The addition of a web browser has been a double-edged sword for most TV companies. It's a feature that really cements the feeling of being online, but is also traditionally the most sluggish and frustrating part of a smart TV. Navigation with a traditional TV remote is a completely unintuitive process, and standard TV processors don't have the power to make page load times bearable. Fortunately, 2012 has seen huge improvements to the TV web browser.
We wanted fast-loading web sites, and Panasonic delivered. The 65-inch VT50 is Panasonic's flagship plasma for 2012, and contains a dual-core processor that makes browsing the web a lot less frustrating. To boot, it comes with a mouse-emulating Touch Pad remote, making page navigation that much easier.
Samsung's ES8000 is another good choice for better browsing.
Everyone knows most built-in games on smart TVs are terrible (with a few exceptions). These flash-based, sluggish ports are usually generic, content-impoverished versions of something that's much better on a tablet or smartphone. They don't take advantage of the big TV screen they're being played on. Enter Samsung.
Samsung and Gaikai have brought streaming games in full HD to Samsung's Series 8 and Series 7 TVs. While the project is still in beta form, it's a revolutionary idea that could definitely change the face of home video gaming for the better. It's far and away the best iteration of video gaming available on any smart TV right now, and is miles ahead of Dracula's Coffin.
For our video, and more information about Samsung's on-demand gaming, click here.
Longer than they've touted web browsers, modern TVs have worked to accommodate home media playback through a variety of connected devices—either a USB connected flash or hard drive, or even wireless sharing between the TV and a PC, tablet, or smartphone. Viewing your pictures and videos on the big screen has always been sort of touch and go, but some TVs make the whole process a lot simpler.
The truth is, almost every TV will play back photos and music. Yet some of them do it with a particular style and flair, or in a way that's very guided and intuitive. Toshiba's flagship, the 47L7200U, is an ideal choice because of its simplicity to use and its cheap price.
Another favorite of ours is the 50-inch EH5300 from Samsung, which uses an "AllShare" system to link up the TV with a Samsung camera, phone, or sharing-enabled PC. This takes a little more work, but means you can wirelessly share pictures, videos, and music between your home devices. The best part about the EH5300 is the cheap price tag.
The most-loved and most-used feature found on smart TVs is their ability to stream TV shows, movies, and music from a content provider. If you already have a subscription service with Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Instant Video, you're in luck: Most smart TVs, regardless of manufacturer, have partnered with these streaming giants to give you a generous selection of content that you're probably already paying for. Plenty of people stream through their game consoles or disc players anyhow, but it's good to have choices.
The VIZIO E552VLE is a great option for streaming because of its cheap price—you can find it for under $1000—and its remote (pictured above), which makes getting into a streaming service as simple as pressing a button. There's no web browser on the E552VLE—it sticks to the basics.
Another sound choice is LG's 47-inch LM6700, a 3D, smart TV that's loaded with apps, widgets, free 3D music concerts, and all of your favorite blue chip providers.
Are there any connected services or features on your Smart TV that you couldn't live without? Let us know in the comments below!