MANY of the new TV sets on the high street are marketed as “Smart” because they connect to the internet as well as your aerial – but some Smart TVs are smarter than others, and a few aren’t even as smart as sets that were never smart in the first place.
The definition of a Smart TV is one that includes apps which connect, for instance, to the BBC iPlayer or the Netflix movie streaming service. Many buyers assume that, as with smartphones, more apps can be added as the need arises. But the reality is very different.
There is no common standard for Smart TVs, and functionality varies enormously between manufacturers – who have to create their own app for each online service. Typically, they offer no guarantee that the app will continue to work if the service provider changes its settings; nor do they offer an app store to connect to new services as they crop up.
What’s more, services may be more restricted than on other platforms. The iPlayer, for instance, in its web incarnation lets you watch programmes from most Freeview channels, but Smart TV versions are usually BBC only. And TVs rarely let you surf the web beyond accessing Facebook and Twitter – services which are better viewed on your phone or tablet.
So it’s worth asking if it’s worth the paying the premium for a Smart TV – or whether you’ll get better functionality from an external smart device. It depends, of course, how big the premium. Top-end TVs offer more online services and better flexibility than cheap ones – but emerging technologies may soon render them all unnecessary. If you have an Android or iPhone you can use it to access the iPlayer, Netflix and much more, and stream the results in high definition to any TV with an HDMI socket – smart or not. This is achieved via relatively new protocols like Miracast, EZCast and Apple’s Airplay. In each case, you plug a cigarette-lighter sized stick into your HDMI socket, to act as the receiver. Google is about to launch its own stick, Chromecast, in the UK.
The key is to look for the phrase “DLNA compatible” on any Smart TV or stick. It’s short for Digital Living Network Alliance – an open standard for sending video, photos and music between any device on your home network.
Used in this way, your phone replaces the smart bit of your TV, without the premium or any of the restrictions. How smart is that?