The best smart TVs around
Smart TVs have evolved enormously from the early days of Internet connected telly, with the novelty of IP streaming giving way to the seamless integration of catch-up TV and SVOD services. Where before we were happy to live in our rigid, linear channels, now we expect to treat Netflix and Amazon like any other content choice.
But today's smart sets aren't just about what you watch, they're about how you watch, with the whole user experience grabbing a makeover.
Some brands have opted to back the Google Android TV platform, offering on-screen access to Google Play apps and easy integration with smartphones, while others have developed their own altogether more stylised offerings to ease you into the world where the lines are blurred between what's being broadcast live over the air, and what's streamed in little bytes from your internet router.
Is LG's webOS a better bet than Samsung's Tizen UI? Where does Firefox fit into all this? And what is Hisense doing in here? Read on for our verdict on the brightest and most intelligent smart TVs you can buy right now (sort of).
Samsung 65-inch KS9000 SUHD - Tizen
The KS9000, Samsung's flagship model for 2016, is here in its 65-inch UE65KS9000T guise, but it's also available in 55- (UE55KS9000) and 49-inch (UE49KS9000) screen sizes.
It's a beautifully finished, curved UHD Premium certified HDR (High Dynamic Range) set capable of peak highlights of around 1000 nits, which is jolly, jolly bright indeed.
It also utilises a Quantum Dot filter for an expanded colour performance. While ideally partnered with Samsung's KS8500 UHD Blu-ray player, it also boasts a SUHD remastering engine to produce HDR-like images from regular SDR content, meaning brighter bright bits and darker less bright bits.
Known as the KS9500 in the US, the set utilises the Tizen Smart TV platform, which is pleasingly minimalist. Presented at the bottom of the screen in a double-stacked interface, just a few clicks open up featured apps and recent activity.
It's a huge evolution over the brand's original Smart Hub platform, which scattered umpteen tiles across multiple screens, and led with a confusing Home screen which offered shortcuts to curated broadcast content.
This TV supports 4K streams from Netflix and Amazon, ably supported by various catch-up and VOD services. And switching between these is fast, as the set is highly responsive. To locate content on your network, fire up the My Content mode; this interrogates your local network to sniff out any compliant media servers that might be able to proffer your own splendid content.
Overall, a formidable, this is a well-specified package that combines a high spec performance with a sophisticated OS.
LG Signature G6 OLED - webOS
Price: £5999, US$6,999 $11,999 (Released in May)
The Signature G6 heads up LG's OLED range this year, featuring a striking 'Picture on Glass' design that's a stunning 2.57mm deep.
This slimness has been achieved by housing all the main PCB, components and inputs within the stand; but the set also has a powerful Harman/Kardon 4.2Ch 60W soundbar.
If this 65-incher doesn't cut it for you, there's also a 77-inch model, but that'll cost you the best part of over four times more than the 'smaller' version!
The set is Ultra HD Premium certified, but actually peaks at a lower brightness than its LED rivals. Bright highlights hit around 800 nits, but then it does go considerably blacker.
But don't worry about that, as image quality is absolutely outstanding, and this set features the third iteration of the webOS Smart platform too. LG started the trend for more less cluttered smart platforms, and in many ways still sets the pace. Everything is accessed via a scrolling launcher bar.
Controlled via the brand's very intuitive Bluetooth Magic remote, the platform offers excellent app support, from 4K enabled Netflix and Amazon Instant video, to various less-known on-demand services. LG also continues to be the only smart platform to offer Now TV in the UK.
The v3.0 launcher is now one browsable sliver, whereas in previous iterations you had to click right to access My Apps. There's also a new feature, called My Content, which allows you to bookmark movies that you want to watch, and the link clicks through to a VOD streaming service. Search has also been enhanced, so that results now sit in the launcher bar.
One key attraction of webOS is that it supports Fast App Switching, which means accessing Netflix and other internet Services is as easy as changing channels. You can also hop back and forth between Netflix and live programming, without having to reboot the app. This summer also sees Freeview Play lands on the platform in the UK, with a roll-back programme guide and integrated catch-up.
Sony KD-55XD9305 - Android TV
The KD-55XD9305 is Sony's top of the line 4K HDR screen. It's a stunning-looking model, just is just 35mm thin at its apex.
