SMART: Having or showing quick-witted intelligence (Oxford dictionary)
So what is smart? The television? The company that made it? The guy who’s selling it in the showroom? Or you, who wants to buy it?
That may be the subject of a round-table debate, with no clear answer at the end of it. But there is no doubt that choosing a television has evolved into a complex procedure that is going to become even more complex in times to come.
What exactly is Smart in the TV? Looks? Features?
To cut a long story short, ‘smart’ refers to ‘connected’ — you can connect the machine to the Internet. That’s not to say that your DTH connection is junk now; it just means you can use the smart television as a monitor, really: surf the net, watch Youtube, make video calls… the works.
Remember, though, smart is a relative term. Not all TVs out there are equally smart. The technology is still in it's infancy, which means it is on the upward evolutionary curve. A few years down the line things may be smarter – or totally dumbed down. Maybe your TV can be upgraded by downloading a software. Or maybe you’ll need to replace it. But the crystal ball is all cloudy, can’t predict right now.
Just like smartphones, the smart TV runs an Operating System (OS). Depending on the OS, the manufacturer and the tie-ups they have, each smart TV offers different things.
Broadly, though, there are six questions you need answers for:
1. Can I attach a Webcam to it?
This is probably the most important feature for a smart TV. You might not really fancy a video call on TV, but it is a desirable standby. I know of a family in which each member has a smart TV in their dining room, with Webcam. And the family eats together, as though at the same table — via the Web! Do remember: most TVs use proprietary Webcams. So compare the prices of the camera as well, for you may save on the TV but end up needing to buy a more expensive Webcam.
2. Will it accept a 3G Wireless stick?
If your home broadband is via 3G dongle, it is important to know if your new smart TV is smart enough to accept it, and also which company’s 3G dongle it will accept. The driver for each dongle is different, and a TV may not be equipped with all drivers. The other alternative is to use a 3G router for connectivity.
3. Ethernet vs wireless
Since I am in the technology industry, each room in my home has 2 ethernet cables at 2-3 places, even though we have a full wireless network. Wire at times delivers the best performance. You would need to know if your TV has built in WiFi, or if it will require an extra dongle to go wireless, or whether to draw a cable till the TV from your Internet setup. If the distance from the broadband router to the TV is too much, cabling my well end up as a nuisance.
4. Friendly remote, text entry modes
If you have Internet connectivity on your TV, you may use the browser, Youtube or an application that requires text input. Here, the remote control plays a great big role, and a friendly remote is half the battle won. Remember, entering a complicated password via the remote may involve several retries!
I wish television manufacturers build bluetooth capability into their smart TVs to connect keyboards. May that day come soon!
5. What apps do I really want?
Most smart TVs now can access Facebook and Twitter, but these are too personal for me to want on my bedroom TV. Not that I want to hide something from my wife, but … a guest fiddling with the remote accidentally opening my FB page is not for me! Some TVs have games built in, which may be great if you have children – or not. For me the TED app* on the LG and Samsung is a big Yes! So are Sony Entertain-ment network on Sony TVs and BigFlix+ on Panasonic.
6. Anything else?
Ensure your new TV has the option of DLNA connectivity. Going forward, when you buy your next tablet or phone, they will be able to talk to your TV over DLNA. It is also a good idea to know when apps and firmware updates are released by the company, and if alternate remote options exist for Apps.
Oh, you already have a TV, and want options to make it smart rather than sell it? Well, there are options like media players from WD, AC Ryan, Asus, Iomega and Seagate that allow you to get similar features — though you will end up using multiple remote controls.