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What is a Smart TV? Ultimate Guide to Best 4K UHD Smart TV Platform for Sale / Deals of Samsung, Sony, Vizio, LG & more

 

Overview

Right off the bat, we’ll tell you that you don’t actually need a smart TV platform in your TV. With the large wealth of smart platforms built into external media streamers and hard media devices on the market today with access to all the same access as the smart platforms of all major 4K TVs, you could easily own a “dumb” TV, hook it up to an external media device and be good to go with many of the same media apps and other features found in even the best smart TV platforms. In some cases, external media device platforms are even superior in terms of updates and special content selections to their TV counterparts.

However, all 4K TVs come with a smart platform built into them today and this is pretty much across the board for the most expensive top-shelf OLED 4K models from LG down to the most affordable 43 inch 4K sets from a more affordable brand like Sharp or Vizio. Thus, with that said, since built-in smart functionality in a 4K TV is pretty much inescapable and ubiquitous, we might as well go into depth on how these platforms function, what they offer and how well they will handle all of your home entertainment needs.

The following is a guide to the essentials of smart TV functionality in general and a deeper look at select top-shelf smart TV platforms themselves, from all of the major TV brands.

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What is a Smart TV platform?

Smart TVs are what’s steadily replacing so-called “dumb TVs” in the current market and while millions of these ordinary dumb TVs are still sold worldwide, virtually all premium and 4K ultra HD TVs on the market are smart platform-enabled.

In essence, the Smart TV, which was at one point also commonly called a “connected TV”, is any television set that offers an interactive interface and web/internet connectivity of at least some kind. Internet access is crucial to smart TV platforms and at the very least, they offer a menu of streaming media apps for TV platforms, which offer entertainment such as on-demand video, internet music streams, TV shows and services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and others. More advanced smart TV platforms usually offer access to a broader range of media apps and also often include full web browsing similar to that found in your average PC device.

What about External media platforms?

Google Chroemcast

Google Chroemcast

As we said above right in our introduction, you do not need a smart TV platform in your TV for it to be usable with media apps and web browsing systems even. Services like Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Amazon Prime Instant Video and iTunes can all be accessed through one or more different set-top media boxes like the Amazon Fire 4K TV box, Roku 4 4K Box, 4K Joey or Apple TV, usually connecting to your “dumb” TV or smart TV through HDMI cables. However, since we’re mainly focusing here on 4K UHD TV smart platforms, the bottom line is that pretty much all 4K TVs today now come with their own built in operating systems and attendant smart platform interfaces.

That said, even though your 4K smart TV absolutely will have its own smart platform, you can obviously also connect it to an external media set-top box or gaming platform like the Nvidia Shield 4K for access to an even wider selection of web apps, media sources and functionality options. The interface of the set-top box will simply work over top of the existing smart platform in the TV itself.

Thus, for example if you own a Samsung JU7100 4K UHD TV and then also get your hands on a Roku 4 4K media box, you’ll have the regular media apps and other features of your TV’s rather excellent Tizen smart OS with Smart Hub (the smart platform used in modern Samsung 4K TVs) and on top of this, you’ll also be able to access thousands of channels and apps of all kinds from the Roku 4’s own media selections. These include services from nearly every major content service and also plenty of lesser known content channels of all types. Or you could get your hands on Apple TV and access a vast collection of music and video content from the iTunes media library –something that no current 4K TV smart platform has access to built-in.

Amazon's smart interface for the Fire TV box

Amazon’s smart interface for the Fire TV box

The same applies to numerous other external media devices and set-top boxes from several major brands, like Google, Roku, Amazon, Nvidia, Dish, BT Sport and so on.

How does Smart TV internet connectivity Work? Is it necessary?

Right off the bat, yes, for full smart TV functionality in your television, you will absolutely need to have internet connectivity reaching your home and TV itself. This also comes with some of its own sub-conditions. Thus, while any smart TV platform will work with any decent broadband connection, a 4K TV will also offer plenty of media apps with access to streaming 4K content that will absolutely require your TV to also have access to ultra-high speed internet connectivity of at least 15Mbps and more ideally 20Mbps or more. 4K streams from sources like Netflix, Amazon or YouTube simply won’t work on weaker internet connections. In other words, for maximum use and pleasure from a 4K TV’s smart platform and ALL of its streaming media options, High-speed broadband internet connectivity is a must.

You can of course also disconnect your internet and still use your smart platform for assorted built-in functions and enjoying media from any external storage media devices or Blu-ray players you have. You could also use it to view fully downloaded content from an on-demand service, but all of this is a far cry from the rich entertainment experience provided by a full-blown internet connection working with your TV’s smart platform.

