Hi Gizmodo, My boyfriend and I have moved in together, and we need a smart (ish?) TV that's good but cheap. Does such a thing exist? Thanks, Gen.
Ask Gizmodo deals with the especially tricky tech in our lives. If you've got a burning question about networking or home entertainment or building a new PC, get in touch using the contact form at the end of this article!
Hi Gen, such a thing does absolutely exist. Smart TVs have been a thing in Australia for about five years now; in 2009 and 2010, when they were new and exciting, 'smart' TVs were set apart from 'dumb' ones by the fact that they had built-in Wi-Fi and ran on-screen menus with integrated Web browsers and apps for services like YouTube.
The basic idea with a smart TV is that you can buy one device, one big screen, and have it display all your entertainment -- live TV, movies or TV off a USB hard drive, and streaming from YouTube or Netflix, Stan and so on -- without having to buy a Blu-ray player or plug your laptop in with cords running all over the place.
My personal preference for smart TVs throughout 2015 has been for the interface and app line-ups of LG, Sony and Samsung -- not in any particular order, but you should be impressed with whatever you see from each. Each smart TV is different -- If those don't float your boat, look at Panasonic; avoid cheaper no-name brands like Soniq if you want a smooth experience.
Coming into Christmas is actually a pretty good time to buy a TV; new models are released around April-June, so 2015 screens are starting to get their first big discounts around about now. The big question is how much you want to spend. You can get a half-decent smart TV for as little as $600 -- like this 32-inch LG, this 32-inch Samsung, or this 32-inch Sony -- but if you want size, you'll pay more. For a 50- to 55-inch screen, set aside $1000 to $1500 and you'll be spoiled with choices -- like this 49-inch LG, this 55-inch Samsung, or this 55-inch Sony. Try everything before you buy it, so you know what you're getting.
A few things to keep in mind: if you're trying to save money, don't bother looking at Ultra HD (4K) smart TVs. If you want an all-in-one smart TV, make sure it has apps that work well for the services you want like Netflix, or even music streaming like Spotify. Choose the right size screen for the room. Make sure your home Wi-Fi is good enough to support streaming from YouTube or Netflix or Stan.
There's also another, entirely different way to go about it too, which doesn't rely on your buying a smart TV and being locked in to its app ecosystem. You could buy a $49 Google Chromecast dongle. A Chromecast is essentially a wireless video streaming stick that connects to your home's network over Wi-Fi and takes orders from your smartphone -- and those orders come from any Chromecast-compatible app on your smartphone, tablet or Chrome web browser on your PC. The Netflix app for iOS or Android, for example, will sense a Chromecast on your network and give you the option to select a video on your phone, but watch it on your TV. This way, you could buy a non-smart TV and make it smart with a Chromecast.
There's actually a new Google Chromecast coming out soon in Australia which supports faster 5GHz, 802.11ac Wi-Fi networks (as well as the older, longer-range 2.4GHz 802.11n that most Wi-Fi routers use), but for most users the difference will be minimal, so there's no point holding off and saving your pennies for the new one. A similar, more expensive but quote-unquote smarter solution to the Chromecast for Apple glitterati is the $269 Apple TV, which will mirror your iPad or iPhone but that also has a bunch of streaming TV and media apps built in. (The older, $129 version is also just fine, too, if you're trying to save cash).
Questions, comments, tips? You can find me on Twitter at @csimps0n.