Niall’s virtual diary archives – Friday 23rd January 2015

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Friday 23rd January 2015: 1.31am. Been using our new 40" Samsung 6H series Smart TV for a few days now. Pros:

+ I can actually see the screen now compared to the 24" monitor.
- I can now easily tell the difference between standard and hi def, and most of Freesat is still low quality standard def and despite the TV's postprocessing to make it not quite so crappy, you just get a fuzzy soft image instead. If I'm at the kitchen table (i.e. closer) I can also see 1080p vs 1080i now, it's really noticeable on Freesat HD which is all 1080i.

+ It's a full PVR now I've added a USB hard drive, and it records series perfectly from the UK Freesat.
- It doesn't understand series link for Saorview, plus it won't record from both satellite and aerial simultaneously for absolutely no good reason. Both are deliberate firmware limitations for no good reason.

+ I've found the smart TV stuff far more useful than expected. It automatically found itself RTE Player and the other Irish video on demand apps, and even better meshes all their content onto a single screen saving you having to bother entering each app. The voice search is particularly useful here e.g. "show me last week's late late show".
- Where the smart TV stuff falls down it really falls down. It auto finds all my XBMC content from the internal internet, yet won't index it and won't let you search it, forcing you to trudge through deep nestings of folders to find stuff. It's just easier to flip over to XBMC.

+ The user interface is generally mostly intuitive and quick to use.
- Except when it really isn't. For example, switching between the Aerial and Satellite is an unbelievable pain. For no good reason the two tuners don't present a unified guide and schedule, you have to manually switch using a very awkward set of non-obvious nested menus.

+ The smart wand remote is great when it works.
- Except it's half baked and reminds me hugely of when BlackBerry "added touch" to their phone UI. You could point and click, but it was so hacked in as an afterthought no one actually ever used it that way. Same goes with the wand remote - you end up ignoring the pointer and using the up down left right as with a traditional remote.

+ The 3d works quite well, and XBMC happily outputs in 3d including its UI.
- The active 3d glasses really hate LED and CFL lights and make them flicker in a headachey way. So you have to turn off all the lights when you use the glasses. Oh, and we have a real lack of 3d content here, and I'm still not sure if it's worth the hassle for the limited benefit.

+ If an app is Adobe Flash based, there is a very strong chance it is available for your Samsung TV (which also kinda reminds me of the BlackBerry PlayBook).
- Some of the more useful apps like Skype and the Fitness app require the purchase of an expensive dedicated USB webcam, and it has to be their specific Samsung model. For past TVs which didn't have the CPU power to encode h.264 in realtime I could forgive that, but the F and H series TVs are all ARM Cortex A15 Exynos CPUs and have no shortage of number crunching power, plus they have dedicated h.264 encoding hardware offload units. No excuse Samsung, except you want more money!

Am I happy with the purchase? Yes. It's a very polished platform 80% of the time, and it's definitely a mature platform - I haven't found any bugs yet, just some occasionally very bad design choices like how difficult it is to switch between tuners - hardly an uncommon action, and to be honest it should unify the tuners into a single EPG presentation anyway. The picture quality is good (though contrast isn't as good as I had been expecting), compatibility is excellent, power consumption low and Megan and Clara are both very pleased to have a real TV instead of Niall's hacked together contraptions made out of old and spare computer parts. I also think for less than €500 all in that it's good value for money for what it provides. It's also been trouble free to set up after I converted into a UK localset, a rarity. RTE Player and all the other video on demand just works - funnily enough, I could watch RTE immediately after opening the box over wifi before plugging it into any aerials!

That said, it's biggest problem, as with all smart TVs, is that the smart stuff is still being tacked onto the TV from the outside and it's obvious. Supposedly LG's WebOS smart TV platform is different on this, if so I welcome it. I also remain surprised none of these smart TV platforms don't just start with XBMC/Kodi as their UI :(

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