Advice Guide

What is smart TV?

by Andrew Laughlin Back to advice guides

Access apps such as BBC iPlayer, stream films on Netflix or browse your favourite websites on the big screen - you can do all this with a smart TV.

Price

Smart TVs are available from just a few hundred pounds, but can cost over £2,000

Pros

Access to extra services, such as apps, video streaming and web browsing, on your TV

Cons

Smart TV services are not always easy to use, video streaming quality can depend on your broadband

Whatever price, type or brand you're after, we’ve got you covered with our expert and independent TV reviews.

Smart TVs let you access apps, browse the web and stream internet video right from the comfort of your sofa. They are becoming more common, with a wide range of models to choose from, including Best Buy smart TVs for affordable prices. 

In this guide, we explain how smart TVs work, analyse the best brands and help you choose the best one for you.

Smart TV: what are the benefits?

A smart TV is cleverer than your average HD TV – if you connect it to the internet, you can access an exciting range of additional services. Most smart TVs will offer the following:

  • TV and films: stream the latest blockbuster movies on Netflix and NOW TV, or catch up on must-see TV programme using BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, Channel 4's 4oD.
  • Social networking: keep up with friends via Facebook and Twitter on your TV - read, post and tweet without interrupting your viewing.
  • Web browsing: some smart TV models have web browsers allowing you to surf the internet and view web pages, images and videos on the big screen.

"If you want to stream video on your smart TV, it's best to go for an unlimited broadband package to avoid any excess data charges."

Smart TV: What you’ll need

  • Internet connection: you’ll need a broadband connection to get your smart TV online. Connect it to up using either an ethernet cable, or wi-fi if the TV has it. You'll need a decent broadband speed if you want to stream video, and it's best to go for a unlimited package so you can avoid any excess changes for exceeding your data limit.
  • TV licence: you don't need a licence to watch TV over the internet if it's purely on-demand - ie, not live. However, you do need one if you're watching live TV in your home, regardless of whether it is on a computer or a smart TV.
  • Home networking capability: if you want to wirelessly connect your TV to other devices, such as your PC or mobile phone, then you'll need to have all the right bits and pieces. Head to our TV connections tool to get your home network up and running.

How to make your current TV smart

If you don’t want to splash out on a new smart TV, there are affordable ways to get internet services on your current TV. These include:

  • Set-top boxes: some boxes allow you to connect to the internet, transforming your standard, run-of-the-mill TV into a smart TV for a fraction of the cost. There are a range of boxes available that can access video on-demand, catch-up TV and other internet apps, such as Sky's Now TV streaming box. Check our set top box reviews for more.
  • YouView: a subscription-free service, launched in 2012, that combines Freeview digital TV with the internet catch-up TV services from all four main broadcasters (BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5). The YouView set-top box can be purchased standalone, or bundled with broadband deals from BT and TalkTalk
  • Computer: if you connect your PC to your TV, you can use it as a large computer monitor. For this, you’ll need an analogue VGA input. Some TVs can be connected via a digital input, either a DVI socket, or more commonly via an HDMI input configured for PC screen resolutions (check your TV manual for instructions on this). If your PC only has a DVI output, HDMI to DVI cables are available online, costing just a few pounds.

Smart TV brands

Smart TVs are available from four main manufacturers: LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba. Each brand offers its own unique smart TV package and each has it's own strengths and weaknesses.

Samsung smart TV

Samsung smart TVs offer apps from all the major UK catch-up TV services - BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5. You can also stream movies via Netflix and LoveFilm, or use social networking apps such as Facebook and Twitter. Alongside a good range of pre-loaded apps, Samsung TVs have an app store for you to download more.

You can usually browse the web on Samsung smart TVs, and some of the higher-end models have special remote controls with laptop-style trackpads for controlling the features. This is useful, as our testing has revealed that it can be tricky to do tasks with just a standard Samsung remote control.

LG smart TV

LG’s smart TV service lacks popular catch-up TV apps such as ITV Player and 4oD, but has a good range of services available, including Sky’s Now TV, plus an app store for you to download others. LG’s smart TV hub makes it easy to organise apps by favourites, but the home dashboard is quite cluttered - the pages are all packed with icons, which can be confusing at first.

LG's magic wand remote control works a bit like a computer mouse, with a moveable cursor on screen. It makes it easier to operate the smart TV functions, but it’s only included free on the pricier TVs, otherwise you’ll have to buy it separately, while some models don't support it at all. 

Sony smart TV

Sony’s own Video Unlimited service comes pre-loaded on Sony smart TVs, offering films and other video content to watch. There are also apps for Netflix, LoveFilm, BBC iPlayer and Demand 5, but no ITV Player or 4oD. Plus, Sony does not offer a dedicated app store for downloading extra apps.

Navigating the smart TV features with Sony’s standard remote control can be a pain, so Sony has introduced a special remote featuring a laptop-style trackpad for more easily doing tasks. However, we’ve found that it’s still not that easy to get around and the web browser remains a source of frustration.

Panasonic smart TV

Panasonic’s smart TV service benefits from a recent redesign and now offers web browsing and a variety of apps; including Twitter, BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, Netflix and YouTube. Panasonic TVs can be personalised to the individual members of your household through the use of Home Screens.

The TVs also benefit from a ‘Swipe & Share’ feature, which allows the transfer of content from a smartphone to the TV (and vice versa). From our recent testing, we've found Panasonic's smart TV service OK to use, although it's remote controls could be much better.

Toshiba smart TV

Toshiba’s smart TV service, called Cloud TV, has no app store and you only get a few apps pre-loaded on the TV, but there are popular services available, such as BBC iPlayer, Netflix and YouTube.

Cloud TV has some decent features, such as a personalised ‘home’ screen and a service that gives extra information on the shows and films you’re watching. It’s just a shame that the Cloud TV menus are often laggy and the system is quite tricky to navigate with Toshiba’s remote control.