Panasonic - VieraCast
Bespoke is the word here - a lot of time and attention has been paid to the way Panasonic's VieraCast menus react to your choices, and a wholly joined-up experience it is, too. It's the best looking, simplest interface of all, but has one significant problem; there's nothing to watch.
That's perhaps a little unfair; the portals for Eurosport and YouTube (both of which have a terrific 'predictive text' style search engine) are peerless, but the company has clearly struggled with content deals; just Picassa, Daily Motion and Euronews were on offer until late last year when Acetrax - a web-based movie streaming service - appeared (it's also available on LG and Samsung TVs).
ACETRAX: Pay-for movies from Acetrax is the main draw on Panasonic's VieraCast
Acetrax costs about £3.49 for a top-line title (once rented and started, you can watch a movie as often as you like for 24 hours), and its catalogue contains the latest flicks such as Inception and The Other Guys, as well as classics like Big Fish and Clockwork Orange.
VIERACAST: For now it's low on content, but VieraCast boasts a beautiful design
Still, VieraCast is badly in need of BBC iPlayer, though on some of its TVs you can access that service if you hook-up its built-in Freesat HD tuner to a satellite dish.
And then, of course, there's Skype. We're not sure if anyone wants to use a PC as a telephone, let alone a TV (there's a reason why Skype is now available on smartphones), and the idea of video calling on a 42-inch plasma will horrify some - but that's what's on offer on VieraCast. If you like a big face, Panasonic's TY-CC10W Skype-enabled USB camera and microphone is yours for a shade over £130.
Nevertheless, the platform is slated for an overhaul in Spring when it will be renamed VieraConnect. Like a lot of the new platforms, there will be more of an emphasis on downloading apps to the TV from a virtual marketplace (though specific new services are yet to be announced), with the added bonus of control by Panasonic's first tablet computer.
VIERACONNECT: Spring's VieraConnect refresh will include control by the brand's debut tablet computer
Philips - NetTV
If the idea of an open internet browser sounds appealing after perusing the 'walled garden' approach by most brands, the freedom it promises comes with huge caveats on Philips' Net TV platform.
Based around an Opera browser and relying solely on an intuitive and fast virtual keyboard that pops-up along the bottom of the screen, the message along the bottom says it all; 'Some internet pages may not take viewing on a television into account or may depend on third party plugins not available for TV browsers.' In other words, you can't just head to the BBC iPlayer homepage and start watching EastEnders, but you can read the news.
It's a tad clunky to use, with a cursor necessary slowly moving down each page from link to link, with many pages taking a while to load, and often with plenty of holes. Net TV needs plugins such as Flash (and many more besides) to display the web effectively, as well as significantly more processing power.
Elsewhere on Net TV is a distinctly Euro-flavoured choice of content, though it's simple enough to remove France 24 from the line-up and effectively put in back in the 'app store', a kind of vault for stuff you don't really want.
Interfaces for YouTube, Picasa, Twitter and Ebay are all available, as is subscription-based content from Box Office 365. For £2.99 a month it offers access to Cartoon Network, Hit Entertainment (Bob The Builder et al) and a range of dated ITV comedy and drama series, though the interface isn't a patch on developer BiBC's slick websites.
PHILIPS: NetTV boasts an open Opera web browser, but it lacks functionality
A similar, but free service is offered by iConcerts, though only a raction of what's available on their own website - we counted just 29 artists' gigs ranging from 'Noughties fare like Keane and James Blunt to 'classics' such as Johnny Cash, Tina Turner and, er Mark Knopfler. As with all the video content from Net TV, the quality is good without ever reaching hi-def.
Other apps include Tunin.FM Radio (which automatically finds radio stations and podcasts in your locality - though no BBC), TomTom HD traffic (in the living room? Seriously), Myalbum.com (a Picasa alternative), Dailymotion, Cinetrailer and Funspot (rudimentary games like Sudoku, Black Jack and Solitaire).
There's no word on additions for 2011, but despite its unique web browser it's in need of UK-specific deals with broadcasters - with BBC iPlayer and a movie streaming service essential.
Sharp, Toshiba and Loewe
Although Toshiba's Net TV service has hosted a few apps (Facebook, Picasa, Twitter and Flickr), it's so far largely avoided streaming video in the vast majority of its range (with the exception of its flagship WL Series, which includes YouTube and BBC iPlayer - but nothing else).
It's a similar story over at Sharp and Loewe, though all three brands will embrace internet TV more fully in 2011.
At the recent CES Toshiba was demoing Skype services on its forthcoming Regza ranges of TVs for 2011, though UK-specific content deals have yet to be announced. Details of Sharp's plans - a brand that has so far rebutted the whole idea of connected TV - are similarly scant, but we do know that its US models will host movie streaming services.
A minor brand it might be, but Loewe TVs have been trading digital files with computers for yonks.
LOEWE: MediaNetwork is the German brand's first go at an online dimension
Loewe's first stab at an online dimension, MediaNet appears to be a pared-down version of Philips' Net TV in terms of content; Cinetrailer, iConcerts, Aupeo (music screaming) and, er, German language audio books (via hoerbuch-direkt.tv). However limited it proves to be, you can be sure that the luxury German brand's MediaNet interface will be top notch in terms of usability.