Expect to pay a few hundred dollars more for a smart TV.
If you’re shopping for a new TV and find yourself bewildered by the difference between a smart TV and an Internet-ready TV, you’re not alone. As the technology continues to develop, so do the marketing labels and descriptions. Any TV that can connect directly to the Internet through your home network, either with Wi-Fi or with an Ethernet cable, is an Internet-ready TV. Today, any TV that can connect to the Internet, either directly or through an Internet-enabled appliance like a set-top box can be described as a smart TV.
Change in Marketing
In most cases, if you are reading an article that discusses Internet-ready TVs, the article was probably written before 2012. Even as late as 2011, a smart TV usually referred only to a TV or TV set-top box that allowed you to surf the Internet much like a computer, usually with a keyboard. If you could not freely browse any website, it was not a smart TV. An Internet-ready or Internet-connectable TV described any TV that used apps to stream video, play games or access specific websites, but did not allow you to browse websites outside of those apps. By 2012, however, you would have a difficult time finding any TV described as “Internet-ready.” Nearly every TV manufactured since that can connect to your home network without an intermediary set-top box is described as a smart TV.
Choosing a Smart TV
While prices fluctuate all the time, you can generally expect to pay a couple hundred dollars more for a smart TV compared to an HDTV without built-in Internet connectivity. Screen size, pixels, and whether the TV is LED, LCD or Plasma are the main factors in determining the price of any HDTV. Most smart TVs include basic services like YouTube, Hulu and Netflix. If you plan to purchase a camera for your TV, you should make sure the TV can access a service like Skype or Google TV or you may not be able to use it for video calls. There are no monthly fees for the service that comes with a smart TV; however, there are fees for individual subscriptions, including Hulu Plus and Netflix. Whether you use a service like iTunes or Google TV to rent or purchase movies, or use a proprietary service like that available on Sony models, you will have to pay for each rental or purchase. If there is a particular service or application you are looking for on a smart TV, such as a particular game or video service, you should ensure that it is available on the TV before you buy it. While you may be able to upgrade your service in the future as the manufacturer releases new options, there is no guarantee that you will have access to the applications on next year’s TVs on the model you buy today.
Smart TV Set-Top Boxes
The prices for smart TV set-top box can range between $50 and $500, depending on the features and capabilities. At the low-end of the price scale are basic boxes like the NetGear NeoTV Wireless Media Player, which allows you to connect to CinemaNow, Netflix, Pandora, Facebook and YouTube. At the higher end is the TiVo Premiere Elite High-Definition Digital Video Recorder that lets you access Netflix, YouTube and Pandora, as well as record up to 300 hours of high-definition videos, TV shows and movies. Between these extremes are set-top boxes made by D-Link, Western Digital, Roku, Sony, Apple, Logitech and D-Link. Apple TV allows you to connect your Apple computer, iPhone or iPad to the TV, but does not give you direct access to many services other than iTunes, Netflix and live sporting events. The Logitech Revue can connect with either Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable to your home network. It requires an HDMI port on the TV and an HDMI port on your cable, satellite or telco digital receiver. It comes with a keyboard and touchpad. It uses the Android operating system for use with Google TV, Android-based apps and the Logitech media player for accessing your own music, videos and photos.
Besides set-top boxes, other devices can enable you to make your HDTV smart to some extent. Game consoles like the Wii, Playstation 3 and XBox 360 enable you to access Internet-based services like HuluPlus or Netflix. Many Blu-ray players and home theater systems also enable you to access Internet-based services. Sony and Toshiba models, for example, both allow you to access services like CinemaNow, Netflix, Pandora and YouTube. Toshiba also offers Picasa connectivity, while other Blu-ray player Internet services differ depending on the manufacturer. It’s important to read the fine print to see which services are available for each brand and model. For example, to access your paid Netflix account using an Xbox, you will also need to pay for a subscription to Xbox Live.