You’re sitting at home watching TV, but then you want to switch over to Netflix, so you power up your Apple TV. Then, you feel like surfing the web, so you go over to your laptop or desktop. That’s a lot of devices for remarkably similar activities.
Fortunately, the future is now, and you can combine all three of those devices into your TV. Smart TV combines the best of TV, streaming services, and the internet into your screen so you can switch easily between services. It’s a fantastic way to declutter your entertainment center.
What Exactly Is Smart TV?
Smart TVs (formerly “connected TVs) are TVs that can be connected to the internet. Not only that, but they also have an onboard operating system that allows the device to run apps like video rental and streaming services, internet radio, web browsers and more.
You can use services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Pandora Radio, Hulu, and others. Depending on the make and model of the TV, you may also be able to access apps for things like Facebook, news and sports right from your TV.
Now, these features may seem familiar to you, and that’s because they are similar to other TV connectivity devices like Apple TV and Roku. However, smart TVs have all of these features built in and more. No more extra devices and cables floating around to take up space around your entertainment center.
No more losing multiple remotes and trying to figure out when to use which one. Take it even further with a smart remote that can control your Blu-Ray player, sound system and nearly any other device that uses a remote. You can increase your options and still keep it simple.
What’s So Special About Smart TVs?
Besides being more convenient and compact, smart TVs set themselves apart from other TV connectivity device add-ons by having many cutting-edge features. Because the TVs are so large and sophisticated, they can do things that little boxes that attach to them can’t do.
Manufacturers are experimenting with all sorts of new ways to wow their consumers with their smart TVs. One of the most successful and simple things they have done is add an integrated microphone straight into the TV. So, with programs like Amazon’s Alexa, you can command your TV with a sentence. Tell it to change channels, the volume or even the current app being used.
As with audio, so with video. Some TVs include a camera as well, which can be used by many apps like Skype. Now you can video chat on the big screen without having to finagle throwing the image from your phone or tablet. New features and apps are added all of the time, so the camera is sure to play a big part in that.
Along with internet apps, some products like the Samsung smart TV have built-in games. The platform is small, but there is an entertaining collection of games from many different genres like shooters, racing, sports, singing, adventure and many more. Now, these may not be as polished and in-depth as Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo or PC games, but they can still be quite fun, and it’s hard to argue with the price.
Controls might involve the microphone or camera, but usually, the games use an app on your smartphone. You hold the phone like a gamepad, and the touch and motion sensors do the rest. Some smart TVs do have gamepad support as well. They are a great casual addition to an already stacked feature list.
The Smartphone Connection
One of the primary ways we consume apps is through our smartphones. We a do a lot of work on them, and it’s no fun starting over from scratch. Some smart TVs, however, allow you to seamlessly transfer nearly everything on your phone over to your smart TV. One of the most popular is Samsung’s smart switch which allows you to transfer contacts, photos, videos, notes and calendars easily to your smart TV.
The Internet of Things
One of the most exciting and futuristic features of smart TVs is their ability to connect with other “smart” objects in your home. They can be integrated into Alexa systems, Google home and more. Your smart TV can connect with other everyday objects in your home like the thermostat, telephone, security system or any other gadget or appliance with internet connectivity.
Once connected, you can use your connected home system to control your TV or use your TVs microphone to voice-command the rest of you home. Theoretically, with the right products and equipment, you could dim the lights, set the temperature, order a pizza and put on a movie all from your couch through the same system. All you need is an app like the Peel smart remote, and you can control everything. The future has finally come.
They’re Just Better
Smart TVs, like set-top boxes such as Roku and Apple TV, have a built-in computer. It’s required to run apps and stream the internet. But, with so many more features and abilities, smart TVs need beefier and more reliable processors and video encoding. Therefore, by necessity, when you buy a smart TV, you are already buying one of the better TVs on the market, performance wise.
Things to Know About Using a Smart TV
Just because it’s a TV, it doesn’t mean you can just plug a smart TV in and get to watching. They require a bit of extra connectivity and consideration when using. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are thinking about purchasing one.
1. Internet Connectivity
The smart TV must, of course, be connected to the internet to make use of its features. It usually does this with an Ethernet “hardline” to your modem. Wi-Fi options are readily available, but you need to consider speed. Since you will be streaming large amounts of data in the form of HD video, you will need a TV with at least 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard. Also, make sure your TV and router are on the same floor and within a couple of rooms of each other at most. Long distance may slow your connection.
2. Hang-ups and Crashes
Since smart TVs are computers, you will occasionally have troubles with slowing, hang-ups and freezes. There is a lot of data being processed in such a small space, so complications can happen. Fortunately, since the system is much simpler than a desktop or laptop, a simple restart should get it back on track.
3. Security Concerns
There have been stories in the media about security and privacy concerns of smart TVs over the past few years. It has been shown that with the right tools and expertise, some smart TVs can be hacked and can collect information about you without your knowledge. So far there have been no high-profile security breaches, just demonstrations that it is possible.
Additionally, the TV company Vizio paid a settlement due to allegations that it had collected viewing data from consumers without their knowledge or consent. These problems could be serious, but they do not differ greatly from the similar risks posed by your smartphone or home computer.
4. Surfing the Web
Some smart TVs have taken advantage of their integrated internet connectivity and offer full-on web browsers. These are great if you have the right tools. Trying to type with a simple remote is an exercise in futility, so make sure and look for one with a keyboard option. Pointer devices are also available to replace computer mice.
Who are Smart TVs Not For?
Smart TVs are great, but they aren’t for everyone. Depending on your preferences, there are other options out there that might be better suited for you. For example:
- Apple Store: If your family uses the Apple iOS and gets everything from the iTunes store, you won’t find a smart TV that will play it. Only Apple TV will allow you to put your iTunes library on the big screen.
- The Budget Minded: Smart TVs aren’t cheap. With all of the hardware and features, they just can’t be. However, you can get similar web-streaming services from much less expensive devices that you must then connect to your TV. Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku are just some of the devices available to get internet video onto your TV.
- Got a TV Already: While smart TVs are usually better than their less-intelligent cousins, they don’t automatically have better picture. If you already have a 4K ultra TV with picture that you love, a smart TV won’t improve what you see, just give you more to watch.
The Future Is Now
It may sound corny, but we are living in the future. We can actually live out our sci-fi fantasy of talking to our home and having complete control over it. Smart TVs aren’t exactly Star Trek computers, but they are packed with enough features and capabilities to get you the internet entertainment you want in a sleek and convenient package and can put you on the path to a fully integrated home.