Posted by: Laura
Smart TV represents the dawn of a new era in technology. An era where all of our digital entertainment and more besides is contained within one device, the very device we used to watch it. The 'Smart' adage works in much the same way as it does when referring to a phone, in that what we have here is not simply a TV, but a TV with its own operating system, which will become the hub of your living room, in much the same way your smartphone is the hub of your social life.
In essence, a Smart TV gives users all the functionality of a tablet, only on their TV screens, with everything from social networking and web browsing, to gaming and media streaming available via 'apps' that can be downloaded to the system's onboard memory. It's the perfect amalgamation of television and computer, it's what the home entertainment experience was always supposed to be, and it's available right here, right now, for a deceptively affordable price. Indeed, the vast majority of newer mid to high-end televisions on sale now will have been built with Smart functionality, so if you're considering purchasing a new TV in the near future, chances are you'll be joining the Smart TV revolution by default!
How do they work?
They work in much the same way as a digital set top box or tablet device, in that each Smart TV will run on its own operating system. Once it's booted up you'll be presented with a 'hub' screen, through which you'll be able to access everything from your TV listings, web browser and apps, to films, photos and audio you've imported into the TV yourself. This hub will be completely customisable, so that everything you use on a more regular basis is right there waiting for you as soon as you turn the set on.
What do you need?
In theory, the major selling point of a Smart TV is that it's the only thing you need in your living room. If you have an existing subscription to a digital TV service such as Virgin Media or Sky+, you'll be able to connect these boxes to your TV through HDMI, but with the range of services and Freeview channels included, you might want to consider scrapping your subscription package altogether! It's also worth noting that you will need a broadband connection in order to access your TV's app store and web browser. Finally, if you are strongly against paying for a TV licence (if Noel Edmunds can say it, why can't you?), as long as you solely stream your content online, you don't actually require a licence! If you want to stream content from your computers, phones or tablets to your screen, meanwhile, there are numerous connections that can all be purchased online for a minimal cost.
What are they capable of?
They are capable of replacing your games console or set top as the centrepiece of your living room. The firmware is constantly being upgraded as more and more people adopt the format too, so it's very much a future-proof system with very few drawbacks, aside from the fact your Smart TV might take a few seconds longer to boot up than the old 15 inch CRT TV in your conservatory. TV, films and radio options are really just the tip of the iceberg (though that's not to say they are not covered, and covered well), with the TVs acting as natural, easy-to-use hubs from which to access your emails, social networking profiles, health and fitness regime and more. The software is also designed to be user-friendly, which means it's the perfect way for parents to introduce young children to the wonders of modern technology!
Though the term 'app' was first coined by Apple, with their 'App Store' for their iPhone and iPad devices, the term itself has evolved to refer to any application accessed through a smart device. This includes Smart TVs. It's true that most Smart TV app stores won't give you access to the wealth of apps available on the app store or Android's 'Play' store, but that's because these devices are not running Android or iOS, but their very own dedicated operating systems. The 'Smart TV Alliance' is working to simplify the process, by trying to convince app developers and electronics firms such as LG, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba and Samsung, to use a single approval system, which will mean more apps coming to Smart TVs without having to be engineered for and approved by numerous Smart TV operating systems. Until the alliance reaches its goals, however, there are still hundreds of apps available for modern Smart TVs, including some of the 'big names', below we'll highlight some of the most notable.
Netflix – The grandaddy of TV and movie streaming services, Netflix is well on its way to sending rental services into the stone ages. Online streaming has rapidly overtaken traditional rental plans, primarily because it's not only better value, but is just so much more convenient. With thousands of quality (and not so quality) films and TV box-sets, as well as their own incredible original shows, Netflix is the present, the past and the future of television all wrapped up in one, incredibly functional application.
Facebook/Twitter – Social networking have been the 'breakout' cultural phenomenon of the technological age, and now, with your Smart TV, you can stay connected to your Facebook and Twitter profiles with little more than the press of a button on your remote! By integrating all of your media into one device, you'll also be able to share videos, films and more with the rest of your social circle and the rest of the world via your TV. The possible applications are potentially limitless and have only just begun to be explored by the app's developers.
YouTube – It's thought that most teenagers actually watch more content on YouTube than they do on their television sets, but now the two can finally coexist. YouTube is less of an application, more of a bonafide phenomenon, which continues to flourish and thrive as its users find more ingenious ways in which to utilise it as a creative platform and a community.
Skype – Video conferencing using your television is the kind of thing we've been dreaming about since Back to the Future 2, but the truth is, it's already here, and it already works wonderfully. Of course, your television will of course need a camera attachment in order to use Skype, but many newer Smart TVs come with cameras built in. Even if yours doesn't, it'll be a small price to pay to truly experience the future of communication in your own home!