There is no doubt that 2012 will be the year of the smart TV. But if you already own a TV, and don't want to upgrade it just to get access to internet services, then don't despair, you have options.
Companies such as LG, Samsung and Sony have been putting their connected "smart" offerings in Blu-ray players and the like for a couple of years. But there are also a growing number of smart set-top boxes appearing. With the rise of services like Lovefilm Instant and Netflix, streaming content via your home broadband is now more appealing than ever.
Of course, you can use your laptop, a tablet or a games console connected to your TV, but for many people, a cheap and simple box to expand the functions of your home entertainment setup is appealing. The Philips HMP2000 is one such box.
Design and connections
A compact glossy wedge, Philips has kept things simple. The box is 90 x 100mm and 50mm tall at the rear with a completely minimalist design. Surface detail is limited to the Philips logo and an LED, which is either green to show it's on, or red in standby.
The connections are also rather minimalist, but we're happy with the basics on offer. You get a single USB port on the left-hand side and HDMI on the rear. There is the power socket too, but that's it. Your network connection has to be done via Wi-Fi because there is no Ethernet connection.
With that specification, the sub-£50 price tag seems to fit. If you want to connect to an older TV that lacks HDMI, then you'd need the appropriate cable to turn HDMI into whatever connection you have. People in this position, might find better value in the Roku box however, especially the lower-cost LT model.
Out of the box you simply plug it in, turn over your TV and you're ready to get started. Control of the box is via a credit card-style remote control. This isn't the best quality remote out there, but that's not uncommon on devices like this. There is no other method of control, so if you lose that remote, you're stuck, unless you have a compatible HDMI-CEC TV.
The remote isn't very responsive, to the degree where it’s irritating when entering text, but bearable when flicking through movie options on Netflix.
Interface and services
Switch the box on and the interface is divided into five areas: Netflix, YouTube, USB, internet services and setup. Setup will let you tinker with various settings depending on what you've got the box connected to. You can set the video output to 1080p if that matches the TV you've got, or switch the audio over to raw if you're hooked up to an AV receiver, for example.
Naturally, the big name on offer here is Netflix, which is essentially what this box is: a tidy way of bringing Netflix to your TV - as long as you have a subscription. It also offers YouTube browsing which, unless you're a fan of a several YouTube channels, will probably be of less appeal and certainly not worth the asking price.
Within the "internet services" section you have access to Facebook, AccuWeather and Picasa, which are nice, but not really what we'd called essential on your TV. Facebook has it's own app interface, but setup is slow and fiddly, thanks to the cumbersome navigation of the onscreen keyboard and awkward skipping through permissions and so on.
However, the internet services page is mostly empty, so our hope would be that more-appealing services find their way into this space. We'd hope that something like BBC iPlayer could be worked in, which would widen the appeal of this device a hundredfold in the UK.
With Netflix being the main service of the Smart Media Box, it gets its own button on the remote, which is something we like. It means you have to press the button only once and you're in the application, ready to resume watching.
The interface is simple, with the usual Netflix layout of cover art in different categories, from your recently watched to recommendations and then everything else by genre. You can search too, although Netflix's somewhat restricted current catalogue hasn't yet returned us any useful results.
Capable of playing back the Full HD streaming version of Netflix's content, the results are great, thanks to Netflix's clever scaling of quality as it plays. Remember that the quality of the stream is controlled by your Netflix account, rather than the device you're using to view it. So if you have low quality selected in your account, low quality is what you get on your TV.
Viewing Netflix movies is smooth - they are pretty fast to play, although we'd say not quite as fast as via an Android device. We've found playback to be reliable and haven't experienced any problems in the month we've been using the Philips device.
Media playback via USB
In the absence of proper home network streaming, USB playback is as good as it gets for the Philips HMP2000. If you have a collection of films on USB, or have digital versions, then it isn't too much effort to move them over to USB to view on your TV.
When it comes to navigation, the content of any attached USB drive is scanned and can be navigated via folder view, or in video, music and photo sections. Within the video section you get a preview of the video file as you move down the list, so it's easy to find the clip you're looking for.
You are also provided with the details of that file – the duration of the video, the audio format and the video codec. Most major video file formats are supported but, as is always the way with these things, we're sure you'll find something that doesn't work.
Photos will play as a slideshow, which you can pause and skip through as required, so again, an easy way to get photos from your camera to the TV via a card reader. Again, 1080p support means your photo and video looks great and it all seemed to play smoothly enough.
This isn't the most comprehensive TV bridge solution, but it's an easy way to get your content on to your TV.
Priced at a penny under £50, the Philips HMP2000 Smart Media Box is almost cheap enough to be an impulse buy. There are plenty of more fully featured solutions out there that do much more, but for Netflix customers, it's an easy win.
Of course we'd like to see it do more. If Philips could find its way to including some catch-up TV services, which this box would certainly handle, then it would have an excellent smart set-top box to add functions to your existing TV.
Our only real criticism is around the small remote, but at this price you can't grumble too much. Certainly, if you're a fan of Netflix, then the Philips HMP2000 Smart Media Box is well worth considering.