Smart TV 2020: What's new?
The big addition to most major smart TVs back in 2019 was Apple AirPlay 2 and TV and movie integration of the Apple TV platform. Apple signed deals with most major TV makers including LG, Samsung and Vizio.
Check back throughout 2020 for the latest updates, changes, and announcements, whatever your smart TV model.
Need a smart TV, or don't understand why you'd need one? You've come to the right place.
Pretty much all the new televisions released these days are smart TVs – so much so that the word 'smart' feels superfluous. You'd have to hunt high and low to find a brand new TV that doesn't come with some smart features built-in – whether that's Google's Android TV that's used on Sony and Hisense TVs, LG's WebOS, or the Tizen platform used on Samsung TVs.
Smart TVs have moved on significantly in recent years. The early days were marked by sub-standard performance, non-existent software updates, and a general lack of manufacturer support. But now? Today's smart TV platforms give you broad access to apps and on-demand services, like Netflix, Disney Plus, and countless others. They allow for ways to connect to your smart home and offer their own unique form of navigation and layout to help you get to the things that matter quickly and efficiently – or at least that's the aim.
That's why we've put together this guide to the best smart TV platforms available right now, whether your soon-to-be set is 40-inch, 55-inch, or larger – with the very best smart TV models of 2020 listed at the bottom of this article.
Smart TV FAQ
- What can smart TVs do? Smart TVs are internet-connected televisions that stream shows, films, and programmes over the internet, alongside (or instead of) terrestrial broadcasts.
- What's a "dumb" TV? A dumb TV is a set without smart capabilities or internet connection, though set-top boxes or streaming sticks can add those things in.
- What channels are on smart TVs? This varies between country, and also your TV manufacturer. UK viewers will get 12 HD channels and 60 standard channels through Freeview, with more available through entertainment packages like Sky Q.
- Do smart TVs have built-in Wi-Fi? No: you'll need a home internet connection, either over ethernet (wired) or Wi-Fi (wireless).
- Do smart TVs have Netflix? All major smart platforms will support Netflix, even those with Amazon's Fire TV interface – while some remotes these days even come with a dedicated Netflix button. You will need to subscribe to Netflix to access the content within the app, though.
- Do you need Wi-Fi for smart TVs? You'll need internet of some description to use internet services on the TV, whether through Ethernet or Wi-Fi. Casting from your phone to the TV, though, is one way around this.
Smart TV platforms
Entering 2020, there are five main smart operating systems: Android TV, webOS, Tizen, Roku TV and SmartCast that are used by Sony, LG, Samsung, TCL and Vizio, respectively. In the UK, you'll find that Philips also uses Android while Panasonic uses its own proprietary system called MyHomeScreen.
The vast majority of TVs use one of the operating systems listed above - but not all TVs. At lower price points, you probably won't find any of the above as most TV manufacturers offer a narrow proprietary service instead. These will vary between manufacturers, however, by and large, they're not as good as the ones listed above for the sheer reason that they aren't updated as frequently.
When in doubt, try to buy one a TV with one of the above.
That said, if you're completely undecided on which smart TV to buy, it's worth considering the value of each of these smart systems – which we'll list below.
(Scale: Awful, Bad, OK, Good, Better, Best)
Android TV (found on 2019 Sony 4K and OLED TVs)
Setup: OK | Ease of use: Good | Speed: OK | Number of apps: Better | Universal search: Better
- Pros: Recommended content row. Clean layout.
- Cons: Most builds are very buggy and prone to crashing.
Android TV is the nearest the smart TV universe has to a standardized operating system, but there are still variations between brand executions.
Sony has the most comprehensive Google solution. For UK viewers, it has rather cleverly layered a YouView program guide platform on top, deftly addressing one of Android TV’s big weaknesses – catch-up TV provision. This YouView app ensures that all the main catch-up services are provided, and accessible via a roll-back 7-day EPG.
Other supporters of Android TV are Philips (via maker TP Vision) and in the US, Sharp and Hisense. It’s also available on the Nvidia Shield streaming device.
