What exactly is a Smart TV?

The term has come to denote any television that can be connected to the Internet to access streaming media services, and that can run entertainment apps, such as on-demand video-rental services, Internet music stations and Web browsers.

Virtually every major TV manufacturer makes a smart TV today, with the trend toward making every set “smart.” Budget sets from Chinese manufacturers offer smart features, including built-in Roku services. High-end models from Samsung have built-in video cameras, microphones, and voice and gesture recognition. Some of the biggest Smart-TV makers include LG, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, TCL, Toshiba and Vizio.

How do Smart-TVs connect to the Internet?

Smart-TVs use either a direct wired Ethernet connection, or built-in Wi-Fi to connect to a home network for Internet access. Most models today have built-in Wi-Fi, but check before you buy. For streaming movies, some sets support the latest and fastest 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard.

Check your home’s Wi-Fi coverage reaches all parts of the house where it is needed, or the set may not be able to stream video from Netflix or other providers without hiccups. In our testing, most Wi-Fi receivers in TVs are not as sensitive as those in set-top boxes, such as Roku.

If your Smart-TV isn’t getting a strong enough wireless signal, you have options. If your router is more than three years old, a new Wi-Fi router that supports 802.11ac could do the trick. There are Wi-Fi range extenders available from companies such as Netgear, but they require time and patience to set up and install. My personal experience helping members get these ‘extenders’ to work has been dire. Getting any wifi to work all around multi-level homes is a raffle. The best solution is to either network a wired connection or move the modem close to the TV and or office.

What services do Smart-TVs offer, and how do they differ from one another?

There is no standard operating system or interface for Smart-TVs. Nearly every Smart-TV maker uses different software and different graphical presentations. Some companies install different operating systems and interfaces on their low-end versus their high-end sets. Manufacturers also offer different assortments of online services and apps.

Most Smart-TVs support such popular services as Netflix & Amazon. However, some sets offer only a handful of apps that rarely change, while others deliver several screens of offerings ranging from MLB to Facebook to Stitcher. Some lower-priced models offer only the most popular apps, while higher-priced sets offer a complete array of services.

Manufacturers may be headed toward a Roku versus Android TV duopoly. Roku has an easy-to-use interface and access to thousands of streaming services. Sony offers Android TV, with scores of apps available and the significant support of Google.

If you decide on a Smart-TV rather than a set top box, get the shop to demonstrate the features of the ones you are interested in. What you like about one set may not be included in another.

Will my smart-TV maker regularly update the software with new features?

Most TV manufacturers add and customize apps on their own. Some TV companies are quicker than others at fixing the occasional bug, or working with developers to improve their apps. Sets that are powered by Roku and Android TV see fairly regular updates.

Most major manufacturers perform software updates periodically, including updates to the set’s own internal firmware (often downloaded automatically late at night). If one company adds a popular service, such as Twitter, the rest generally follow suit.

[Source = Nelson SeniorNet Newsletter, Phil Sinclair]

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