What is a Smart TV?
The new main functionality in televisions of the last few years is the ability to do more than just watching television. In the most advanced TVs, you can connect them to the internet and browse the web like you would on a computer without the need of an additional peripheral. They also have a wide range of applications, from a Netflix stream player to a weather report. The goal of today's televisions is to have all your home entertainment sources in one device.
Keep in mind that these features are usually added as an afterthought. On most TVs, the applications can be slow and buggy. You usually have a better user experience with a dedicated device like an Apple TV or a Roku.
Do I need a Smart TV?
Not everyone needs a smart television; some only need a television to display the picture. You should consider getting a smart TV if:
- You want to watch Netflix, browse the web, see youtube videos, check the weather, etc. all on your television
- And you don't have already a device that could do the above if you plug it in your
- Video console (Xbox, PS3, Wii, Xbox One, PS4)
- HTPC (Home Theater Personal Computer)
- Entertainment device (Roku box, Apple TV, Google TV, Chromecast, etc.)
A Smart TV is really just incorporating existing things you can do with your television directly inside it, instead of using a third party device.
Which applications come with a Smart TV?
Not all televisions brands have the same applications and functionalities; it varies a lot. Some brands like LG have a full third party app store where you can even buy games from independent developers. Others come with only a limited set of official apps. You do not necessary need a lot of applications, but make sure the ones that you are planning to use (like Netflix) are there.
|Apps||Remote Control||Smartphone Remote App|
|LG||LG Apps (currently 610 apps, full list here)||
Magic Motion Remote (Except PM4700 and PM6700)
With Voice (LM8600 and LM9600 only)
|Panasonic||Viera Connect Apps (currently 76 apps, full list here)||Touch Pad Controller (WT50 and VT50 only)||Yes|
|Samsung||Samsung Apps (currently 876 apps, full list here)||Smart Touch Remote with Voice and Gesture control (ES7500, ES8000 and E8000 only)||Yes|
|Sharp||Limited set with no app store||Standard||Yes|
|Sony||Limited set with third party Yahoo Connect TV Apps (currently 207 apps, full list here)||Standard||Yes|
|Toshiba||Limited set with no app store||Separate wireless keyboard included||Yes|
|Vizio||Limited set with third party Yahoo Connect TV Apps (currently 207 apps, full list here)||QWERTY Remote||Adapter required (sold separately)|
Here is a table comparing the main apps across all smart TV platforms, Xbox, PS3 and Roku. This is not the full list thought, if you want an app not listed here go checkout the official list as linked above.
As you can see in the table, a Samsung Smart TV has a lot more apps than a Roku box, a PS3 or a Xbox. However, you might not actually need those additional apps, so if you already have a Roku box, you might not need a Smart TV.
LG Smart TV
LG has one of the most complete Smart TV experience. The main menu interface is divided into 4 main sections. The section to the left displays what you are currently watching. The center section, called Premium, is for streaming contents like Netflix. The right section is for 3D content. The other kinds of apps are shown at the bottom of the screen.
The LG Smart TV platform features a complete third party App Store, with currently 610 apps. The higher end models comes with the Magic Motion Remote with voice control. You can control the cursor with the special remote, as well as giving vocal commands.
Panasonic Smart TV
Panasonic did not change a lot its Smart TV interface for 2012. It still consists of a customizable stack of 7 apps per page, the center being reserved for a live footage and the bottom center for the app store. A strange caveat though, one of the spot need to be taken by an advertisement block. You can move it around, but you cannot complete remove it.
While more limited than the LG, Panasonic Smart TV still offer a third party app store, called Viera Connect Market, with currently 76 apps. The top of the lines models comes with the Viera Touch Pad, a touch sensitive remove that can be used to control a cursor.
Samsung Smart TV
Samsung put a lot of energy into its Smart TV platform for 2012. The main screen, called Smart Hub, features all your favorite apps and content. They got the biggest third party app store, for a current total of 798 apps.Samsung's Smart TV distinguishes itself mostly for the vast way you can interact with it.