While other TV platforms make a virtue of their minimalism, Android stacks the screen with various layers of content: There’s also a row of specific Sony selected content, followed by apps for Netflix, Amazon Video, links to the Google Play Store, Google Play Music, Google Play Movies and TV, YouTube and so on.
Owners of Android phones/tablets can use their device to control Android TVs via Sony’s TV SideView app, and Google Assistant continues to get more and more useful with its own Android TV integration.
Android TV devices also have Chromecast built-in, which simplifies streaming from mobile Android devices (iOS users can download the AirBuddy app to Google Cast). Controllers from Logitech and Razer also promise gaming without needing a console.
There is a caveat though. In our experience, Android is the least stable of the various smart platforms, with Sony TVs exhibiting more than their fair share of failures – it’s not unusual to be notified that various aspects of the Android platform have stopped working, and some of these messages are completely inscrutable (usually the best option is to simply restart the TV).
To be fair to Google, this is becoming less of an issue as successive Android TV updates roll out – the latest incarnation is particularly slick on the Nvidia Shield, for example – but there's still room for improvement.
WebOS (found on 2019 LG OLED, Nano Cell and some UHD TVs)
Setup: OK | Ease of use: Good | Speed: Better | Number of apps: Good | Universal search: OK
- Pros: Alexa and Google Assistant integration. Fast to navigate.
- Cons: No major flaws!
LG rewrote the rulebook for smart TV platforms with its webOS, starting the trend for minimal, simplified user interfaces back in 2014.
Since then it's been gradually refining its offering, leading us to the all-new WebOS 4.5 launching in 2019 on the latest and best LG TVs.
The UI, which is still built around a Launch Bar for apps, inputs and features, remains tidy and customizable this year, plus you can change the running order to best suit how you use the set. If you like to Miracast images from your smartphone, grab the Screen Share app with LG's cursor-based Magic Remote and move up further up the pecking order.
App support is also surprisingly good: Netflix streams in 4K with both HDR and Dolby Vision, as well as Dolby Atmos audio when available. There's also Amazon with UHD HDR and YouTube in 4K. Other options include Now TV, Sky Store, Wuaki.TV, plus all the main channel catch-up services.
As we’ve seen on earlier webOS builds, these streaming apps remain open and live, even when you navigate away from them. This means you can pause Star Trek Discovery, browse the TV listings for The Walking Dead, and then return to the action.
Other cool features recently added to the platform include 360-degree video playback (from 360-degree videos on YouTube), support for both Google Assistant and Alexa, and an OLED still image gallery. LG TVs also have Freeview Play in the UK, which means a full larder of catch-up television.
For US viewers, there's Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and Google Play TV and Movies, as well as Hulu, VUDU, MLB.TV, and FandangoNow.
Tizen (found on Samsung 2019 QLED and NU-Series TVs)
Setup: Good | Ease of use: Good | Speed: Better | Number of apps: Bad | Universal search: Bad
- Pros: TV Plus offers free channels. Fast to navigate.
- Cons: Universal search can be hit or miss.
Samsung is another brand keen to keep things simple – its Tizen OS clearly owes much to LG's webOS interface, in so much as it consists of icons, apps and shortcuts all accessible via icons held a horizontal strip across the bottom of the screen. A dynamically changing ‘Recent’ box in the far-left corner cycles between recently used apps and TV channels.
But it’s not overly intelligent as it stands right now, but that could change in the future when Samsung integrates its TV AI into Tizen.
For now, we like the fact that on-screen icons can be changed: a sense of identity is welcome when it comes to some AV inputs and key apps you use everyday. The OS cuts down on clutter, although this sometimes works against navigation – there are plenty of occasions when it's necessary to go hunting for a specific app. Thankfully that's made easier by a Smart Hub multimedia page that divvies up content from apps and from your own USB sticks/home network.
On some of the higher-end Samsung TVs, you'll also get Bixby built-in as well as Samsung SmartThings that allows your TV to act as the center of your connected home.
