Invented in the late 19th century and early 20th century, electronic televisions are arguably the oldest form of modern entertainment. Today, it’s almost impossible to find a household without a television. Since its launch in 1927, televisions have indeed undergone massive transformations from mechanical to electronic to color to digital and now smart televisions. Smart TVs hit the market in the late 2010s and gained mass acceptance all across the globe.
Following the success of smart TV, major TV manufacturers started mass production of both middle-end to high-end TVs in 2015. Smart TVs are currently the dominant form of television with over 300 million homes in North America and western Europe using them streaming internet content and also watching traditional TV programs.
While almost every TV on the market refers to itself as smart, this is not usually the case. Most consumers typically fall for this trap and end up buying regular TVs disguised as smart TVs. It’s therefore imperative to understand what smart TVs are, there features and have how they work. This guide will help you understand all about smart TVs and why you should get one soon.
What is a Smart TV?
Smart TVs are essentially regular TVs (dumb TVs) but with integrated internet capabilities. Smart TVs are often regarded as an information appliance combining a computer system with a mobile device within a television unit. Smart TVs run on an operating system allowing users to install and run a range of apps or add-ons/plugins depending on a particular platform.
The biggest standpoint of smart TVs is the ability to access the internet and enjoy content beyond regular TV programming or channels. Smart TVs opens up a world of new entertainment options including video-on-demand (VOD) services including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, YouTube etc. as well as music streaming platforms like Spotify.
Smart TVs also enable access to various games and sports content, social media, catch-up services, electronic program guide, interactive advertising, voting plus other multimedia applications depending on the make and model.
High-end smart TVs feature voice recognition tools such as Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. With this feature, you can seamlessly switch channels and search for programs via voice control. Sophisticated models also come with more integrated smart home features allowing them to be incorporated into smart home devices such as smart speakers, smart lights, smart locks and other sensors. This means you can control a whole house of smart connected devices via your Smart TV.
What Makes a TV Smart?
The major feature that makes a TV smart is internet connectivity. All smart TVs connect to the internet via an Ethernet port or built-in Wi-Fi. Latest smart TV models support 802.11ac Wi-Fi while older models support the older 802.11n standard Wi-Fi. Some earlier models will also require a Wi-Fi adapter to enable internet connectivity.
To effectively stream games or 4K Ultra HD content and access the various apps and services on your smart TV, your home network should be generally fast. You may need to optimize or hardwire your home Wi-Fi by maybe adjusting your router placement, replacing your router to a modern version or modifying settings to achieve fast streaming capabilities. You may also opt for a wired connection instead of a wireless connection, especially if you live in a large home.
With an internet connection, you can stream shows and movies and a wide range of paid apps and VOD streaming services like Hulu, HBO, Netflix, and YouTube etc. Alternatively, if you don’t want to pay, you can stream from ad-supported free streaming services such as Crackle, PlutoTV, Tubi TV and Crackle, among others. Nonetheless, you’ll still need to subscribe to these platforms to access their content.
Most smart TVs also come integrated with web browsers for internet surfing and even front cameras for use in video-conferencing apps such as Zoom.
Benefits of Smart TVs
Smart TVs comes packed wit numerous benefits from streaming your favorite show to accessing essential apps right from your TV set. Newer models come with voice search allowing you to find great content from live TV and also search for everything across the internet by speaking to your remote. With the voice search feature, you also can navigate apps and even order food or call an Uber from your couch. Some benefits of smart TVs include:
Access to Apps
Smart TVs come either per-installed with Apps or with an App Store for app download. Almost all smart TVs come with their own app store for downloading apps. Android TV and Roku OS are currently the leading app store on smart TVs with a wide range of apps to choose from. Most apps on smart TVs are content-based with a wide range of content subcategories including religion, philosophy, sports, automotive, documentary etc.
Popular film streaming apps in smart TVs include Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Video, Hulu and more. You can also access music streaming apps such as Spotify, catch-up apps such as BBC iPlayer and Social Networking apps such as Facebook and Twitter.
Smart TVs enables you to effortlessly share or mirror videos, music, pictures and other content straight from your connected smartphone, tablet or laptop to your big screen. This feature, found in most smart TVs, is called casting. Usually, casting is not an in-house owned; thus, most manufacturers rely on third-party casting solutions such as Google Chromecast or proprietary apps to makes sharing content from your phone to your TV efficient.
Some smart-TV models come with in-built web browsers allowing you to surf the internet and access web pages from the comfort of your couch. However, a rising concern about smart TV web browsers is difficulty in navigating the browser due to the lack of smart interfaces.
Better Sound Quality
Latest models of smart TVs feature greatly enhanced built-in sound systems firing excellent sound quality for a truly cinematic-like viewing experience. For instance, recent LG and Sony smart TV models feature Dolby Atmos sound system for enhanced the sound quality. Great audio quality enables you to enjoy your favorite show or stream music in its best form.
