Beginner's guide to smart TVs

From our phones to our tablets and computers, these days we are connected almost no matter where we are. The latest tech to get the 'smart' treatment is the TV, but what does it do, do you need one, and what should you buy? We check out the options.


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What is smart TV?
Simply put, a smart TV is one that is connected to the Internet. Just like your smartphone, it effectively has a built-in computer, allowing the user access to a greater number of services such as web browsers, live streaming, games and video calls.

What are the benefits?
The greatest advantage of a smart TV is that you can do many of the things you're used to doing on your phone, tablet or computer, but without having to squint to see or move to the desk. From the comfort of your sofa, you can stream movies and TV shows direct to your big screen, browse the Web, buy, download and use apps and games, make Skype calls, and do all your social networking.

Getting connected
Just like a computer, a smart TV requires an internet connection via an internet service provider (ISP), and given the type of content you're likely to be streaming, the faster the connection, the better.

The TVs currently on the market vary in terms of connection method - some will need to be connected with wires via an Ethernet socket, while others are equipped with Wi-Fi. There are a couple of potential pitfalls for buyers here though, as the mere presence of an Ethernet socket does not necessarily mean it's a smart TV, and 'Wi-Fi ready' does not mean you can sit down, plug in and go. If the set says 'Wi-Fi ready', you will likely require a dongle (around £50) for the wireless connection to work, and it's always best to check with the sales staff that the Ethernet socket is part of a 'smart' setup and not just for Freeview HD.

For those opting for the Ethernet solution, which generally provides the most stable Internet connection, plug sets are available for around £30 each, that will provide an Ethernet network point in your living room. Much like the old TV aerials, these allow you run one cable from a power socket to the TV, and another to your router.

Those connecting wirelessly will find many of the high-end TVs now guide you through the process, although this type of connection is more prone to buffering during streaming.

What to buy
Smart TVs vary hugely in price, starting from as little as £300 right up to something in the region of £1,400.

At the bottom end of that scale is Sony's KDL-22EX553, a 22-inch HD Ready TV with built-in Wi-Fi and Sony Internet TV. Samsung's high-end IE46ES8000, on the other hand, is a super slim 46-inch piece of tech that boasts 3D capability, and can be controlled not only with a remote, but with hand gestures or voice.
There are, of course, plenty of options in between. The LG 55LM760T, for instance, boasts a 55-inch screen, 3D (complete with seven pairs of 3D glasses), and two remotes as well as a host of 'smart' features. For gamers, the Philips 42PFL6907t/12 (£800) is the perfect choice - fully HD and 3D capable, it also includes a two-player gaming mode. Meanwhile Panasonic's TX-L47E5B doesn't come with the thrill of 3D, but at £629.99 it's an affordable entry into the world of smart TV, and is loaded with the firm's Viera Connect Internet TV platform.

So getting your hands on the next generation of TVs doesn't have to cost the earth. Whatever you want or need for your set, there's a TV to suit you.

Have you upgraded to smart TV? Was it worth it? Leave your comments below...
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