Over the years, smart TVs have evolved so much they’ve become fully fledged multimedia machines with processing power akin to mobile phones and computers. Today, they’re capable of streaming 4K content, recording compressed video, and connecting to Bluetooth devices. Some TV models offer voice control and seamless integration with smart homes, taking on some of the functions of smart home hubs. TVs have actually become so smart that adding the “smart” moniker already feels a bit redundant.

If you haven’t changed your TV over the last couple of years, you may have little understanding of what’s going on. In this article, we do a quick rundown of the smart TV platforms available on the market.

What TV platforms are there?

Choosing a smart TV should factor in specific considerations, and the platform it runs is one of the most important things to look at.

While in the smartphone world you’re basically choosing between the two leading ecosystems – Android and Apple – the smart TV realm is much more fragmented and complex. There are currently five leading platforms (or operating systems) for smart TVs: Android TV, webOS, Tizen, Roku TV, Apple TV and Vizio – used by different TV manufacturers – and a dozen of proprietary offerings from each manufacturer on top of that. It doesn’t make the choice easy.

While many TV manufacturers are developing their proprietary smart-TV platforms, some use existing, tried and tested platforms such as Android TV or Roku. Others use either the advanced smart TV platforms or simplified interfaces – depending on TV models.

Picking a system should be a decision dictated by your multimedia needs, compatibility with other devices in the household, and support for the streaming platforms of choice.

Apple TV

Found in: Compatible LG, Samsung, Sony, Vizio and other TVs running the Apple TV app Voice control: Apple Siri Screen casting: AirPlay, AirPlay 2

The platform was designed to work best with, surprise surprise… Apple devices. But, new this year, it also includes certain audio devices like the Sonos line of multi-room speakers or, a number of compatible TVs.

If you have the Apple TV box plugged into your TV set, you can stream anything from your iPhone or iPad screen to your TV using AirPlay, or AirPlay 2 on select devices.

AirPlay, originally introduced in 2010 as an audio-only streaming feature called AirTunes, now allows wireless streaming of all types of content from Apple devices including iPhone, iPad or Mac.

Naturally, Apple TV is a match made in heaven for iPhone or iPad owners, but until recently – with the rumoured Apple-produced TV still not here yet – it required a box next to your TV. However, Apple TV is no longer needed for watching shows bought and rented on iTunes.

This was probably a sound business decision – the Apple TV app is now offered on many platforms. Apple has probably realized that, as a publisher, they may never be able to compete with competitors like Netflix, HBO or Amazon Prime Video if their platform required consumers to buy an extra box. The company has finally partnered with a long list of third-party platforms to deliver the TV app to new audiences: Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung, Sony and LG.

Apple AirPlay 2 extends support to select models from existing hardware from Sonos, Libratone and B&O Play, Denon, Devialet, KEF, Libratone, Marantz, NAT etc.

AirPlay 2 now also covers a range of TVs.

Android TV

Found in: Sony, Philips, Panasonic, Hisense TVs and many others Voice control: Contextual, with Google Assistant Screen casting: Chromecast

Android TV is probably the most common smart TV platform, although there are differences between its specific implementations by individual TV manufacturers. For example, Panasonic and Sony personalize the platform their own ways, but you can still tell it’s Android TV.

Source

Manufacturers supporting Android TV include brands like Panasonic, Sony, Philips, Sharp and Hisense.

Because Android TV, just like Android OS for mobile phones, is distributed partially to promote Google services, it typically comes with a range of Google apps on board: Google Play Store, Google Play Music, Google Play Movies and TV, YouTube etc.

Android phone owners will benefit the most: Assistant now seamlessly integrates with the connected TV, turning your set into an integral element of the smart home.

Android TV comes with Chromecast built-in, which makes streaming any video or audio content from Android devices super simple.

LG webOS

Source
Key features: Found in: LG TVs Voice control: Contextual, with Google Assistant Screen casting: Miracast (compatible with Android and Windows 10)

Since 2014, LG has been refining its clean and customizable smart TV platform. WebOS 4.5 version is expected to debut in 2019. The system is clean but very powerful, and consistently ranks very high for usability in various comparison charts as the iconic launch bar is very intuitive.

Although webOS is LG’s proprietary platform, it meshes surprisingly well with the Google ecosystem. For example, LG’s ThinQ AI system basically converts the TV into a fully-featured, voice-controlled Google Home device, compatible with a number of smart-home devices, including Philips Hue bulbs.

WebOS offers everything here’s support for Netflix 4K streaming 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.

Roku TV

Source

Found in: TCL, Hisense, RCA, Element TV’s and many others Voice control: Roku voice search Screen casting: Through compatible apps on Android and Windows 10

Roku is very simple to use and has an impressive app library. All important apps are there, so the users of streaming services should feel at home with apps for Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video, HBO and Showtime, Google Play TV and Movies, YouTube, VUDU.

While streaming video content from apps like Youtube or Netflix is not as simple as when using a TV with Google Chromecast built-in, but as a workaround, you can still set-up individual apps (link them to your account) to achieve very similar functionality.

All in all, Roku is considered a very stable platform and its simplicity is a strength for those who don’t care too much about the extra bells and whistles. For example, you will never be able to turn the device into a central hub for your smart home, allowing to watch your Ring doorbell's video feed or use voice to adjust your Nest thermostat.

Samsung Tizen

Found in: Samsung TV’s Voice control: Contextual, with Bixby Screen casting: Through compatible apps on Android and Windows 10, Screen mirroring via SmartThings app

If for some reason you cannot choose Android TV, Samsung smart platform is very likely the second-best thing. It’s a strong contender in terms of wide support for streaming platforms. You name it – it has an app for it. There is an app for each such platform, including the new Apple TV app.

The latest version of Tizen also supports voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, but only via external listening devices (mobile phones, smart speakers etc).

Amazon Fire TV platform

Source
Found in: Amazon's Fire TV Edition smart TVs – e.g. Toshiba and Insignia Voice control: Contextual Screen casting: Through compatible apps on Android and Windows 10, Screen mirroring via SmartThings app The Amazon Fire TV was originally known to be very insular and not welcoming for other streaming brands. This was partially because Amazon is both a hardware manufacturer and publisher. However, Amazon and Google agreed to collaborate again in 2018, which resulted in an official YouTube app, and other YouTube apps and services available on the Amazon Fire TV platform. The Fire TV platform is another strong contender with lots of amazing features, but its main selling point is Alexa. If you’ve started building your smart home around Alexa, chances are you will be better off picking an Amazon Fire Edition TV with Alexa built-in and serving as the central hub for the smart home. This is like getting a TV and Amazon Echo in one package. You can install additional apps, but because the Amazon app store lacks a form of curation, it will be very hard to find good, valuable apps – many of the store’s offerings are complete garbage.

Last Words

While most tech-savvy people have developed a basic grasp of the mobile phone market, smart TVs are a whole different ball game – still fragmented and hard to catch up with. In many ways, choosing a TV is a decision more serious than buying a new mobile phone. This may stem from the fact that – unlike mobile phones – people don’t buy a TV as often as mobile phones. The Global TV replacement cycle is estimated at 7 years which, in terms of technology, is a lifetime. But it makes it even more important to choose a TV platform wisely.


Looking for a partner to build video solutions?

Contact us