Over the last few weeks I've looked at the basics of Internet-connected TVs, the available App stores and the newest top of the line models. Now here’s some ideas and tips to make the most of your Smart TV experience — from using your tablet as a second screen to utilising Powerline networking.
Gizmodo's Smart TV Buying Guide
- Part 1: Basics You Need To Know
- Part 2: App Stores Compared
- Part 3: Latest Models Roundup
- Part 4: Smart TV Tips And Tricks
OK, every TV comes with its own remote control. But batteries run out, people fight over whose turn it is with the remote, and sometimes it just plain vanishes behind the sofa for weeks at a time.
There's no end of universal remotes — Logitech's Harmony brand being perhaps the best known — but a networked TV isn't just limited to plain old IR control anyway. Sony, Samsung, LG and Panasonic all have Android and iPhone/iPad apps that take advantage of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and our handheld touchscreens. Definitely recommend giving these or the third party apps out there a try!
Use Your Tablet
I also have to mention Sony's Tablet S, which can act as a massive remote control not only for Sony TVs but also a wide variety of other brands.
Also cool: Samsung's Android app lets Galaxy Tab tablets (and phones like the Galaxy S II) serve not only as a remote control, but also as a game controller or second screen for newer Samsung Smart TVs. The TV encodes the stream and sends it wirelessly to the app. You can flip through channels and input sources without interrupting someone watching the TV itself. That'd save arguments in my house. Here's SlashGear's hands-on:
Most TV maker apps also stream video from your tablet/phone to your TV. At the worst, there are third party options like Twonky Beam Browser (Android and iOS).
Big Screen Skype
Second screens aside, Skype is one of those killer features that really showcases Smart TVs. You'll need a compatible webcam, but video conferencing on the big screen (versus a laptop connected to a TV) can be convenient and great fun if you've got a family member interstate or overseas. Each of the TV app stores offer the app; see Skype's TV page for more.
Smart TVs feature either a built-in Ethernet port or Wi-Fi dongle option, but having a port and having a network to connect it to are quite different things. There are few ways to consider hooking up your Smart TV to your network.
Most vendors also offer Wi-Fi adaptors (if not already built into your TV), and that's generally a low-fuss way. Entering a wireless passwords into a TV is usually a once off, though you may hit streaming issues for high quality video over Wi-Fi.
Your secondary option here is to use any of a number of powerline products to bridge a connection between your TV and router. Again, results will vary depending on the quality of your wiring and relative wiring positions of TV and router, but the benefit with powerline is that it's rather binary; it'll either work simply by plugging, or not at all.
Finally, while it's not the prettiest solution, a long length of Ethernet cable, some tape and a covering rug or two can always work in a pinch.
Desktop Media Servers
Between the DLNA PC software bundled with Smart TVs (and built-in Windows 7 and OS X capabilities), streaming movies and music from your computer to your TV isn't the hassle it used to be.
Still, many users also turn to dedicated media server software – and there's a lot out there. One place to start is Plex, which bring in iTunes music, provides a stylish media centre on your Mac or PC, and works with LG and Samsung TVs. Yep, game consoles are a great streaming option if you've got an older TV, but more those in a minute. Speaking of older TVs though...
Upgrade Your Existing TV
There's a couple of different ways to get Smart TV — or similar functionality — onto an existing TV.
Firstly, LG sells the ST600 Smart TV Upgrader; that'll eat up an HDMI port on any TV (not just LG models) and add LG's suite of Smart TV services to it in return.
Then there are Internet-capable Blu-ray players that'll give your TV access to Smart TV functionality. These Blu-ray players are available from the usual suspects: Sony, Panasonic and Samsung – and present a really affordable way to dive into a connected lounge room. If you've got one of these, let us know what you think of it below.
Finally, there's been an explosion of Smart TV-like services across both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. And bonus, they play awesome games. But while improving (QuickFlix is coming to the PS3 for instance), console streaming options remain somewhat limited in Australia. Giz loves us some couch time, so you know we're watching the TV space closely. We'll keep you posted.