How to turn your TV into a smart TV
By Marc Shoffman | Wednesday, June 30th 2021
Television has been around in different forms since the early 1900s, but only now is the box in the corner (or on the wall) catching up with the internet age.
TV is no longer just a dumb box of glass and wires. TV is getting smart – it can do far more now that just let you watch Eastenders. With the use of a special device, you can browse the internet, play music and stream films and music beyond what your digital service provider offers. In many cases you can even ditch your TV service and just use streaming apps such as Netflix alongside Freeview channels, and just pick and choose premium paid-for content when you want it. Here's how to make your TV smart and bring it into the 21st century.
Google may be the place you turn to for search engines or email, but it could also make your TV smart. Released in 2014, Google’s Chromecast was among the first devices on the market that transformed the capabilities of television beyond digital and HD channels.
Chromecast plugs into your TV's HDMI port and gives you access to streaming apps such as Netflix, NOW TV, iPlayer and YouTube plus a range of games. You don’t need a remote control like the old days of television. Instead, you control the content via the Google Home app on your smartphone or PC.
It allows you to display web browsers from your phone on the television screen, as well as photos and videos stored on your smartphone.
There have been several generations of Chromecast released since 2014. The first was shaped like a flash drive. The current version, costing £20, is disc-shaped, which gives more potential for hiding it behind a television and up against a wall.
If you have a 4K television, then it is worth considering the Chromecast Ultra, which is set up for the more modern TV models. This costs more than double the first generation devices and is also disc-shaped for convenience. It comes with Google TV, which provides a useful interface for you to access your apps on your TV, and a voice-activated remote. The Google Home app is available for both Apple iOS and Android users wanting to use Chromecast.
If you are reading this article on an iPhone or Mac, sport an Apple Watch, and have drawers of old iPods stored away in your house, then here is another way to let Apple further into your life.
Apple TV brings iTunes and the Apple Store into your lounge or TV room or wherever you are watching television. The small box has an HDMI cable that plugs into the back of a TV. You will need to enter your iCloud account details and the device will then stream any music or video content from iTunes, and purchases or downloads from the Apple Store such as video games or Netflix. You also get access to original shows with Apple TV+ – Apple’s streaming service.
As with the Chromecast, you can also display pictures, web browser content and videos from your phone on the television using Airplay – Apple's wireless streaming app.
Apple TV comes with a remote, or you can control it using the Apple TV Remote app on your phone or Apple Watch.
The remote has Apple's virtual assistant Siri built in, so you can tell it what to do rather than having to press buttons. It's easier to use the Apple TV Remote app if you want to type – either when you want to search for content or need to enter user details on Netflix.
You can get the latest Apple TV for £139 or a 4K-ready model at £169.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick provides a smart TV device that has Alexa integrated. So you can tell your TV what to do and get it to search for your favourite shows on streaming apps such as Netflix or Prime Video. The stick plugs into an HDMI port and uses your wi-fi to access services.
You can also access Apple Music and Spotify using the Fire TV Stick, and Amazon Prime members will get access to exclusive shows such as The Grand Tour, along with channels including Discovery and Eurosport Player. Amazon provides access to most streaming channels except NOW TV.
You can control Alexa using the remote control that comes with the device. The remote will also let you pause, rewind and select shows, but when it comes to entering details, it may be easier to use the Fire TV Remote App’s keyboard as it will be less clunky than doing it on screen.
An HD Fire TV Stick costs £39.99, but they are often discounted during sales such as Black Friday.
NOW TV membership
The trouble with TV packages is you often end up paying for channels that you rarely ever watch. NOW TV has come up with a smart solution. You can simply buy a variety of what it calls Memberships to watch a collection of channels whenever you want.
The NOW TV Entertainment Membership offers 11 channels that are not available on Freeview such as Sky Atlantic and Comedy Central, as well as access to box sets from shows such as Modern Family and FOX’s NCIS. It also now includes Kids channels Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network along with thousands of on demand shows. The Entertainment Membership costs £9.99 per month after the initial seven-day free trial or after two months discounted to £4.99.
Film buffs can get a NOW TV Sky Cinema Membership, giving you access to more than 1,000 movies for £9.99 a month after the seven-day free trial.
Perhaps the most attractive option is a Membership for sports fans. NOW TV offers a Sky Sports Membership that gives you access to all the Sky Sports channels for one day for £9.98 or a one-month membership for £33.99. This means you can just pay to watch your favourite football team when their match is on, rather than paying each month for sport you aren’t interested in.
The Memberships provide more flexibility in your TV watching as you can cancel them after a month – there is no obligation for a long contract. Customers wanting to watch in HD can pay £3 per month extra for NOW TV Boost, which also permits you to watch your Membership on three devices at once instead of just two.
To watch NOW TV on your TV, you can buy a NOW TV Smart Stick, which you just plug into the HDMI port in the back or side of your TV. You can also watch your NOW TV Memberships on a number of different devices, from your phone to a games console – you can find the full list on the NOW TV site.
Roku TV Streaming Stick
If you are looking for a device that combines streaming apps such as Netflix, NOW TV and Amazon Prime Video, with low cost, then Roku may be the device for you.
It simply plugs into your TV’s HD port, connects to your internet and you will be ready to access free channels such as iPlayer and YouTube, stream music and use subscription services.
Roku offers several different versions of its device, starting at £29.99 for the basic Roku Express and going up to the premium Roku Streambar, which costs £129.99 and brings both streaming and cinematic sound with Dolby Audio to your TV. Every Roku comes with a remote control, or you can download the app and control it with your smartphone.
If you can’t decide between these devices, another option is to just buy a smart TV.
Brands such as LG and Samsung offer sets from around £200 upwards, depending on the size. These typically give you Freeview or Freeview Play that lets you pause, rewind and record as well as apps such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix. You can also download a whole range of other apps, some of which are free; others, like Netflix, will require a subscription.
The only downside is that you are limited to using the smart services on one set and if you ever change television you would need to buy another smart one to maintain the services.