All the ins and outs of Samsung's 2014 smart TVs
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Smart TVs nowadays are rarely simple, which is why we break them down for you each year. The features, the setup, the content—we'll wade through all of it for you, point by point.
To get you started, here's a list of all the 2014 Samsung smart TVs:
To get the most out of the Smart Hub, you'll need to complete three simple tasks: connect your TV to the internet, create a Samsung profile, and integrate your cable or satellite content via the included IR blaster.
Without an internet connection and an account, you won't have access to key features, games, and Smart Hub customization. Don't worry, though, only an email and password is required—no credit card nonsense.
As for the cable TV integration, just plug in the IR blaster and answer the TV's questions about your provider—doing this plops all that cable content into the Smart Hub, so you'll never need to look at another ugly cable menu ever again.
Thankfully, the TV guides you through this, step-by-step, when you first power it on.
Samsung's high-end TVs ship with Smart Touch remotes in addition to traditional ones, but getting to the Smart Hub is one click away on either controller.
The first time you press the Smart Hub button, a bar of recommended apps pops up along the bottom of the screen. This bar is home to options like input selections, a web browser, Netflix, and so on.
Over time, this list integrates your most-used apps. For example, if you're an Amazon Instant Video addict, or if you're hooked on a particular game, those apps will eventually take up residence along this pop-up bar all by themselves.
Above the quick-selection bar is a smaller button. Clicking it launches the full Smart Hub, which is broken into four sections: Games, Samsung Apps, Movies & TV Shows, and Multimedia.
The Movies & TV Shows section is your headquarters for content. This page is a powerhouse in three parts:
Number three probably blew you away. How does it do that?
Upon first booting up your smart TV, most of the content you'll find displayed in the Smart Hub will be from Vudu—a free, pre-installed content service. But once you've synced your cable box to your TV via IR blaster, or signed into Netflix or Hulu Plus, movies offered by those providers will begin to appear on this page, as well.
Basically, the Movies & TV Shows page is a great way to see what's on without jumping through a bunch of different hoops.
You might find it odd that a whole section of the Smart Hub is devoted entirely to games, but they're actually a big part of Samsung's content offering this year.
While just about every smart TV will give you Netflix and YouTube, the games on this page are largely Samsung exclusives—and better than what we've seen in the past.
There are 14 new games to choose from, and you can play them with a traditional remote, a Samsung Smart Control, a Samsung TV app on your mobile device, a Cyberbike, or a Samsung Gamepad.
In one game—Sky Chaser—you're a pilot tasked with rescuing a kidnapped princess. Another, called Brain Training, uses a player's age and gender to formulate minigames that aim to improve attention and memory.
While the controls are understandably simple, the graphics are crisp and colorful. Add in extras like unlockable items and content, and some of the smoothest gameplay I've seen from a smart TV platform, and you can imagine why Samsung chose to highlight this section. The only downside is that games aren't totally polished—I found multiple typos and misspellings, for example.
The Samsung Apps page is the heart of the Smart Hub. This page is home to streaming partners like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video; the web browser; tools to track local weather and news; and the usual pages and pages of amusing, potentially useless junk.
Naturally, a lot of the more popular apps are pre-installed. If you just want to watch Netflix or HBO Go, for example, the apps are already downloaded and up to date—you'll just have to sign in once using your account name and password.
Everything else is broken into categories: Videos, Games, Sports, Lifestyle, Information, Education, and Kids. Each category contains about 100 apps to choose from.
The DOGTV app, for example, provides footage to calm and comfort your dog while he or she is home alone—but you'll have to pay a monthly subscription to use it. If you want to traumatize a roommate or parent, the BrokenTV app will let you put fake cracks in your TV screen for free. Happily, most of what you'll actually use is right on the front page.
Here's a list of the Smart Hub's most popular streaming apps and services:
The Multimedia section is where everything else lives: popular YouTube clips, available radio stations, and trending videos.
Mostly, this content is pulled from providers like TuneIn Radio, Vevo, and DailyMotion. Like the previous tabs, content will change dynamically based on what you use most.
Personal pictures, videos, and music appear on the Multimedia tab when you connect an external drive to the TV via USB. Similarly, you can also use DLNA functionality to wirelessly access content from other devices—such as a tablet or PC—on the same network.
If you plan on scooping up a 2014 Samsung, it's probably going to be a smart TV. Lucky for you, that's not a bad thing.
But do you need one? Here's the deal: If you already own a Roku, Apple TV, or just about any game console, you probably don't need the Smart Hub—but that doesn't mean you wouldn't like it, either.
That's because the Smart Hub's strength lies in its ability to dynamically pull content from multiple locations at once, including cable content. That's a feature not readily available on alternative devices, except the Xbox One.
If you still don't own a streaming device, the 2014 Smart Hub is a great option. Menus and functionality are streamlined and accessible, and useless third-party apps are safely tucked away on ulterior pages. Most importantly, everything you need is easy to find and well presented—which is about as good as it gets these days.