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4 Ways to Make a Smart TV From Your Basic HDTV

April Carvelli | Apr 23, 2013

Apple TV

TV technology is constantly upgrading, making it almost impossible to keep up. What was top of the line a few years ago is now almost obsolete. Sure, you thought you were doing great when you traded in that old blocky console TV for a flat panel HDTV, but now, compared to the smart TVs on the market, it doesn’t seem so good, does it? Relax — you don’t need to buy a new television, you can upgrade your current one for a fraction of the price. Here’s how.

Computer

If you have an unused computer lying around, then it’s probably your cheapest option. Most of the flat panel HDTVs have a VGA or HDMI port that you can use to directly connect to your television. If you have both options, go with HDMI to get the best picture quality. Once connected, you can use the TV screen just as you would a monitor and surf anywhere on the Internet.

The true beauty of this is that you can use your TV as a computer monitor and can play any video format imaginable. If you want to have access from the sofa, then you’re going to have to get a wireless mouse and keyboard. Otherwise, you’ll have to get up every time you want to do something.

This setup even works with many older televisions — you won’t have the HDMI option and tend to get a lower quality picture, but you can still do everything you want. We had this setup in the bedroom for a while, and my big issue with it is that the fan and processor are noisy. Many of the newer computers and laptops, however, run more quietly than our old cast-off computers, so you may not have that issue. The other problem with this method is boot time — you don’t get instant gratification because you have to wait for the computer to finish booting before you can do anything.

Video Game Console

Most modern gaming consoles, such as the Xbox 360, Wii, and PS3, have some multimedia functionality. These systems have limited Internet access through their interfaces. The PS3 is the best of them when it comes to smart technology because it’s Blu-Ray capable and has access to Netflix and Amazon instant videos.

The odds are that you probably have at least one of these already connected to your TV so you don’t need to add anything that will take up more room. Like the computer, these can have a higher power consumption than some of the other units. They also have a limited capability on what they can do and access. My biggest problem with the gaming consoles is the controls: they can be awkward and frustrating to deal with when all you want to do is lay on the sofa and watch a movie.

Blu-Ray Player

Most Blu-Ray Players are Internet capable and allow you to visit popular media locations such as Hulu, Netflix, Blockbuster, and VUDU. Once online, many of the players have a large menu selection with a wide variety of viewing and Web-surfing options. Many have ports that allow you to plug in an iPod or memory stick to access stored data and movies.

In my opinion, this is ideal. We have it set up on two different televisions. They let you play all of your own movies while still having access to the video streaming you really want. Blu-Ray Players boot quickly and use up a lot less power than a computer or gaming system. They also come with remote controls that are simple and straight forward, so you don’t need to feel like an idiot as you wave and shake the remote attempting to access a movie.

With this method you can’t play video games or surf the Web, but many of them do let you hit up social networks. They do have a larger physical footprint than many of the smart boxes and gaming systems, so keep that in mind in case room is an issue.

Smart Box

There are a lot of boxes out there that can upgrade your TV in a heartbeat. Some of the best and most popular are AppleTV, Roku, Boxee, and Slingbox. These are small boxes that connect to your television via HDMI and require almost no setup. They’re Wi-Fi ready and let the users go online to read email, surf social media, and connect to several video-streaming programs, such as Netflix, Hulu and VUDU. Many also come with USB ports, which allow you to access information from external hard drives or memory sticks.

Most of these boxes take up very little room and are easy to take with you when you go on vacation or to a friend’s house. They’re exceptionally easy to move between rooms, which is great if you want to have the kids watch their shows elsewhere. These boxes, like most gadgets these days, come with remotes so you don’t have to constantly get up from your couch. Most of the companies frequently send out software updates that keep your smart box up to date.

Perhaps the biggest problems with these units is that they do not play any hard media — you’ll still need something to play your discs, which means that, if you aren’t ready to give up your voluminous collection of DVDs, you’ll have to install another piece of equipment.


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