Various smart TV models come with additional features for a better experience. For instance, some offer voice search, Bluetooth connectivity, customizable homescreens, TV shows recommendations, better display with high resolution etc.
Buying a Smart TV: What You’ll Need
If you’re looking to buy a smart TV, there are several things you’ll need to put in place to ensure you make the most out of your TV set.
The first and most important thing you’ll need to access the features of smart TVs is internet connection. With an internet connection, you will seamlessly stream your favorite show, music, sports etc. from the various platforms. Most smart TVs models are Wi-Fi enabled, allowing you to wirelessly connect to the internet via a router or other devices such as a smartphone or tablet. Other models would need a Wi-Fi adapter or an Ethernet cable to connect to the internet.
Generally Fast Broadband Speed
Internet connection alone is not enough to get the most out of a smart TV. You’ll require a decent broadband speed to stream content from platforms without annoying downtime. For instance, you’ll need at least 25MBs to stream 4K Ultra HD content on Netflix seamlessly. It’s also advisable to subscribe to an unlimited broadband package to avoid paying extra data charges after reaching your data limit.
Subscriptions/ TV License
The last thing you’ll be required to do is to subscribe to on-demand streaming platforms such as Netflix to view the different TV shows and movies. For catch-up services as BBC iPlayer, you’ll need a TV license.
The Difference Between A Digital TV and Smart TV
Smart TVs and digital TVs have apparent differences. As described earlier, a smart TV is basically a hybrid between a TV and a computer that can readily access the internet and support apps without the need for an external device. A digital TV, on the other hand, is a regular TV which does not have installed apps and cannot connect to the internet unless an external device is used. The main difference between a Smart TV and digital TV is internet accessibility as well as the different supported features such as built-in apps and web browsers.
Below is a comparison between Smart TV and Digital TV.
Smart TV Digital TV
Description A television integrated with internet accessibility plus other features that makes it ‘smart’. A regular television for viewing images with sound.
Functionality :Cross between TV and computer Basic TV
Internet Accessibility :Can access the internet Cannot access the internet
Web Browser: Some come with web browsers to surf the internet Usually doesn’t feature an in-built web browser
Wi-Fi : Needs to connect to Wi-Fi to access the internet Does not require Wi-Fi
Built-in Apps: Come with built-in apps Does not feature in-built apps
Streaming: Can stream VOD content Require an external device, i.e. android box or firestick to stream content
Touchscreen: Some have touchscreen capabilities Usually doesn’t have a touch screen feature.
How to Make Your Digital TV Smart
For digital TV owners, it possible to make it “smart”. There are various affordable ways you can convert your TV to attain smart TV status. These ways include:
Streaming boxes are plug-in devices (usually in the form of flash drives) that enable you to convert your standard TV into a smart TV with a very affordable cost. These devices will allow you to access video-on-demand streaming platform such as Netflix, catch-up TV, plus other internet apps when connected to your TV with internet connectivity. Most streaming boxes are compatible with a wide range of standard TVs from older HDTV to recent 4K TVs.
Popular brands include Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku and Google Chromecast. But while these devices convert your standard TV to a smart TV, they will not offer far much less functionality compared to smart TVs. Smart TVs come with additional features including better sound quality, casting and web browsing, which cannot be offered by a streaming box. Therefore, it may be better to buy a smart TV rather than upgrade your standard TV using a streaming box.
There are several subscription-free set-top boxes such as the YouView that can convert your standard TV into a smart TV. These devices combine Freeview digital TV with the internet catch-up TV services from BBC iPlayer, All 4, ITV Player and Demand 5. YouView users can access Netflix, NOW TV, Amazon Prime Video and TalkTalk TV Store.
You can connect your standard TV to your TV using an analogue VGA input or a digital input either a DVI socket or HDMI cable. With your TV connected to your PC, you can access the internet and stream content from the various platforms.
Gaming consoles such as Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One can be used as streaming devices on your standard TV. These modern gaming consoles have the capability of connecting to the internet and comes with streaming apps such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Spotify, YouTube, Twitch, Plex etc. With a gaming app, you can effortlessly download the right apps and make your TV smart. However, gaming consoles are quite expensive are really aren’t an ideal option unless you’re a gamer
You can stream content from streaming platforms such as Netflix and YouTube directly to your smartphone and cast your phone screen on your TV screen. This will enable you to view your favorite show right from your big screen.
Smartest TV-Top Brands
It’s without a doubt that the market is flooded with smart TVs from different manufacturers. While all smart TVs are designed to access the internet and stream content, not all function in the same way. Smart TVs come with different operating systems and with various individual smart features and qualities. Below are the leading brands.
