Let’s make your dumb TV smart – on a budget!
You must have lived under a rock these past few years if you haven’t heard about Smart TVs. About how awesome they are. How connected they are. And all the apps that they run. And then you find out about the price tag and that’s a big fat swallow right there. Even though your existing large screen TV, which you bought just a year or two ago works great, and has excellent picture quality and, oh have you heard the sound on it – you can’t help this feeling that is equal parts despair and envy.
You too want a Smart TV.
Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to throw out your existing TV, or spend thousands of Dirhams, and Riyals, and Dinars to get a Smart TV. Before I do that though, let’s talk about what a Smart TV really is. Now all the gesture control gimmicks aside, a Smart TV today features richer interaction than just changing channels and adjusting the volume.
A Smart TV is smart because it features applications – Apps from channel providers so you can only add the ones you want and remove the ones you don’t, apps that you do things with your TV that you couldn’t before, like browsing the internet, or using it as a large photo frame. To put it simply, a Smart TV is not much more than a computer attached to a TV. So how do you make your existing dumb TV smart?
There’s a few devices that let you do that and each have their pros and cons.
This nifty little gadget is the cheapest way to make your existing TV smart. It costs about $35 or AED 169 on the local market and is an HDMI stick with a USB power port. It gives your TV a smart interface that you can control with your phone. Once you’ve connected your phone with the Google Chromecast in a matter of minutes, you can use many apps on your phone to browse content and ‘cast’ them on your TV. ‘Cast’ is Google’s word for play here. Find a YouTube video, and cast it on to your TV. Go to photos gallery on your phone and cast it on to your TV. There are event apps that let you draw on a whiteboard on your phone that will show up on your TV. In fact there are games built specifically for the Chromecast. One example is Unocast, a version of the popular Uno game, where every player has cards on each of their phones and the TV has the playing board. With more apps being updated with Chromecast support, this really is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to make your TV smart.
If you have even a single Apple device at home, you will absolutely love the Apple TV. Unlike the Google Chromecast, the Apple TV doesn’t need a separate controller. The apps can be searched and installed on Apple TV itself. So whether you get the YouTube app, or any of the other TV news channel apps – you’re not going to need your phone or your tablet. You can do all of that with the included remote. If you misplace that though, you can use an app to turn your iPhone or iPad into a remote. The Apple TV also has support for AirPlay which is Apple’s own technology for playing audio and video from one device on another. For example, you can mirror your Macbook screen on your TV, or just start playing music from your phone on your TV. You also have access to the entire iTunes store library so you can browse through and rent a movie, or play an album almost instantly. This is perhaps the closes you’re going to get an Apple TV set. And at the price around the AED 350 mark, it’s quite a cheap way to do so as well.
Xbox / PlayStation
While these consoles are primarily seen as gaming device – and why wouldn’t they be, they’ve got an incredible set of internals that run the most graphic intensive games – they’re essentially becoming full featured multimedia systems. With support for apps, you can now do everything you would on a smart TV including Skype with your grandma. In fact, the new consoles, specifically the Xbox One lets you connect your TV receiver and control that from within the Xbox. Now granted, you’re not going to go and buy these consoles just for the multimedia entertainment value; they do after all run in excess of a thousand dirhams. The Xbox One for example retails for AED 1,749. But if you already have one, even the older Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, they’re actually really well equipped to install apps and make your TV smart – we’re talking YouTube app, Weather App, Vimeo App, Facebook app and a lot more.
Android TV Stick
Okay so this is area is a little tricky so bear with me while I try to make things clear. Android, as we know and love on phones and tablets, is actually a very powerful operating system. With the use of utility apps, it can be setup to be used in a variety of settings – your TV, your car, your watch etc. And a couple of companies have been doing this for a few years with Android TV sticks. They’re using the existing Android system, plugging it into a very small computer (not much bigger than a Chromecast) that has an HDMI connection at it’s end. The important note here is that this is different from the official Android TV that is coming out later this year, which is going to be closer to Apple TV in hardware format. Since that’s not released, we won’t talk about it.
The Android TV Sticks however are very capable too. They cost between $50-$100 (AED 180-AED360), some more, and are an easy way to make your TV run an operating system. You do that, and suddenly you’re running full Android on your TV. With a bluetooth remote, you can now use any of the Android apps you’ve already been using on your phone. YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix, Facebook, DailyMotion – everything is open to you. In fact, there are even apps that give that Android TV a nice Home Theatre interface so you can scroll through pretty looking cover art for your Movies and Music albums. Or if you like, just have it play through photos at a party from any of the hundreds of photo apps available on the App store.
These are just some of the ways you can turn your existing TV into a Smart TV at the fraction of the cost. All these operating systems are incredibly capable and receive apps from the best content providers across the world. You don’t have to wait for a specific channel to roll out a custom app for your specific TV. Even for those buying a new TV, you could buy a non-Smart TV and get a bigger screen size for the same cost as you would a smaller Smart TV.
You can search for a second hand large TV here on dubizzle being sold by people who haven’t read this article! 😉
This post is authored by the team at TechView.me. TechView.me is a news site covering technology from the Middle East. The site features news and original content on the topics of consumer technology, digital, eCommerce, startups and other related areas with a primary focus on regional content and news.