HDMI with HDCP 2.2 is how most external media boxes connect to your 4K TV

HDMI with HDCP 2.2 is how most external media boxes connect to your 4K TV

Going beyond this, your smart TV will connect to the internet directly via Ethernet cable, since this is a connectivity feature all modern smart TVs come with by default. You can also in many cases gain access to WiFi internet connectivity through your TV’s built-in WiFi system, which is also a default feature of all 4K smart TVs. However if a 4K smart TV is connected to the web only via WiFi, it won’t be able to handle streams of content in 4K resolution, which require much more bandwidth than any consumer WiFi network can handle.

What kinds of content and apps does my smart platform offer?

As we’d mentioned above, smart TV platforms offer access  to literally thousands of streamin media sources of all types. While we often focus exclusively on 4K media content services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Ultraflix, Vudu, YouTube and many others on this site, there are also literally thousands of other apps and media services built into most high quality smart TV platforms like Sony’s Android TV, Samsung’s Tizen, LG’s WebOS 3.0 and others. These media services can include huge libraries of content from services like Google Play, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and many others.

We should also mention that, depending on a 4K smart TV’s specific OS platform, content services can be much greater or lesser in a certain direction. Hisense, Sharp, TCL and others have adopted smart platforms that work on the same Roku TV platform in the Roku 4 and thus offer access to the same thousands of streaming services, many of which can’t be found in other smart platforms. On the other hand, Sony’s 4K TVs offer not only Android TV, which opens up to the numerous apps available through Google Play Services but also includes access to Sony’s own enormous 4K content library, which is only growing larger and going towards streaming in 2016.

Furthermore, if your 4K smart TV platform offers full internet browsing, you can use it to access any of the same content you’d get your hands on through your laptop or PC, only now you’d be watching the content on a truly massive screen at upscaled resolution.

netflix-screenshot

Are smart TV platforms updated regularly?

For the most part, the answer to this question is a definite yes. Smart TV platforms from the major brands are updated and improved on a fairly regular basis via firmware or software additions and while some manufacturers are quicker on the uptake than others when it comes to fixing bugs or improving and updating apps, most major 4K TV makers do these things quite consistently and will continue to do so for the near future. Furthermore, a certain amount of competition between different TV makers also drives the need to update smart functionality fairly regularly. Thus, if one make starts adding in a new firmware change for HDMI connectivity or a software update for a new Twitter app version, others will usually follow suit. A good example of this happening in reality was the recent switch to the new HDR-capable HDMI 2.0a connection spec, which caused companies like Sony, LG and Samsung in particular to remotely deliver firmware updates for their TVs’ HDMI connections to customers.

However, it is commonly also the case that external media device smart platforms like Roku’s TV OS in the Roku 4 receive updates to their content apps at even more regular intervals. Furthermore, some older, outdated 4K TVs in this fast-changing technology landscape are at risk of having their older smart platforms become at least partially obsolete, especially in terms of core functionality.

What other services does a smart platform offer?

You have to bear in mind that your average smart TV platform is basically like a PC operating system interface and as such, it will offer quite a few of the same services and technologies. Thus, smart platforms offer web browsing, graphics processing, gaming platforms and even personal organization tools like calendars or voice and video calling apps. Smart platforms also often offer other tools that relate to the built-in cameras of certain 4K UHD smart TVs, such as gesture control features and even biometric recognition of specific TV users for the sake of adjusting smart platform settings to their preferences.

Many smart platforms also offer content sharing or "casting" services from TV to mobile device and vice versa

Many smart platforms also offer content sharing or “casting” services from TV to mobile device and vice versa

How do I navigate and use a smart TV platform?

Smart TV platforms are organized in all sorts of different ways, depending on specific brand. Some platforms display a series of tiles for different apps and functionality and search features while others offer up scrolling screens, menu tile bars along the bottom of the screen. There are even 3D-like “carousel” circle menus on some smart TV platforms for sorting and arranging every available major function, service and app. Furthermore, inside many smart TV platforms, different new menus with their own navigation particularities will appear as you access specific major content apps like Netflix, Google Play or your TV’s web browser. And of course, all 4K TV smart platforms will offer search systems of some kind or another for sorted and streaming content or specific apps and services.