Samsung Smart TVs
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Samsung smart TVs uses the Tizen operating system, which is extremely fast and easy to use. The OS can automatically detect connected devices and labels inputs accordingly. However, navigation can be quite a challenge, especially when using the standard remote. You can also control some of the connected devices using the remote.
Recent Samsung TVs comes with a voice-control remote, i.e. One Remote. The remote can be used to control compatible devices connected to the television including soundbars, Blu-ray players etc. making it sort of universal.
Also, starting 2019, Samsung smart TVs were integrated with SmartThings software which gives users control of smart devices such as smart lights, smart speakers, smart locks etc. Samsung smart TVs feature both in-built Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, giving users the option of choosing either.
LG Smart TVs
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LG smart TVs uses WebOs as the operating system. The OS is incredibly easy to use and features a ‘launcher’ tab at the bottom of the screen to allow for quick navigation through apps, web browser and even TV guide. The launcher can also be customized by organizing the apps or services depending on your preference
LG smart TVs also integrates Freeview Play-a software that combines catch-up TV with electronic programming guide to allow users to view upcoming shows or shows they might have missed.
Another feature in LG smart TVs is the ThinQ software. This software enables users to control other ThinQ compatible LG appliances such as washing machines, heaters, fridge etc. right from their smart TVs.
LG smart TVs offer two remote control choices, i.e. a standard remote and ‘Magic’ remote. The Magic remote features a movable cursor on the screen for ease of navigating through apps and web browser. It also has a built-in microphone for voice control.
Sony Smart TVs
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Sony smart TVs are powered by Android TV by Google. It features a simple and easy to use interface. Sony smart TVs also come with the YouView smart EPG which gives users access to a full range of catch-up apps such as ITV Hub, BBC iPlayer, All 4, Netflix and Amazon Video. With the YouView feature, you can pause, record and rewind a streaming show plus access several Ultra HD and HD channels.
Sony’s remote still retains the traditional design and comes with a built-in microphone which allows you to control particular aspects of the TV with your voice. Unlike LG’s Magic Remote, Sony remotes don’t have a motion-controlled cursor for ease of navigation.
TCL Smart TVs
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TCL use Roku OS on their smart TVs. This OS features simple navigation with a top-notch search feature that traverses every app to find your chosen content. The interface is user-friendly, and the app-store has a long list of cool apps.
TCL Smart TVs also feature Freeview Play- a software that makes it easy to access catch-up services such as ITV Hub, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 etc. These smart TVs are also compatible with Google Assistant, allowing you to control features on your TV via voice.
Panasonic Smart TVs
Panasonic is also a great smart TV brand powered by Firefox OS. These TVs come with great features and even allow you to customize your homescreen to include your favorite or most-used apps. Recent models feature Freeview Play and also comes with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Voice control is also supported.
Smart TV Concerns
Despite revolutionizing home entertainment, smart TVs come with several concerns that may deter someone from getting one. Here are the major concerns you should know before buying a smart TV set.
Tracking is a major point of concern when it comes to smart TVs. Major manufacturers including the ones discussed above use automatic content recognition (ACR) to track and monitor users in various ways including what they watch or stream, apps they use as well as websites they visit on the TV’s browser.
Some brands allow to accept or decline to tracking by consenting to the TV’s T &Cs. However, if decline the T&C, s, you lose access to some smart functionality of the TV. Nonetheless, several brands such as Sony, Samsung and Panasonic allow you to turn off tracking of your viewing habits.
Since they are connected to the internet, smart TVs puts your privacy and security at risk. The FBI has even warned that smart TVs put users at risks and that they should be keener when using them. Smart TVs are vulnerable to hacking attacks plus have some enormous security bugs that put users at risk.
As security concerns in smart TVs continue receiving much-needed attention, security software companies have started developing antivirus for smart TVs. An example of a smart TV antivirus already in the market is Neptune-a cloud-based anti-malware system developed by Ocean Blue Software in partnership with Sophos.
Unsecured internet connections, coupled with open-source application codes, make smart TV users vulnerable to hacking attacks. Hackers can easily access users’ passwords, IP address data, and even credit card information. Fortunately, there are ways you can make your smart TV more secure. You can disable cookies, including third-party cookies, secure your home Wi-Fi network and set strong passwords for your internet accounts as well as your home wireless router.
Since its launch in the late 2010s, smart TVs have taken the market by storm thanks to internet connectivity, web browsing capabilities, better sound and picture quality and well as other smart features such as voice control. More and more people are replacing paid cable or satellite TV with subscription streaming platforms such as Amazon Video, Netflix, Hulu and YouTube TV due to the convenience and excellent picture quality(4K) they offer. As smart TV technology and software continue evolving, we should expect better smart TVs in the coming years.