Roku TV (found on 2019 TCL and Hisense TVs)
Setup: OK | Ease of use: Better | Speed: Better | Number of apps: Good | Universal search: Best
- Pros: Best universal search. Very easy to use.
- Cons: Interface feels a bit plain in 2019.
Despite Android TV and all the proprietary portals available, there's still room for other connected smart offerings. In Europe, Vestel has its own stripped back (read: basic) smart platform, which is used for TV companies it manufactures for, including Toshiba and JVC. In the US, TV maker Element now offers a screen with Amazon’s Fire TV OS built in too.
But perhaps the most interesting second-division smart OS is Roku TV.
Announced back in 2014 for TCL TVs, Roku TV has found support with low-cost US TV suppliers. Today, you can find Roku TV on quite a few Haier, Hisense, Insignia, Sharp and TCL TV models – with a new range of Hisense TVs set to bring the Roku TV platform to the UK.
As a platform, Roku TV borrows the interface and feature set from the company's popular media streamers, like the Roku Streaming Stick.
What that means is that you'll find a universal search function able to scan over 30 different apps like Netflix, Google Play TV and Movies, Amazon, VUDU and more to find you the lowest price on the TV show or movie you want to watch, as well as around 4,500 channels of content to watch.
Add to that some neat features like a dedicated app that helps you keep track of upcoming movies and TV shows via the My Feed section, and a private listening mode (via headphones that plug into the remote) when you want to watch TV without disturbing the whole house.
MyHomeScreen (found on 2019 Panasonic TVs)
Setup: OK | Ease of use: Good | Speed: Better | Number of apps: OK | Universal search: OK
- Pros: Fast and responsive.
- Cons: A bit plain.
If you live in the UK, Panasonic's My Home Screen is one of the most customizable smart TV platforms around. Built on the open-source code of Mozilla’s Firefox TV OS, Panasonic's My Home Screen smart TV interface combines an intuitive minimalism with extensive customization options.
The platform looks simple but has some inspired functionality: the home screen launches with three buttons (Live TV, Apps and Devices), but you can pin more as required, perhaps for a favorite streaming service, or a specific input. There are now also folders for multiple users, while a My App button on the remote can be customised for faster access to favourite content. A revamped Media Player supports 4K HDR10 and HLG HDR, meanwhile.
App provision on Panasonic TVs is good too. Netflix streams in 4K with HDR, and Amazon Video and YouTube also offer 4K support. Catch-up TV service support is integrated through the provision of Freeview Play. This includes iPlayer, ITVHub, Demand 5 and All4, and usability is great across the board.
The OS is extremely convenient to live with, yet powerful enough to cater for a variety of different users, be they family members who just want their favorite channels pinned to the home screen, or TV enthusiasts keen to dive quickly between multiple sources.
SmartCast (found on 2019 Vizio TVs)
Setup: OK | Ease of use: OK | Speed: Bad | Number of apps: Good | Universal search: OK
- Pros: Has Google Chromecast built-in.
- Cons: Slower than most other TV operating systems.
SmartCast, on paper, is a great idea. It's all the fun extras of the Android TV platform - including the ability to Cast content to your screen - with a more logical layout.
When you turn on a SmartCast TV be prepared to see three rows - one featured row that has huge marquee images to point you to specific shows or movies; one row for recommended content and one row for all your apps.
If you want to drill down into specific content categories or settings, you can move to one of the other tabs (there's a tab for movies, TV shows, Support and Extras) or go to the top right of the screen to perform a search.
Unfortunately, while SmartCast provides a lot of versatility in what you can stream, it's also one of the slower smart platforms and can misbehave on occasion.
Amazon Fire TV (found on some Toshiba and Insignia TVs)
Setup: Good | Ease of use: Good | Speed: OK | Number of apps: OK | Universal search: OK
- Pros: Directly tied to Amazon Video
- Cons: Insignia and Toshiba TVs aren't great
One of the lesser-known operating systems is Amazon Fire TV that comes installed on some TVs from Toshiba and Insignia. It's more or less the same operating system that you'd find on Amazon's Fire TV streaming dongle, but it's conveniently built right into the TV – no dongle necessary.