As for navigating through all of these different technologies, it can be achieved through your TV’s remote control, which will be configured to fit the particular smart platform it comes ties to. Higher-end 4K TVs offer up so-called “smart” remotes which also offer gesture controls and even voice search and navigation options between remote control and TV. Other, simpler 4K TV remotes look more like your classical push button remote control in a “dumb” TV but often also include extras like QWERTY keyboards on the back of the remote. Another very recent example of an even newer smart TV technology is Vizio’s new tablet remote control, which works almost exactly like a normal touchscreen Android tablet but with a focus on controlling one of Vizio’s newer P-Series 4K TVs.

Gesture control is a common navigation method in some premium smart TV platforms

Gesture control is a common navigation method in some premium smart TV platforms

Finally, many 4K TVs also offer up special apps for the smart platform itself, which can be downloaded to a mobile device so that the device, be it a phone or tablet, can be used as a sort of secondary remote control.

In very basic terms, smart platforms from all the major brands are generally designed to be as intuitive and easy to use as possible, with navigation and search designed for even the most tech-weary user’s comfort.

What about crashes, hacking, viruses and smart platform surveillance?

As we’d said earlier, smart TVs are in many ways just like PCs and this obviously enough means that they can definitely crash and fail just like PCs at times. Because smart platforms operate on internal processing chips for their upscaling, internet connectivity, interactive features and display calibration specs, those processing chips can sometimes bug up, freeze, crash or randomly close down some app you’re using.

These types of problems are usually rare, especially in premium 4K TVs from high quality brands, which offer very powerful processing systems for their smart functionality. However, they can indeed happen, though it’s becoming less and less common as 4K TV and smart TV technologies become more refined. Any serious problems with your particular 4K TV smart OS should be taken care of with that brand’s customer support and will almost certainly also be covered by your TV’s warranty.

Just as smart 4K TVs have the potential for freezing and crashing in common with PCs, they also share the same theoretical risk of being infected with spyware or viruses, or of being used by their manufacturer and other third parties to monitor your content viewing and other digital habits. However, the keyword here is theoretical. Smart 4K TVs are far less frequently the victims of these sorts of hacks than any normal PC and we’ve yet to see a notable example of a hack attack or malicious surveillance effort occur in the real world. However, since smart TVs depend have internet connectivity at their core and run off commonly used operating system software like Android or Linux more often, they are definitely susceptible to eventual intrusion.

Finally, as far as surveillance by the manufacturer is concerned, this is a definite possibility and has already been known to happen in a number of 4K TVs from different brands. Ordering products through your TV’s Amazon app or sharing information on the smart TV version of Facebook can definitely be monitored by your TVs maker and third parties they might possibly sell that data to. Furthermore, a recent case has also emerged in which Vizio 4K TVs like the M-Series have privacy policies which expressly give them license to monitor your viewing habits and share this data with third party advertisers. These monitoring functions can be turned off manually but they’re built into the TV by default, and Vizio isn’t the only brand that engages in this behavior.

Does my 4K TV smart platform offer better picture quality?

The simple answer to this is that no, it doesn’t. Smart TV platforms themselves don’t affect a TV’s picture quality in any meaningful way. However, there is a correlative relationsip at work here that can induce this perception of superior display quality. Simply put, Most of the best TVs on the market today in terms of display technologies are smart models and while this applies to HDTVs in a big way, it particularly applies to the 4K TVs on the market, which virtually all come with smart platforms of some kind or another.

Display features like HDR are independent of smart TV interface technology

Display features like HDR are independent of smart TV interface technology

With these smart platforms in these high-end TVs come superior visual specs, better color, the obvious benefits of 4K resolution itself and more recently, enhanced quantum dot color and high dynamic range. Furthermore, smart functionality also often allows for a greater range of picture calibration ability, meaning that you can personalize your TV’s visual specs to suit the content you’re viewing more than you could in your typical “dumb” TV.

What about regular local channels and cable?

Your 4K smart TV’s diverse high tech services, features and internet connectivity options don’t affect the TVs basic capacity to access local TV stations. The same goes for cable and satellite TV broadcasting. Both sit separate from the streaming OTT (internet) services offered by the TV’s smart platform or any external media devices. Likewise for the opposite. If your home doesn’t come with any cable, satellite or even local TV service, you can still access and enjoy the streaming media content from all of the TV’s apps, as long as you’re hooked up to a powerful enough internet connection.