Their special remote available on its best model, called the Smart Touch Remote, is the most advance of all manufacturers. You can use the track pad, give voice commands as well as execute gesture controls (with the models featuring a built-in camera).
Sharp Smart TV
Sharp has the most limited Smart TV offering. The Sharp Smart Central, as shown to the left, does not feature any third party store. You are stuck with the 12 native apps. One of them is called VUDU apps, which while might refer to being an app store by itself; it is a very limited version. You cannot download more apps; they come preinstalled in the VUDU interface.
Sharp does not have any special remotes that either comes with the TV or that you can buy. This makes surfing the web on it barely useable.
Sony Smart TV
Sony's Smart TV is also limited, but slightly less than Sharp. Like Vizio, they rely on the Yahoo Connect TV Apps store, which features 207 apps currently. This is on top of their native apps, which you cannot choose. Because they base the user experience on a third party company, Yahoo, to handle all its customizable apps, the apps feel a lot more disconnected than the rest.
Also, Sony does not have a special remote than can be used to navigate the web browser or Smart TV interface more effectively.
Toshiba Smart TV
Toshiba's Smart TV platform is even more limited then Sharp. It does not have a third party app store, and rely on the VUDU app to fill that need. You are basically stuck with the apps than comes preinstalled on your television, which is 7 apps total.
The only good thing about Toshiba's Smart TV is you can hook up a Bluetooth keyboard to browse the web. This simplifies a lot entering text in the browser, but without a good way to control the cursor it is still a bit of a pain.
Vizio Smart TV
Vizio's Smart TV is similar to Sony's. They both rely on the third party Yahoo Connect TV Apps store. Unlike all other brands though, Vizio does not have a full screen home page. Instead, a bar comes up at the bottom of the television featuring all available native apps.
To make things worse, you can only use your smartphone as a TV remote by buying an adapter. At least though, their normal remote has a QWERTY keyboard on it, so you can type text in the web browser faster.
How do I connect the television to the internet?
To have access to the television Smart TV features, you need to connect it to the internet. You will need to have access to the internet at home. If you don't want to plug in an Ethernet cable into it, you will need to have a Wi-Fi network.
Most smart televisions now come with a Wi-Fi receiver out of the box. You simply need to select your wireless network from the television settings menu and provide a password if necessary.
Televisions that are listed as Wi-Fi optional cannot connect to a Wi-Fi network directly. You will need to buy an additional adapter from the manufacturer of your television to connect it to your wireless internet.
The last option, and also the most common one, is via an Ethernet cable. Simply connect an Ethernet cable from your router to the television to have it access the internet. All Smart TVs should have that option.
Most televisions will come will a full web browser, allowing you to surf any page of the internet without needing a specific application. However, it is not all televisions that support Flash plug-ins. If your television doesn't, you will not be able to access any Flash-only website (although they are rare now).
How do I interact with the Smart TV?
The television remote is the main way of interacting with the television. When using a smart television, it is important to have a very user friendly remote. This is especially important when you are surfing the web in a browser because you will need to control a cursor and type text. If your television have a qwerty keyboard on it (full keys keyboard), it will be easier to enter large amount of text.
Is a Smart TV better than a standalone box?
Standalone boxes offer a few advantages compared to a smart television. For example, you can play games on an Xbox or PS3 console. A smart TV will always be behind standalone boxes in term of features; especially compared to a HTPC (home theater personal computer) because they are less flexible (you cannot install anything that you want on it). An independent device will always be better than an all-in-one, but depending on your need it might be overkill. A smart television is more than enough if you only want to watch Netflix movies.
The inconvenient of a standalone box is the added cost of the device as well as shelf space, which can be restricted if you are planning to install the television on your wall.
Smart TVs contains a lot of features and apps. If you do not already have a device connected to your TV which does this, you will appreciate having a Smart TV. Keep in mind that the software is still young, so some apps are buggy and not user friendly.
Have a question?
Ask your question here, or send us directly an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will help you find the best television for your own needs and budget.