Recently, what with all the talk of smartphones and tablets and ever-cheaper computers, you might be forgiven for thinking that the humble TV’s heyday was over. But it isn’t.
In fact, if you think about it, the TV is more important than ever. It’s the ‘core display’ for the average house, the place where we consume our highest quality content, share our creativity with the largest number of people, and – not insignificantly – play games.
Your TV is important, but a big dumb display just doesn’t cut it anymore. There’s more to do on a big screen than just sit slack-jawed at the latest sitcom.
Today’s TVs are computers in their own right, super-tablets that can be gesture-controlled, even voice-controlled. They’re a communication hub, a place for sharing memories and connecting families, and they provide an entertainment experience that rivals a commercial cinema.
These new TVs are called smart TVs. And here we count down the 10 top reasons for why you need one.
10. Most new TVs have some kind of smart functionality
This is a slightly trite way to start this list, but the fact is most new TVs you buy today will have some level of ‘smart’ features.
Whether it’s wireless networking so you can play your movie collection off a hard drive attached to your router, or a smattering of basic apps like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
What these more basic TVs might lack though is the ability to install new apps, use a connected camera, or watch a show while tweeting about it on the same screen.
9. It’s the best device for almost every kind of content
A high-end smart TV with a 1920 x 1080 display and the latest in image processing technology is far and away the best environment to experience almost any content you can think of. Pair it up with an AV receiver and a decent set of speakers, and you have a true audiovisual powerhouse.
A smart TV can play Blu-ray movies with a proper 24p refresh rate, smooth live TV with various image interpolation technologies, boost colour and contrast with localised dimming of its LED backlights, and much more.
Beyond the technical stuff, the app-based front-end means you can use the TV to browse music collections both on your home network and on the internet at large, and pipe the music to a high-end AV receiver via HDMI. Since everything is digital, your smart TV can provide a genuine audiophile and videophile experience.
And a smart TV is good at the internet too. Everything is streamlined, and your favourite sites are just a couple of button-presses away.
Even communications work great on a smart TV – Skype moves out from the cramped study and into the comfortable lounge room, where everyone can contrive to look elegant draped across couches, rather than all hunched up on a swivel chair.
8. It puts your content in the cloud
Several smart TV manufacturers have a loud solution for your content, and it usually works in concert with their other devices.
For instance, you might have an option from within your digital camera to save pictures to your cloud account. Then, you can use a smart TV to view those pictures on the big screen – no downloads or transfer, just direct access to storage space online.
It also means that instead of painstakingly loading your multi-gigabyte photo and movie collection onto a new TV or needing to upgrade your external hard drive, everything just goes up on the xloud and you can access it… from any TV, anywhere.
Cloud services are brand specific in some cases now, though, so keep an eye on that: if you want to switch brands later, you might have to upload all your content again.
7. It makes TV watching social – beyond the home
There’s a rising trend to tweet and post on Facebook about the current episode of whatever reality TV hit is tearing up the airwaves, as the show goes to air.
Until now, this has meant either having a notebook PC open on the coffee table, or using a smartphone or tablet.
Smart TVs of course have all the big social media apps, but more than that they support picture-in-picture control. So you can watch the big game, or the latest episode of Competitive Cooking and Renovation Show, and keep an eye on a Twitter feed or Facebook chat on the side, with the chat or trending Twitter topic that goes nationwide, or even global.
Worried about input? Smart TVs also support USB keyboards, and some support Bluetooth wireless keyboard connections too. There are even TVs where the remote has a keyboard on the back, for the ultimate in streamlined access.
6. It eliminates all those boxes…
For the last decade, the number of so-called set-top boxes attached to our TV has grown and grown.
First there was Pay TV, then an HD digital receiver, then a personal video recorder, then a games console, then something that lets you connect your tablet, phone or camera to the TV, then a Bluetooth dongle.
A smart TV eliminates almost all of these boxes: it has multiple built-in HD TV receivers, it can record TV to a thumbdrive or attached HDD, it communicates with compatible phones and tablets via WiFi or Bluetooth.