For local TV, you will of course need to have access to an antenna of some kind and for cable TV or satellite, you’ll need a DSL or cable connection running into the TV or a satellite connection from your dish. Furthermore, there is a cool benefit laying in wait for the right level of development to this mutual OTT/broadcast compatibility your 4K TV has: basically, while you’re now enjoying 4K content only through your smart platform or the platform of an external set-top device, as soon as 4K content starts arriving to broadcast channels, you’ll be able to enjoy it as well at the same time.

streaming and broadcast or local TV services are mutually exclusive in 4K TVs

streaming and broadcast or local TV services are mutually exclusive in 4K TVs

The Top smart TV platforms in today’s 4K UHD Smart TVs

Now, to finish things up here, let’s take a quick look at three of the most highly rated and important smart TV platforms on the market today. The following are integrated into all the 4K UHD and many HDTVs from the dominant manufacturers on the current North American (and world) market, Samsung, LG and Sony.

LG WebOS (1.0, 2.0 and 3.0)

LG WebOS 2.0

LG WebOS 2.0

LG’s WebOS comes in three series, depending on the age of the LG 4K TV you own. The system for 2014 was mainly WebOS in its original version. This was followed by WebOS 2.0 for 2015 and the beginning of 2016 and now, the company has released its latest 4K TV models with WebOS 3.0. However, both WebOS and WebOS 2.0 continue to be used in many older ultra HD TV models of different types.

When it comes to WebOS and particularly to WebOS 2.0 and 3.0, we have what could arguably be called the bet smart TV platform on the market today. The assorted versions of WebOS are highly intuitive, offer great usability, come with full web browsing and all offer at least some extra features. Furthermore, their access to 4K and other media apps is excellent. Finally, the smart remote that comes with higher end LG 4K TVs is stellar in its overall performance, with voice search and gesture control features built in.

LG’s WebOS also happens to offer a selection of content apps that’s superior to what Samsung’s Tizen system offers, though Sony’s smart TV platform beats both brans in this regard.

The home button on LG’s 4K TV remote brings up the smart platform’s main menu and this takes the form of a tiled segmented bar along the bottom of the TV, from which the majority of apps and many other features can be accessed.

Android TV (Sony 4K TVs)

Sony 4K TV with Android TV smart platform

Sony 4K TV with Android TV smart platform

After a bit of a hard start, with some functionality problems and an oddly limited media apps selection, Sony’s Android TV platform has taken off nicely and is at this point what we would consider to be the third best smart TV system on the market for 4K TVs today.

The Android TV platform is generally very clean, easy to navigate and offers an easy to manipulate menu of options and apps in the form of expanding tiles. While the platform comes with quite a few built-in media apps and includes all of the essential and most popular 4K content sources, it also offers up access to the Google Play Store, from which you can download thousands of other media apps and other services. The selection in Play from Google is expanding all the time and has grown to quite an impressive size, so in terms of entertainment sources in your Sony 4K TV’s smart platform, you won’t be lacking for content. Web browsing is also included in Android TV along with access to Google Play and we love the quality of the search technology at work in this model –naturally enough since it’s from Google.

Finally, the smart remote for Sony 4K TVs and their smart platform is not too bad. It’s better than your average push button remote but it doesn’t compare to Samsung’s and LG’s smart remotes, with no gesture control or voice search features and a sort of plastic touchpad like that on a laptop which is tricky to get used to at first. Sony’s smart remote and other higher end features of Android TV come mainly with top-shelf 4K Sony TVs like the X850C, X900C and X930C. The new 2016 Sony 4K HDR TVs also offer improved smart features for their version of Android TV.

Samsung Tizen with Smart Hub

Samsung's Tizen OS with Smart Hub on display

Samsung’s Tizen OS with Smart Hub on display

Until WebOS came along, Samsung’s Tizen platform was easily the best on the market for smart functionality in a 4K TV. Now however it has fallen a bit behind even though it still remains top notch. The selection of apps is huge, the smart remote that comes with Tizen in higher-end Samsung 4K TVs is excellent and the overall interface and usability of the Tizen Smart OS with Smart Hub are both excellent.

Furthermore, the smart remote offers great point-and-click functionality and is a breeze to use when it comes to web browsing, text manipulation and selecting apps. On the other hand, due to its slim size, this same smart remote had to do away with some key buttons and many of the little device’s controls serve multiple purposes that you have to figure out with a bit of experimentation. Also, there is voice recognition software built into Tizen and the accompanying smart remote in higher-end Samsung 4K TVs like the 2015 and 2016 SUHD models and the top-shelf JU-Series models like the JU7100 and JU7500.

The main interface of Tizen offers a selection of frequently used apps and one-click access access to the Smart Hub. There is also a very complete and highly functional web browser included with the Samsung Tizen smart TV platform.

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