This article is a part of CNET’s collection of useful tips on making the most of your house both inside and out, called Home Tips.
No matter how old your television is, it is still feasible to update it with current capabilities, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. The term “smart TV” is another term for “streaming TV,” and devices that are compatible with it provide hundreds of streaming services, ranging from the Roku Channel, which is free, to more expensive alternatives to cable (YouTube TV).
All of the gadgets mentioned below will plug directly in if your television was produced after 2005 and has an HDMI connector. A cheap HDMI-to-AV adaptor could be required if the television is a bit older.
There is a smart TV gadget out there for you, ranging from soundbars to set-tops that support gaming to basic streaming adapters. Here are our top four picks.
For the cost of a takeout dinner, can your TV be made smart? The Roku Express 4K Express is simple to install on a spare HDMI port on your television and provides hundreds of applications. Our preferred smart TV interface is Roku, which is very simple to set up with your own applications.
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The voice-activated remote that comes with the Google Chromecast with Google TV may be used to operate other smart home appliances in addition to streaming media. In one way, the Google interface is superior than Roku’s since it reveals specific programs rather than requiring you to choose an app first.
With Google TV, you’re getting price notifications for Google Chromecast (HD)
Roku’s Streambar, a soundbar and 4K HDR streamer together, is a great way to “smartify” a bedroom TV with better sound and streaming all at once. Almost any television’s audio quality will be surpassed by this little speaker, which excels at enhancing difficult-to-understand conversation. The soundbar alone is a wonderful price with its current $30 reduction through Amazon, even if you don’t require the (great) streamer.
Read our evaluation of the Roku Streambar.
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The 2022 Apple TV 4K is the best choice for hardcore users because to its quick navigation and sufficient processing power to handle cloud gaming (or Steam Link). It has a more affordable starting price than previous generations, a redesigned Siri Remote powered by USB-C, and an updated A15 Bionic CPU. It is important to note that individuals who want Ethernet will have to pay more for the $149 128GB model.
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FAQs about smart TVs
To be really “smart,” a TV just has to be able to connect to the internet, at which point it becomes a “streaming television.” Even the most basic smart TV may provide music streaming from services like Spotify and Pandora in addition to video services like Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu.
Smart TVs may have more modern capabilities like voice operation, although they are not required to. Smart TVs precede smart speakers, which include voice assistants like Apple Siri and Amazon Alexa.
There are benefits to installing a third-party device even if your TV already has smart features built in, depending on when it was manufactured.
Separate streaming devices may continue to receive updates for many years but smart TVs normally only get updates for a few of years after they are created. For instance, if you plug in a 2016 Roku 3, it will get the most recent Netflix and Disney Plus releases.
Functionality that wasn’t available when your TV was manufactured may be added by a third-party device. For instance, the Roku Voice Remote Pro add-on doubles as a wireless headphone adaptor for usage at night in addition to providing a convenient voice-activated remote finder.
Do you need the internet for a smart TV?
The simple answer is that you will want internet—possibly wireless internet—in order to create a smart TV. Although there are some streaming devices with Ethernet ports, WiFi is the primary connecting method for the majority of streamers.
Make sure you have your Wi-Fi information on hand before purchasing a new smart device by writing down the name of your access point and the password. Check whether the gadget also requires the download of an app for your tablet or smartphone, since they might facilitate entering Wi-Fi information. After connecting the device to a spare HDMI port on your TV, follow the on-screen prompts. You got a smart TV now, congratulations!
What channels on a smart TV are free?
Numerous streaming channels and applications are available on smart TVs, many of which are available for free. There are several free services available for smart TVs; three examples are Roku Channel, Samsung TV Plus, and Vizio WatchFree Plus. Peacock on NBC and Tubi on Fox stand out because they provide a ton of free material and, in certain instances, provide unique programs like Australian Lego Masters. Here is a comparison of the top free TV streaming services by CNET.