And most of all, apps onboard mean you can receive on-demand pay TV services on some smart TVs for a fraction of the cost of a dedicated box and its associated installation cost.
In fact the only thing a smart TV doesn’t have rolled into it is a hardcore gaming console like the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. But there are game apps, for a bit of casual fun.
5. It can be upgraded as new features are released
Increasing numbers of smart TVs are being sold with expansion ports in the back.
The idea is that once the manufacturer invents a new interface, new app features, or other enhancements independent of the actual LCD display, then you can plug in a special module to upgrade. The module contains a new CPU and can also include new memory and other components, which bypass the CPU on the TV’s original motherboard.
This gives the TV a longer lifespan in your home, as you can bet advances in features and processing power will happen a lot faster than advances in display technology.
Upgrade modules give you peace of mind that the TV won’t be made obsolete in 18 months like that $5000 1080p plasma you bought a year ago…
4. It’s the ultimate videophone
You might think of Skype or other videocall services on a TV as being kind of a fun gimmick, but it turns out this is one of the best ways to communicate long-distance.
Virtually free, it’s easy to get connected (just a few clicks of the remote) and you’ll be surprised how relaxed and natural chatting in a lounge room environment can be. No awkward chin-shots from an upward-pointing webcam on a notebook screen, no collapsing tablet stands, no job-interview-like desk-to-desk study call.
Just you on the couch, chilling and chatting naturally with someone else on a couch.
Of course if they’re using a smartphone or a tablet their head can look pretty giant on your 55 inch TV, but hey – at least you look good.
3. It has the best versions of some apps
Well of course this is a statement up for debate, though mostly from app power-users who live on their tablets or at their PCs. But for our money, YouTube on a TV is YouTube as it was meant to be.
The implementation of YouTube differs between manufacturers, but some have gone to great lengths to make the interface work well with a standard-style TV remote, and most importantly make it really fast to choose different videos, which is of course what YouTube is all about.
There are lots of other apps which really lend themselves better to the big screen of the TV rather than any other format. Weather and news apps are obvious, but anything that relies on the passive consumption of large amounts of content is just more comfortable and simpler on a TV.
2. It makes managing your content much simpler
These days, you have lots of content to deal with. Movies, music, pictures, social media accounts, email and the rest of it. Subscriptions to various websites. Pay TV content. Rented movies, bought movies, the list goes on and on.
Without a smart TV, you need several devices in several different parts of the house to manage all this content. A PC for some, various HDMI-equipped boxes for others. Music has always been a completely separate thing, accessible via TVs for a few years now, but hardly fun to browse on a menu with hardly any features.
A smart TV, with its app-based interface, brings all of these things into the one device.
Of course you can still listen to music on your smartphone, but you can manage your home audio via your smart TV, with a clean interface that displays lots of information about the track you’re listening to.
Various movie apps let you hire movies and watch them right there, and let you keep track of your movie-watching habits or subscription services that offer unlimited content per month.
And as we mentioned, with a smart TV you can subscribe to those pay TV channels you actually want – though again this depends on the model you end up choosing.
1. A smart TV is the best TV
You might think that since a smart TV is in some ways a giant tablet with HD tuners in it, that a true videophile-grade TV will not be ‘smart’ and will instead concentrate on core features like picture quality.
But in fact manufacturers are putting all their best technology into their top-tier TVs, and that includes smart functionality.
The best smart TVs are 3D, have advanced picture quality features like localised dimming, plus all kinds of image-processing circuitry to increase the quality of dodgy signals (like DVD and YouTube), smooth motion on live TV, and make sure a Blu-ray movie plays at the frame rate its director intended.
A TV is not a mobile phone. There are TVs that ‘just receive TV’, but they are cheaper and less capable than their smart cousins – in every way.
When you buy a smart TV, you don’t just get apps and Twitter, you get the latest in display technology, the most powerful circuitry, the best image quality… you just get the best TV.