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The operating system (OS) war has moved to a new battleground – the living room. At least four major TV manufacturers each support a different smart TV OS in their 2015 TV models – and they are looking to dominate the space in your TV console.
Unlike regular TV sets, smart TVs come with built-in computer processors and a Wi-Fi receiver that allows you to surf the Internet. Like a tablet or a mobile phone, they come with a smart interface loaded with apps that allow you to play games and even check your 4D results. Some even feature built-in cameras.
Some smart TV apps come with the television, while others have to be downloaded from the app store. The great thing about these apps is that they’re free and there’s a wide variety to choose from. Games, news sites, and apps for Youtube and Twitter can all be downloaded through your TV set.
Korean electronics giant LG continues to use its Webos platform, which it licensed from US tech firm HP in 2013, to power its smart TVs. The OS had been designed for smartphones and tablets, and was introduced to LG’s TVs last year.
Samsung uses the Tizen OS, which it created for mobile devices such as phones and watches. Sony has adopted Google’s Android TV platform, which is an established one.
Based on Android 5.0 Lollipop, Android TV is a conduit to the thousands of apps available in the Google Play store. Panasonic uses Mozilla’s Firefox OS. The OS was released for use in phones in 2013, but has not been offered in mobile devices meant for the local market.
These types of software are designed for more powerful mobile devices, and reviews by The Straits Times show that the interface on the new 2015 TVs is smoother and much faster, compared with that of smart TV models from last year. But, like last year’s models, this year’s smart TV platforms are still limited in their features when it comes to local units.
Unlike their counterparts in Europe and the US, smart TV features here may offer some games, apps and Internet connectivity, but key features in the form of content streaming apps such as Netflix and Pandora are restricted by regional availability. Luckily, at least three of the four TV brands have workarounds that enable local users to access the full features of their smart TV OS. Social media manager Gerald Chan, 31, waited for Sony, Samsung and LG to launch their 2015 smart TV models, and studied their features before choosing Sony’s 55-inch W800c Full HD Android TV.
It was the compatibility with streaming software Plex, which he uses to stream family photos and videos, as well as overall functionality of his many Android phones and tablets, that drew him to the platform. “It has the best chance of continuing with the ecosystem and developers are also more likely to build on the platform,” explains the father of one.
Meanwhile, retailers are hoping this move will spur TV sales. Research company GFK Asia says over 93,300 non-smart TVs were sold here this year, compared with 152,400 smart TVs which are more expensive. Alvin Lee, managing director of electronics retailer Audio House, notes that there are cost-conscious customers who just want feature-free TVs. This is because some of them have Android set-top boxes that are able to provide the smart features. A smart TV has an app store and requires an Internet connection.
“Generally, the choice of OS is still not a major purchase consideration factor,” says a spokesman for electronics retail giant Courts. “But it has already generated interest among the more tech-savvy customers, who are keen on the wider range of apps and compatibility with mobile devices, such as screen mirroring. The Android OS seems to be the most popular choice.”
Here’s how the user experiences of these smart TV platforms differ.
This article first appeared in The Straits Times, October 14, 2015.