The big problem here actually isn't the operating system – which, by all logical measurements, is totally fine. It's that the TV manufacturers Amazon has partnered with – Toshiba and Insignia – aren't great, and usually put out the cheapest TVs in the American market. Some of these TVs are OK, but many (including the ones that use the Amazon Fire TV platform) aren't. You can read more about this in our Should I buy a Toshiba Fire TV guide.
That's something Toshiba is hoping to fix with it's upcoming Amazon Fire TV Edition with Dolby Vision TV that was announced in June of 2019, but we'll need to wait for review samples to know for sure how the latest software stacks up.
If you're interested in the speed and versatility of Amazon's smart TV platform, we recommend buying an Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K instead.
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Best Smart TVs of 2020
Best Smart TV with webOS
The LG C9 OLED is, by far, the smartest TV on the planet.
The LG C9 boasts the latest iteration of webOS and while this game changing platform remains largely the same, there have been a few tweaks.
For a start, there’s now a second tier on the launcher bar that’s very reminiscent of the one found on Samsung’s Tizen system. It’s rather ironic that LG should take inspiration from Samsung – especially when you consider that Tizen copied webOS in the first place – but the second tier is a useful feature, making it quicker to access content and adding an AI Preview that makes recommendations based on your viewing habits. There’s also a new Intelligent Edit feature that lists your apps based on how often you use them.
That’s very handy because the C9 has a lot of apps; not to mention a comprehensive selection of streaming services that includes Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Now TV, Rakuten, and all the UK TV catch-up services.
The AI-enhanced recommendation feature monitors and analyses your viewing habits based not only on content but also the time of day. It will then make recommendations according its analysis, although there’s the option to turn this feature off if it gets annoying.
There’s a new Home Dashboard that collates all connected mobile, input and home IoT devices into a single hub. You can monitor and control just about any connected device in your smart home, and LG will be adding support for Homekit later this year.
LG’s ThinQ open AI platform already includes Google Assistant, and the company plans to add Amazon Alexa via a future firmware update. You can access Google by pressing the mic button on the remote, and then voice control your C9 or simply use it as a smart assistant.
Other new features include the ability to setup your C9 using an LG smartphone, and the ability to auto-detect connected HDMI devices. There’s also a mini-browser, a new TV channel banner, and an expanded Gallery mode with world famous travel attractions seasonally curated by TripAdvisor.
Best Smart TV with Android TV
The winner is the Sony A9G Master Series OLED
When it comes to Sony's 2019 TV range, the A9G Master Series OLED can't be beat. The high-performing televisions offers incredible 4K HDR pictures with the masterful upscaling to make even SD and HD content shine with all those extra pixels.
We’ve struggled to love the Android TV OS in the past, but its latest Oreo iteration is a tasty step in the right direction. The menu structure has been simplified, and Sony has added its own Quick Setting overlay to simplify access to elements like picture modes, not to mention the addition of Amazon Prime Video – which has been missing from Android for years over a Google-Amazon feud.
Not only does the A9G use Google's TV OS, but it supports Chromecast Built-in as well. The screen can also be used with Google Home and Amazon Alexa devices for voice commands, as well as Sony’s own LF-S50G and SRS-XB501G smart speakers. (There's now Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit support, too.)
Best Smart TV with Samsung Smart Hub
The Samsung Q70R is the best Smart Hub/SmartThings TV on the planet
While it's not Samsung's flagship TV for 2019, the Samsung Q70R is the best bang for your buck when looking for a Tizen smart TV.
For starters there’s now compatibility with Samsung's SmartThings platform, which provides an on-screen hub for monitoring and even controlling other smart devices (fridges, washing machines, lights etc) on your network, and iTunes/AirPlay 2. The latter is great if you're an iOS/Mac user, while the former allows you to dabble in Samsung's IoT platform.
