally I'm particularly enamoured with the new offering from Toshiba - known as Toshiba Places. The interface is presented differently from other Smart portals, and has a modern, uncluttered, and intuitive feel about it.

All portals are DLNA compliant.

Which Smart TV Portals Have Web Browsers?

Panasonic is the only portal that doesn't currently come with a web browser. All others do, and of these only Samsung handles Flash.

Let's take a look at all of the Smart TV portals in more detail:

LG's Smart TV Portal - LG Smart TV

First and foremost LG's portal is app-based, along with a handful of IPTV like services. Visually the portal looks clean and fresh.

The home page is presented by combining a live TV viewing window with easy access to the most popular apps shown alongside. Facebook, Youtube etc, all figure prominently. LG rival Samsung in numbers of apps available. There are hundreds - appearing on virtual shelves - which cover a wide range of games, information, education, and entertainment destinations.

One big benefit is that the TV window is big enough to let you browse without losing track of any programme you're already watching, and you get the option to customise the lower half of the screen with regularly used content.

LG's Canadian site gives a good company overview of the LG Smart TV Portal.

Panasonic Smart TV Portal - Viera Connect

Panasonic's portal kicks off with a dark blue screen with a centralised TV viewing window. Smart content services surround the TV window. Panasonic's content range is rich and absorbing, with a versatility that ensures an incredibly easy to use interface, is user friendly, and the menus are fast to operate. It's customisable in that you can move apps around.

The main portal home page features Youtube, Facebook, BBC iPlayer, Acetrax, and Skype as standard - with one or two others thrown in. It's a three dimensional interface that takes a little getting used to. Skype is an interesting one on here because you can buy a dedicated Skype webcam to use for video conferencing. Games and other apps can be accessed via the link to the Panasonic Market Store.

Free downloads add to the content possibilities. You can get anything from social networking and more games, through to music, sports, videos and movies, plus access to other popular streaming TV, photo sharing and video sharing websites.

Media playback is well supported with capability to handle a wide range of audio and video files.

In fact, if you are a movie fan, then the Panasonic Viera Connect portal is an excellent choice.  It has a near endless supply of ways to connect to the movies you love.  No longer do you have to worry about if your cable company has it “OnDemand”, but you can now access Netflix and Amazon VOD through your Smart TV portal.

Panasonic's Official Smart TV Web Page

Samsung Smart Hub

The Samsung Smart Hub is widely recognised as being the leader in Smart TV portals. Samsung have put huge effort into positioning Smart Hub as the portal with the widest range of downloadable apps. With a highly intuitive and attractive home page starting point, and easily the best Youtube apps among all of the portals, Smart Hub stands out from the rest.

TV viewing on the portal is through a left hand side positioned window, with App and other content access to the right and below. There's dedicated access to social TV options, with a particularly likeable feature where you get video and search options centre-screen. By using the search option, you can enter a movie title which activates an internet search for content around it. That results in displayed results such as trailers. Samsung intend to expand the feature to eventually link with Facebook pages or groups, and ultimately ways to stream or rent that specific movie from one of the streaming service providers.

Samsung have always been one of the leaders in supplying 3D related content.Their Explore 3D channel is also available via the portal, making a combination Samsung 3D Smart TV a hugely attractive proposition. Explore 3D gives access to free education, natural history, and documentation programming in 3D.

Even the web browser gives Flash support, which you don't get with others - although as we've noted before, using a remote control to operate a web browser is not easy and takes a while to master.

The CNET page on Samsung Smart Hub

Sony Bravia Internet Video

Sony have set themselves apart from other Smart TV portal providers by focussing on delivering IPTV based content rather than Apps. In doing so, they've opened up a much wider content base for their users, and access to streaming TV type services is abundant. Examples of these include Youtube (of course), Sony Entertainment TV, Dailymotion, BBC iPlayer, and some catch up TV services.

On top of the various streamed TV options, you also get access to Qriocity - Sony's music and movie subscription service. Media file support is not quite as strong as on some other manufacturers portals, and the web browser on TVs is virtually unusable because of its small type. This is improved on Blu Ray players however.

Here's the Sony Store link to more info on Sony Bravia Internet Video

Toshiba Places - Toshiba's 'Stand Apart' Smart TV Portal

With a stunning looking interface Toshiba have set themselves apart from other manufacturers. They've populated their portal with a collection of widely used internet destinations that gives a more personalised feel. Hence the name 'Toshiba Places.'

The Places - or destinations - appear as a series of carousel like options across the display. You just scroll across to bring the destination you want into a central position and then click to select. I like it, the names of the places are easy to follow and intuitive. Across the top of the screen are other streaming TV destinations.

Toshiba have tried to make it into the best social portal, with a number of options for social networking and sharing of videos and other content.

I've got to say, this one is my personal favourite. There's even the option of using a personal setting mode, giving each TV viewer the chance to set their own volume and colour settings. One button activates the personal settings.

You can get a better look at the Toshiba Places Portal on the UK version of Toshiba's official product site.

Philips Net TV

Philips Net TV is the latest portal offering from the Dutch manufacturer. The standard interface works by using a tiled grid, with a range of Apps centralised on the screen. These Apps include Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and others, but more can be downloaded from the Philips app store. Content is made up of a range of buyable and free options.

Quality of streaming video is strong, and the browser - accessed by hitting the internet button - is easily useable. Like many other portals, options for using different media files are wide and varied. Overall the Philips Smart TV portal is a high performance one giving access to varied and interesting content.

Philips Net TV Official Homepage

Smart TV Portal Comparison

The table below compares the main aspects of the different portals, read above for more detailed information.

Click here for the range of Smart TV portal videos on Youtube.

  LG Smart TV Philips Net TV Samsung Smart Hub Sony Bravia Internet Video Panasonic Viera Connect Toshiba Places
Interface Excellent Pretty Good Excellent Excellent Pretty Good Excellent
Ease Of Use Excellent Pretty Good Excellent Excellent Pretty Good Excellent
Social Media Access Pretty Good Could Be Improved Pretty Good Excellent Pretty Good Pretty Good
Apps Pretty Good Limited But Improving Excellent Limited Reasonable Limited But Improving
File Support Excellent Excellent Pretty Good Pretty Good Excellent Reasonable
Overall Positives Interface is easy to use and understand. Wide range of options for media files. Good range of subscription based content, excellent support for range of media files. Parental control over VOD. Wide range of content options, free 3D programming, high quality Youtube access Huge choice of streaming TV options, including Qriocity video on demand Probably the best file support range, Skype integration, and gaming options Innovative interface, personalised design and setting options. Useful features in content sharing
Overall Negatives Not really got any! News Apps are in French, limited access to apps. None No access to apps and no app store, poor web browser No web browser Using content sharing feature requires sharing partners to have registered accounts
Access On Devices TV, Blu Ray Players, LG smart TV Upgrader TV and Blu Ray Players TV and Blu Ray Players TV and Blu Ray Players TV TV and PC
App Store Availability Yes Yes Yes No Yes TBC
Web Browser Yes Yes Yes Yes No TBC
LG Smart TV Portal

Panasonic Viera Connect

Samsung Smart Hub

Samsung Smart Hub Interface - Samsung's Smart TV Portal
Sony Bravia Internet Video

Toshiba Places

Philips Net TV