Unless you're a steadfast supporter of regular cable and direct-to-home TV programming and services, you would've have noticed that a lot of new content depends on the Internet. Although you do have access to a wide variety of programming through your regular set-top box, you're missing out if you don't get on board the streaming revolution. Many of the best TV shows and movies are now found online, and often available exclusively via streaming services like Netflix, Hotstar, and Amazon Prime Video.
Even if you're sold on the concept, the problem now arises with your screen. Sure, your smartphone supports popular streaming services, and the reducing cost of mobile data means its affordable as well. But what if you don't want to watch your video content on a small screen? What if you could use your TV?
You can indeed, thanks to smart TVs. These connect to the Internet to give you access to streaming services through apps, in much the same way that a smartphone, tablet or computer would. But not everyone owns — or can afford — a smart TV. How do you get access to these services on your big screen then? Our guide will help you with just that.
The best way — a streaming stick or dongle
The easiest and most effective way to add smarts to your dumb TV is a good streaming stick or dongle. There are numerous options in this category, all offering different features and abilities that let you connect to online services.
Listing out your specific requirements will help you choose the best streaming stick or dongle for you. For this, you should figure to what kind of content you want, which will help you pick the best device for you. For example, if you watch a lot of content on Amazon Prime Video or Netflix, the Amazon Fire TV Stick range might be ideal for you. On the other hand, if you have a lot of Apple devices, you might prefer the Apple TV range for its seamless ability to interface with your iPhone or Mac computer. Similarly, if you have an Android phone to use as a controller, you could use a Chromecast.
Some of these high-end devices may be able to draw power from one of the USB ports on your TV itself, while others may need to rely on a wall adapter to draw enough power. You'll therefore have to make sure you have either a free USB port or a wall socket for the adapter.
If all you need is a device to cast content or mirror the screen of your Android smartphone, you could potentially make do with one of a number of Chromecast ‘clones' available both online and offline. These plug into the HDMI port on your TV and add Miracast support, letting you directly mirror the screen on your Android smartphone or cast the screen from a number of apps, including Netflix and VLC Media Player.
Some of these devices can be purchased for under Rs. 1,000, turning your smartphone or computer into the controller and provider of internet connectivity to your TV. And if you can buy devices from abroad, you have various options such as the Roku Streaming Stick+ and Xiaomi Mi TV Box to choose from as well.
The most affordable way — good-old cables
The most affordable way to add smarts to your dumb TV is one that not a lot of people think of straightaway, but it seems rather obvious in hindsight. However, it isn't the easiest or most clutter-free way to do things. At a very low cost — or free, if you already have the necessary cables lying around at home — you can add basic smarts to your TV. The easiest way is to use an HDMI cable to connect your laptop to your TV, and mirror or extend the laptop screen onto the TV this way.
The advantages of this method are that it is extremely affordable, and gives you the full power of your computer on the large screen. If your laptop has an HDMI-out port, all you need is a standard HDMI cable; decent options cost as little as Rs. 300. If you use a laptop that doesn't have an HDMI port — a MacBook Air, for example — then you may have to spend a bit more on the right cables or adapters. Ease of use is another key advantage; you only have to plug the cables in and switch to the right source on your TV to mirror your screen.
With this, your TV is effectively connected to the Internet (through your laptop, of course). You can now use your laptop as a controller and fetch whatever content you want, which can be downloaded, through specific apps or even an Internet browser. The same technique can work with many smartphones as well, assuming that you have the right cables and the device itself allows its display to be mirrored over HDMI.
Cables and adapters are also available for connecting USB Type-C/Thunderbolt or Lightning-compatible devices to TVs through the HDMI port, which offers the ability to connect compatible smartphones and laptops to the TV. The cable you use entirely depends on the device you intend to use as a source, since you'll have to ensure it adheres to the ports you have available and the compatibility of the feature.
The biggest disadvantage of this method is the cable itself; it can be messy, inconvenient and cluttered. In an age where technology is increasingly finding ways to do away with wires, using long cables will come across as a rather low-tech method of doing things. And of course, having your laptop or smartphone screen mirrored on the TV can be inconvenient in different ways — everyone looking at your TV will be able to see your notifications and private conversations. Not to mention you won't be able to control your laptop while sitting on the couch unless you throw in really long cables or additional accessories into the mix.
The most feature-filled way — game consoles
Here's another method that might also seem obvious in hindsight: use a modern gaming console. If you have a Sony Playstation 4 or Microsoft Xbox One (or any of their different variants), you can use these as smart streaming devices. These consoles connect to the internet and have apps available for many of the streaming services. These include Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Spotify, YouTube, Plex, and Twitch, to name a few.
Of course, the biggest advantage of using a gaming console is the gaming, which makes it a much more feature-filled device. If you already have one, we suggest you simply install the right apps on it and make your TV smart, rather than look at any other method to do so. If you're starting from scratch, a game console is a rather expensive way to add smart features to your TV. If you aren't a gamer at all, it might be better for you to have a streaming device or use cables, as mentioned above.
The flip side — when you shouldn't bother making your dumb TV smart
While we've covered the process of explaining what a smart TV is and how you can make a dumb TV smart, it's also worth exploring whether you really even need a smart TV. The answer to this depends on your viewing habits, and what you're looking for from your TV.
Most of the best content today — including popular TV shows, movies and other programming — can be found online, to the point where a lot of new shows and movies are being produced by online streaming services and are released exclusively online. Furthermore, the internet is the best way to access 4K content, with set-top boxes largely limited to full-HD content. Popular shows such as Sacred Games, Jack Ryan, Narcos and The Grand Tour are examples of content that can only be accessed in India using streaming services. If this is what you're looking for, you should make your dumb TV smart.
On the other hand, if you have a small TV, don't find too much time to watch TV, or usually stick to regular programming available on cable or DTH connections, you may not need a smart TV at all. For example, if all you really do is watch the news or sports, you'll find a cable or DTH connection adequate. Even if you do have the occasional need for a smart TV, it may make sense to use the cable option for those occasions, rather than invest in a dedicated streaming stick or console.
Furthermore, there are a couple of reasons to not make your TV smart. The first applies to the actual smart TVs themselves; software updates are often slow or non-existent on many smart TVs. This will cause the TV to have performance or security issues over time, and it's perhaps a better idea to not invest in a smart TV at all.
The second is about privacy. Connecting any TV to the Internet opens up the possibility of your viewing data being used in ways you may not like. This can include selling your data to advertisers, which can then use your viewing habits to target specific ads to you. It can also be worse, where a TV with a webcam or attachable camera can then be used to spy on you in your home. The safest way to protect your privacy with regards to your TV is to keep it disconnected and functional only as a screen with local content sources.