IT’S still common practice among television manufacturers to bundle their receivers with features you don’t need – and the current obsession with Smart TVs is but the latest in a long and dishonourable tradition.
Actually, TV sets today need nothing more than a screen and a remote control. Even a tuner is not strictly necessary, because you will almost certainly be connecting a digital recorder which will also serve as your Freeview or satellite receiver.
Plugging in one of the new generation of high definition streaming sticks or boxes is a more flexible option than buying a TV with a Smart module built in. Here’s how the best of them stack up.
Google Chromecast: This little device is the most convenient way to turn any TV with a spare HDMI socket into a smart set. It costs £30 and supports YouTube, Netflix, BT Sport, Now TV and the iPlayer. It plugs straight into the TV and you control it from your smartphone or tablet.
Amazon Fire TV: The £79 Amazon Fire uses a faster processor than most rivals and offers more services than the Chromecast – though Channel 4’s catch-up service is still absent. Its prime purpose is to sell you video-on-demand content from Amazon.
Roku 2: This £60 box’s remote control includes a novel headphone jack for private listening, and you can use a free app to send videos, photos and music stored on your phone direct to your TV. The iPlayer, 4OD and Netflix are included.
Now TV: Sky’s cut-down version of the Roku, which it sees as a way of selling you its entertainment, sports or movies channels without a contract. Some £20 buys you the box and a trial period of access. Free services include BBC, ITV and Channel 4 catch-ups, and YouTube – but not Netflix.
Apple TV: Apple’s third-generation set-top box is £79 but it can’t compete with Amazon Fire TV on hardware or number of services available. The absence of the BBC iPlayer and the other UK broadcasters sets it at a disadvantage, although if you have an iPhone you can stream them from there.
Android TV Box: A generic term for boxes based on the same Android system as your phone. You’re free to use online services, free or paid-for, but you have to set them up yourself as there’s no support from the content providers. Prices vary from around £60 to £120 – but take care to buy only from UK suppliers.