How to buy the best Smart TV What is Smart TV?
Fancy streaming rental films directly to your TV without the hassle of visiting the rental store or posting DVD returns? How about surfing Google maps, sharing web photo albums or making a Skype video conference via your living room’s big screen? With the latest generation of internet-connected, or Smart TVs, you can.
Smart TV is the catch-all term for internet TVs. For many new TVs this means access to a collection of apps, an app store for adding more, a web browser and access to home network files all rolled into one interface.
To do all this, the TV has to be able to connect to the internet. This is done by connecting it to your router and broadband via an ethernet cable, or wirelessly with wi-fi.
Some smart TVs have wi-fi built-in, others are 'wi-fi ready'. Wi-fi ready usually means that you need to buy a separate wi-fi dongle costing around £50 for the wireless connection to work.
Which? lab tests the most popular smart TVs to find which are the best. Click the following links to see how the latest models performed.
What do I get when I connect?
This depends on the brand of TV you buy. All smart TVs launched in the last couple of years offer a series of apps, such as YouTube, Facebook, Skype and BBC iPlayer. There's also access to an app store for adding more.
Many smart TVs, particularly more expensive ones, also allow you to surf the web using a remote to control and the TV to view your pages.
Check our Smart TV brand page to find out who offers what.
What are apps?
Smart TVs, like smartphones, are usually micro-websites to make accessing and using them easier. Two of the most common pre-loaded apps on smart TVs are BBC iPlayer and YouTube.
YouTube on your TV looks slightly different to the web version and the exact layout and design depends on your brand of TV.
Lower quality YouTube videos don't look good as the TVs big screen emphasizes picture quality flaws. However there are plenty of high-definition clips to choose from too.
The BBC’s iPlayer app lets you access seven days’ worth of BBC radio and TV programmes, including HD (high-definition) channels, but you can’t record any of this to a DVD or hard disk.
On-demand video through film rental services, such as LoveFilm and AceTrax let you stream films directly to your TV. It’s a virtually hassle-free way to watch films, although you pay for what you watch. Picture quality, though, is not quite on a par with that produced by the DVD-through-the-post method.
Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter both produce Smart TV apps and photo-sharing apps by Picasa and Flickr are fairly commonplace, too.
Most brands come with a similar line-up of pre-loaded apps, usually including some or all of the above but the quality of the apps on offer can vary by brand.
Find out more about watching iPlayer on your TV with our helpful guide.
What about surfing the web on a Smart TV?
Some smart TVs also offer you a full web browsing experience via your TV. This means instead of being restricted to just apps you can visit any website, just like you would on a normal internet-enabled laptop.
However, we wouldn't recommend buying a Smart TV based on wanting to surf the web as the experience tends to be fiddly and clunky, especially when using the standard TV remote control. Manufacturers are coming up with solutions to make it easier, including remote touchpads, virtual on-screen keyboards, smartphone and tablet apps and plug-in USB keyboards.
Connecting to your home network
If your TV has an ethernet port the chances are it will be DLNA compliant. This allows you to connect to a computer network in your house, letting you stream digital media such as photos, music and video straight to your TV.
The DNLA bit is an industry-wide standard which means enabled devices (be it your TV, computer or mobile phone) can share the content.
To find out more take a look at our DLNA explained guide.
What's the difference between a Smart TV and Internet TV?
They're really the same thing. Both connect to the internet and let you access web based and home network content. Smart TVs are just the latest incarnation.
The name reflects the increase in content available (web pages, app stores) and evolution of one catch-all interface to help navigate everything.