The set is edge-lit and introduces a novel Slim Backlight Drive system which divides the panel backlight in two for better contrast. In addition to this 55-incher, the XD93 is also available as the 65-inch KD-65XD903. In the US it's designated XBR-X930D, just to be a little bit fancier, it seems.
Picture quality is terrific, both with HD sources and 4K HDR Video. This backlight arrangement can be a little temperamental, depending on content but images are vibrant and 'contrasty' - that's a good thing, trust us.
In terms of it's smarts, the Sony set is one of two in this list to use the newer Android TV OS. While rivals have been stripping back onscreen clutter, Android proudly piles it high.
The platform is a virtual supermarket of cluttered shelves. To help simplify basic navigation, there's an Action Menu on the remote which jumps directly to the various sound and vision menus. Sony also offers a Content bar which allows you to access curated content.
Uniquely there's also a YouView app, which replaces the default Freeview programme guide. This has the benefit of integrating catch-up media players for iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and Demand 5 in the UK, accessible from a roll-back programme guide.
There's certainly no shortage of apps. There's both Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, which are 4K ready, as well as VOD service Wuaki.tv, YouTube, Dailymotion, the BBC's Sport and News apps (again UK), and loads more besides in the Google Play and Opera stores.
Panasonic TX-65DX902B - Firefox TV
Price: £3299, (approx. US$4752, AU$6075)
Arguably the finest LED TV Panasonic has ever made, the TX-65DX902B is a 65-inch Ultra HD Premium certified 4K TV, which literally dazzles as it's so bright.
Peaking over a 1000 nits, it looks astonishing with 4K Blu-ray and does a great job of upscaling regular HD (playing The Division on this is something else!).
HDR comes allied to Panasonic's Studio Master HCX+ Hollywood Cinema Experience plus processor, the best equipped image engine in the Panasonic fleet.
The set, which has yet to get a US or Australian release, uses the Firefox TV platform as its Smart weapon of choice.
Clearly taking a leaf out of LG's webOS book, it strips things back to basics, to offer an interface that consists of just three pins: Live TV, Apps and Devices.
The clever part is you can add pins (basically shortcuts to channels, inputs or services) as you need them. This makes it easy to jump between sources, and allows you to tailor the OS for other family users.
Onboard content services include 4K Netflix and 4K Amazon Instant Video, plus YouTube, Wuaki TV and Chili Cinema. The great thing is Firefox never gets in the way of what you principally want to do, which is watch programmes. And in that regard this set looks better than most!
Philips 65PUS8901 - Android TV
Price: £3999, (approx. US$5760 / AU$7363)
Phillips has upped its Ambilight mood lighting game with AmbiLux on the 65PUS8901, which swaps the familiar LED rear lighting system for a full-blown wheel of pico projectors – and the result is mesmerizing on a whole new level.
Now you can flood you room with a fuzzy projected mirror of what's on TV, or add pumping light effects to music concerts.
Beyond the lighting rig, the set is a strong performer in its own right. It's a 4K model capable of big, deep colour and great contrast, which is what you want when needing to stump up an outlay like this.
The screen also runs the nearest we've seen to a stock Android TV OS. Beyond a minor bit of Philips shelf customisation, there're no other adornments.
So you can largely forget about catch-up (though you do get iPlayer in the UK) and instead look to dive deep into casual games. Gamefly, Chillingo and Gameloft all offer cloud-based diversions.
The set ships with a remote control featuring an integrated QWERTY keyboard, swipe pad and speech recognition technology. The screen is currently exclusively available from Harrods in the UK.
Hisense XT910 - Own OS
Chinese superbrand Hisense is the new big boy on the TV block, and the XT910 its impressive early calling card. This 4K curved set looks stylish but won't break the bank, and it delivers vibrant (thanks to Quantum Dot technology) pictures with both 4K sources and regular HD. It's nearest US equivalent is the 65H10B.
On top of that, the brand has developed a smart operating system that is disarmingly straightforward.
There's no LG webOS cleverness here, just a small selection of streaming services. Coming as a simplistic tiled design, the main page features BBC iPlayer, the BBC sport and News apps, (all UK) Netflix, Chili Cinema and YouTube.
The Hisense app store also includes Plex, DailyMotion alongside an assorted of Eurocentric streaming services. Limited certainly, but also very easy to use.
The set features an HEVC decoder, as used by Netflix and Amazon Instant Video for 4K streams, as well as V9, the 4K codec favoured by YouTube. When we tested the set, only 4K Netflix was supported though.