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How to turn your TV into a smart TV

By Marc Shoffman | Tuesday, June 6th 2023

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.

Roku streaming devices

If you are looking for a cheap, straightforward device that allows you to watch a wealth of streaming apps then Roku, now one of the most popular streaming devices on the market, may be the ideal option for you. Roku offers pretty much any app you could want, from the usual freebies such as iPlayer, My5 and ITVX to premium subscription apps including Netflix, NOW TV, Apple TV+, Spotify, Disney+, BT Sport, Britbox and Prime Video. Everything under one roof.

Roku 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. Even better, it works with Apple AirPlay, Apple Home, Alexa and Google Home.

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 in 4K HDR 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.


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.

The Chromecast dongle 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.

Apple TV

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 set-top 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 can also get access to original shows with Apple TV+ – Apple’s streaming service – for a subscription fee.

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 iPhone. Customers with an Android phone will have to use Chrome or Firefox web browsers to access the Apple TV website and sign in with their Apple TV.

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 with 4K for £149.

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, Apple TV+, NOW TV, Disney+ and 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 all the most popular streaming channels.

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.

A 4K Max Fire TV Stick costs £38.99, but it is often discounted during sales such as Black Friday.

Smart televisions

If you can’t decide between these devices, and you’re prepared to splash out, 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 you want. These typically give you Freeview channels 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 and NOW TV, will require a subscription.

Any subscription services that you sign up for, you will also be able to watch on other devices, subject to the membership tier you choose. NOW TV offers its Boost add-on which allows you to stream its content on three devices at the same time, and Netflix offers its Premium service which allows you to watch on four devices at once. This means you aren’t limited to watching your paid-for content on your smart TV.

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