How to make any TV a smart TV
IFA, the international gadget expo, kicks off once more in Berlin next week, but we already know what the big story is going to be: smart TVs. Internet connected TV screens that pipe through all sorts of video on demand and then some: everyone from Samsung to Philips will be vying to prove to punters just why their smart TV is the smartest.
But the big brands aren’t telling you something: the TV you have in your living room is already smart. It’s really easy to turn your flatscreen into a web TV with gear you likely have already, for free. Read on, and we’ll show you how.
Got a games console?
Got an Xbox 360 or Sony PS3? Then you’ve got the best smart TV money can buy already. Both have access to a whole range of services already, including BBC iPlayer, YouTube, 4oD, Lovefilm, Netflix and movie rental stores to call their own (The Xbox also boasts Demand Five on top of that), and both can stream media straight from your PC. Sony’s games console can even be controlled with the remote control that comes with most modern TVs. Both offer up a lot of content in HD, though Xbox users will have to pay the Gold subscription (£28 per year) for everything other than BBC iPlayer.
You can even get some of the same services on the Nintendo Wii as well, though not in high definition. Movie streaming service Netflix and BBC iPlayer are both available in the Wii Shop Channel, and if you want to stream your own video from a PC, you can even use a free application called Orb. It needs a little bit of set up – you can find instructions here.
Some Blu-ray players (particularly Sony and Samsung models) and Freeview boxes also come with web services built in, so have a look in their instruction manuals to find out.
Check out how to stream media to your TV below
Tablet double duty
If you’ve got a tablet to hand, you’ve probably got another smart TV option too. Every generation of Apple’s iPad can be hooked up to a TV using the official Digital AV Adapter, so you can play back anything you can view on your iPad on your HD TV, from iTunes TV show downloads to iPlayer and YouTube videos.
Got an Android tablet? If it’s got an HDMI (high definition multimedia interface) slot then you can do exactly the same, and watch Flash video on any website too. You probably won’t have the right cable in the box, but you can pick up a micro HDMI cable on Amazon for under £2. The one tablet that doesn’t offer this, sadly, is the new Google Nexus 7 from Asus. But fret not, there are more ways to get yourself a smart TV…
Use your phone
If you’ve not got a tablet, a modern smartphone might also solve the problem for you. Apple’s iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S work with its Digital AV Adapter in exactly the same way so you can hook them up with ease and play all your videos and stream from apps.
If you’ve got an Android phone meanwhile you might be in luck too. Some older Android phones, including Sony’s Xperia Arc and Arc S, use the same micro HDMI connection as Android tablets – and they can even be bossed about by your TV’s remote so you can order it all from the comfort of your sofa.
Newer top of the range phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S3, S2 and HTC One X meanwhile all work with a regular sized HDMI cable, but you’ll need something called an MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) adapter to connect it. These cost under ten pounds online, but once it’s plugged in, work exactly the same way.
Plug in your laptop
Just like a tablet, you can always plug in your laptop straight to your TV to stream web video like a smart TV. Some laptops have a HDMI connection so a regular HDMI cable will do the trick, while other olders will only have a VGA connector (15-pins in three rows) or a DVI connector (29 pins). If your TV doesn’t have either of these, you can get an HDMI adaptor for both that’ll share your laptop’s screen to your TV, though you might need a separate audio cable too (like this one).
Many new TVs are “Wi-Fi Ready”, meaning they can be connected to the internet, but you’ll have to buy a little USB dongle to plug in and hook them up to your network. Have a look in the instruction manual and see if yours is and be sure to shop around: you can get good deals online, and some accept third party equivalents.
If you’ve not got any of these, don’t despair: you can make your current TV a smart TV with one of many little set top boxes. There’s Roku’s superb £50 box with BBC iPlayer, Netflix and more, the Apple TV with iTunes and Netflix for £99 and Microsoft’s entry level Xbox 360 costs £139.99. Check out our reviews of them all to find out which is the right one for you.
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