There’s also much better integration of the TV listings and live broadcasting into the TV’s content searching features: there are now hour-by-hour show recommendations, for instance, as well as TV shows getting much more prominence in the content browsing menus.
Samsung has delivered enhanced interactivity with your smartphones and tablets too, as well as some seriously cool new gaming related features.
Overall, a slick, easy to use and helpfully customizable interface belies the impressive sophistication and comprehensiveness of Samsung’s latest smart TV engine.
Best Smart TV with Roku TV
The winner is the TCL 6-Series R615, R617 (US only)
Once you get this TCL TV up and running, you’ll be met with the familiar veneer of Roku TV – an egalitarian operating system that handily retains its top spot as (arguably) the best operating system year after year. It’s intuitive to use, if a bit boring, and its lack of ties to a particular streaming platform allow it to point you to all the places content can be found without bias.
That last bit is important, especially if you’ve ever used an Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV, both of which would much rather have you stream from their ancillary streaming services over any of the third-party ones. Because Roku doesn’t have ties to a major streaming service – other than a vague deal to include FandangoNow on the home screen of the OS – it doesn’t push you any direction you don’t want to go and happily supports everything from Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV and Amazon, to lesser-known channels like Pluto.tv, tubi, Crackle and others.
That’s to say nothing of Roku’s own streaming service that it launched at the end of last year, which provides its own collection of entirely free movies that change in and out every few months. Most aren’t anything to write home about, but you do get the occasional gem in there.
While it’d be nice to see the inclusion of artificial intelligence and personal assistants on Roku TV – similar to what LG is doing with webOS and Samsung has done with Tizen and SmartThings – all things considered, this is still one of the best TV operating systems and a fantastic TV overall.
Best Smart TV with My Home Screen 4.0
The Panasonic GZ2000 OLED shows MyHomeScreen at its best (UK only)
Panasonic’s My Home Screen smart platform is decidedly simple compared to much of the competition, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Currently on its fourth generation, it remains largely the same as the Firefox OS on which it was originally based.
When you press the Home button on the remote, you get a choice of three options: Live TV, Apps, and Devices. This simplicity is the platform’s greatest strength, making it easy to navigate and find things by helpfully storing all the apps in single location; you can also pin your favorite apps to the home page for quicker access.
You'll find this latest iteration on 2019 Panasonic TVs, though it will run fastest – and display its apps and content in the best light – through the TV maker's high-end OLED sets, like the GZ000 featured here.
Since the smart platform is relatively simple, it doesn’t require a vast amount of processing power to operate, which makes it responsive, robust, and free from crashes. My Home Screen isn’t fragmented like some platforms, nor does it bombard you with recommendations – it simply delivers all the streaming and catch-up services you need.
Thanks to Freeview Play, a comprehensive list of catch-up services are included, covering BBC iPlayer, ITVhub, All4, My5, BBC News & Sport and UK Play. The iPlayer app supports 4K and HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma – the broadcast version of HDR), both of which the BBC trialled during the World Cup.
There’s also Netflix, Amazon and YouTube, all of which support 4K and HDR, along with services like Rakuten and Chili Cinema. In fact the only major streaming service missing is NOW TV.
Best Smart TV with SmartCast
Vizio's P-Series Quantum X is the star of the company's 2019 lineup
The Vizio P-Series Quantum X is a smart TV, but that goes beyond simply offering a smart platform for streaming: This is one of the first TVs from the California-based TV manufacturer to offer Apple AirPlay 2 functionality, opening it up to the entire Apple ecosystem. That's a game-changer if you're an iPhone user.
Beyond AirPlay, the Quantum X also has direct access to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and more, all from the home screen, and while the overall selection of apps isn’t massive, and there’s no real app marketplace to get more, most of the big ones are there, plus you can cast with Vizio’s SmartCast platform, which is handy.
We still find SmartCast to be one of the least appealing smart platforms out there, but we can't knock the Vizio P-Series Quantum X – it's one of this year's best TVs.
- Read our full Vizio P-Series Quantum X review
Steve May contributed original reporting to this article.