There's nothing on
Smart TVs, or internet-connected TVs as they should really be called, were supposed to make watching your favourite programmes and movies better and simpler. Thanks to the wonder of internet streaming and apps, all of the TV catch-up services and online movie rental services would be available at the press of a remote button. No longer would we have to remember to set the timer on the PVR or wait for discs to arrive in the post or pay through the nose for Sky Movies. Everything would be available in one place. Except it hasn’t worked out that way.
ITV Player is only available on Sony smart TVs. Demand 5 is only available on Samsung smart TVs. Netflix and Lovefilm are available on some TVs but not others. 4OD isn’t available on any smart TV at at all. The only streaming service that’s available on every smart TV, and every other smart device while we’re at it, is the BBC iPlayer.
We don't have smart TVs, we have iPlayer TVs
It’s no surprise that it’s only the BBC has managed this feat. Thanks to the licence fee, the BBC has the money and resources necessary to bring its ubiquitous catch-up service to the numerous, competing and incompatible brands of smart TV available in the UK. These numerous incompatible platforms make it hard for broadcasters and streaming video content providers to economically bring their services to as many smart TVs as possible. It’s even worse when some older smart TVs aren’t compatible with apps developed for newer smart TVs from the same manufacturer (cough, Samsung, cough).
What’s needed is a common software platform that works on all smart TVs, providing software developers and content providers with a stable, fast, feature-rich and ubiquitous way of offering their services to as wide an audience as possible. Sadly, it doesn’t appear to be in the TV manufacturer’s interest to do this. The last thing they want is to become low profit margin, commodity box shifters like many of today’s Windows PC makers.
Google’s attempt at making a smart TV software platform, the Google TV operating system for set top boxes, is currently a miserable experience that’s essentially not worth using in its current state. Youview set top boxes do have all the TV catch up services as well as Sky’s Now movies service, but they have their own flaws.
Google TV - currently not that smart
What we’re left with is smart TV manufacturers adding extra features that most consumers have shown little interest in, when what they really want is more and better streaming video services.
Panasonic is better than most. Its latest range of WT60 smart TVs will have four tuners built in, two Freeview and two Freesat, so you could theoretically record four programmes at once or stream them to a tablet or smartphone in your home. This partially makes up for the relatively paltry selection of streaming video services available for its Smart Viera platform. But Panasonic has also added features of dubious value, such as multiple user accounts with widgets, such as calendars and weather forecasts, as well as a web browser, that are better implemented on tablets, laptops and smartphones.
The Panasonic WT60 smart TV
In the end what I want from a smart TV is easy to describe, but probably fiendishly difficult to achieve since it requires TV manufacturers, software developers and content providers to actually work together.
A smart TV should help me find something to watch - everything else should be left at the wayside. I care about programmes and movies, not channels, so I should be able to quickly and easily search or browse for a particular show, film or episode by title, director, actor or genre. And it shouldn’t matter whether what I want is being broadcast or is available for streaming - I should be able to click or point at it from my list of search results and start watching.
Sometimes, of course, I don’t know what I want to watch and I need a little help finding something. There should of course be a recommendations engine that’s smart enough to not only take account of what I’ve watched and liked in the past, reminding me of similar or related upcoming releases and broadcasts, but also of what my friends on social media have watched and liked. I don’t want to Tweet from my TV, but if someone I’m following has tweeted about how great a movie is, then I should be able to see that and have the option to watch it with the minimum of fuss.
Smart TVs are broken and it appears no one is willing and able to fix them.
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