Samsung's Smart Hub is an ever-evolving Web platform; each year, the company seems compelled to tweak things to alter the user experience -- sometimes dramatically, sometimes subtly. While the 2014 version has the same general look and navigation as the 2013 version (which was a drastic redesign compared with previous versions), Samsung has made some notable changes. Smart Hub is found in all of Samsung's smart, network-connected HDTVs, but some features will vary based on which 2014 TV you purchase. This evaluation is based on Smart Hub as it appears in the UN65HU8550 Ultra HD TV that I recently reviewed, one of the higher-end models in Samsung's 2014 lineup. This TV includes voice control but does not have an integrated camera for motion control, Skype, and other camera-related activities. You can add a camera via USB, but I did not do so for this review.
The Smart Hub onscreen interface consists of five panels or pages, labeled On TV, Apps, Games, Multimedia, and Movies & TV Shows. When you first press the remote's Smart Hub button, a banner pops up along the bottom on the screen (while video continues to play full screen) that includes popular and recently opened apps, as well as recent video sources you've viewed. This allows you to quickly access a service or source that you use regularly without having to go into the full Smart Hub menu, which is a nice time-saver. Press the smaller Smart Hub icon within this banner to bring up the full Smart Hub interface, which opens first to the On TV page.
On TV offers suggestions, in the form of colorful thumbnails, for what's currently playing and what's coming up on TV, based on your service provider (should you choose to list it during setup). TVs like the UN65HU8550 come with an IR blaster cable that allows you to control your DVR/set-top box using the Samsung TV remote. Once you set this up, you can use the On TV page as a starting point to browse TV content and tune to the desired channel. I set up the system to control my Dish Network Hopper DVR, and it worked well. Last year, most of the Dish channel numbers were incorrect, so the Samsung TV always changed to the wrong channel when I selected a recommended show through the On TV page. This year, that issue has been fixed, and the On TV system worked as desired for me. The more you use it, the more it can tailor suggestions to your taste; or, you can tailor the options based on genres like Movies & Drama, Sports, Family, or Hulu Plus. A generic program guide is available to browse your channel lineup, but I found it to be very slow, both in loading show names and in moving through the pages. It also isn't customizable to eliminate channels you don't watch. The Dish program guide works much better and faster, so I stuck with that. Samsung's Timeline Grid is a bit more interesting, showing thumbnails of what's airing over the next five hours on each channel. Meanwhile, the trending section shows you what people are watching and breaks down demographics by gender and age.
The next page in the Smart Hub interface is Samsung Apps, where you'll find the Web-based entertainment services, and Samsung has all the majors covered, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Vudu, M-Go, HBO Go, YouTube, Pandora, TuneIn, and more. The page is preloaded with some recommended apps along the top, and you can add more through the Samsung Store, with search options for Most Popular, What's New, and Categories running along the bottom of the page. A couple of free Ultra HD photo galleries are included that allowed me to take advantage of the UN65HU8550's higher resolution. Apps like Camera, Skype, and Fitness are designed for those who have an integrated or add-on camera. A Web browser is available that supports Flash and loads pages fairly quickly. The basic IR remote that comes with most Samsung TVs will get the job done in navigating Web pages; but, if your TV comes with the Smart Control remote that has a motion-controlled pointer, that makes it easier to navigate pages, click on links, and input text via the onscreen keyboard.
Click on over to Page to to find out what's new this year, The High Points and Low Points and the Conclusion . . .