Smart TVs have evolved in much the same way as smartphones. We use to have flip-phones that didn’t really do much by today’s standards. You could call and text, but that was about it. Just as nearly all phones produced now are smartphones, most TV’s manufactured today are smart TVs. What kind of TV do you have?
The easiest way to know if you have a smart TV is to check your remote and menu options for an Apps section. See if it has apps like Amazon Prime Video, Netflix or Hulu. Also, see if there is a menu section for network connections such as WiFi or an Ethernet port on the back of the TV. If you’re still unsure, google your TV’s model number.
If you determine that your TV doesn’t have these features, there are aftermarket components to transform your older TV into a Smart TV. We’re going to go over several options, but first, let’s make sure you have a basic understanding of everything surrounding Smart TVs.
What is a smart TV?
A smart TV is a digital television with builtin computer technology designed specifically for entertainment applications. It combines the integration of apps and the Internet to take your experience beyond just live broadcast to allow for streaming and browsing features.
Smart TVs have their own “TV operating system (TV OS)” and Graphical User Interface (GUI). Aside from connecting to the Internet, they can also access video, music and images from storage devices on your home WiFi network.
The most popular applications used today on Smart TVs include Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and YouTube. There are many other third party applications available for download to customize your Smart TV to your liking as well.
How To Turn Your Old TV Into A Smart TV
So, maybe you don’t have a smart TV and you’re not ready to shell out the money for a new one. No worries, there are quite a few options on the market to make your “Dumb” TV a Smart TV.
In order to convert your old TV into a Smart TV, you’ll need an external streaming media player. Sometimes people may refer to this as a Smart TV Converter Box. That’s more of a layman term, but essentially that’s what a streaming media player is.
First of all, you have to check to see if your TV has an HDMI Port. Most likely it will, but in the event it doesn’t you can pick up an HDMI-to-RCA adapter (found here on Amazon).
If you’re converting an old CRT TV you’ll need this adapter most likely [Yes that’s right, you can even convert your grandfather’s CRT TV (cathode-ray tube, also referred to as a Tube TV) into a smart TV by following these steps.] Even some older flatscreens won’t have an HDMI port though.
Your “Smart TV Converter Box”
Next, you’ll want to decide which streaming media player you’d like to use as a Smart TV Converter. These are all going to connect you to the Internet and allow you to view content on Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, etc. Let’s list some of your most viable options.
Note: If you don’t want to get too far into the differences between these devices and simplicity is what matters – you can stop here. I would recommend grabbing a Fire TV Stick as a smart TV converter (found here on Amazon). If you’re more into the technical details and capabilities please feel free to read on.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
Fire TV is Amazon’s streaming platform built on a heavily modified Android operating system. I would say it must be the most widely used on the market with a heavy focus on Amazon’s own Prime media services. There are literally thousands of apps available though, so you won’t be lacking many options when it comes to streaming services.
The Fire TV Stick is a little larger than a flash drive and plugs into your HDMI port with a power cord coming off of the side to plug into the wall. The accompanied remote has a built-in push button Alexa feature so you can use voice commands to search for shows, pause, play and etc.
Finally, if you want to shell out a few more dollars, you can upgrade to 4K resolution with the Fire Stick 4K.
Note: You can also connect your Amazon Echo to your Fire Stick
Check out Amazon’s current pricing on Fire TV Sticks here.
If you would like to hardwire an Ethernet cable for a more efficient connection you can use the adapter found here.
Amazon Fire TV Cube
The Fire TV Cube offers all of the same Fire TV services that the Fire Stick offers, with a few additions.
I’d first point out that it’s larger and is more of a separate stand-alone unit that connects to your TV using an HDMI cable. While it’s only 3.4” square, it might not be the ideal choice for a wall-mounted TV since you’ll have to get creative as to where to put it and then conceal the wires.
The Cube sports an Ethernet port straight out of the box if you prefer to hardwire your Internet connection rather than use your home WiFi. This, of course, can make for more efficient streaming, but by today’s standards tends to be more relevant for 4K streaming.
If your TV doesn’t support 4K, this isn’t an issue, but if you do want 4K resolution you will need the Fire TV Cube or the Fire Stick 4K. If your Wifi can’t keep up with the 4K streaming, then you’ll need to utilize the Ethernet connection built into the Fire TV Cube. If you do decide to purchase a Fire Stick 4K, you’ll then possibly want to grab an Ethernet adapter for it.
The Fire TV Cube also has an Alexa Smart Speaker built into its base, so if you don’t already own an Amazon Echo you kind of have 2 purchases in one.
Here is the current pricing on Amazon’s Fire TV Cube.
Google Chromecast Ultra
The Chromecast Ultra uses the “dongle” approach like the Fire Stick instead of being a stand-alone unit like the Fire TV Box. It is a slightly larger design than the Fire Stick and they utilized that to include an Ethernet Port.
The Ethernet Port will come in handy if you’ve outgrown 1080P resolution since the Chromecast Ultra supports all 4K and HDR video formats. It is also compatible with Google Home for voice commands.
Oddly enough, the Chromecast Ultra does not have a remote, apps or even it’s own user interface. You will control everything from your phone or tablet using the Google Home App and integration from 3rd party supported apps.
This is a hard to swallow concept for a lot of users. “Really? It doesn’t come with a remote?” Unfortunately, that’s the case, so you’ll have to use your phone or tablet. You can use your TV’s remote for basic functionality if it is HDMI-CEC capable (More on HDMI-CEC here on Chrome Unboxed).
Find current Chromecast Ultra pricing here.
Apple TV 4K
Let me start this section by saying that I’m biased right off the bat against the Apple TV devices. They’re unnecessarily expensive and will likely be phased out soon.
The functionality you’re paying for that comes with the Apple TV devices is starting to become available with all the other popular streaming devices through downloadable apps from Apple. These features include allowing you to stream lots of media from your IOS devices including from your iTunes library. Many smart TV’s now are coming with Apple AirPlay 2 support plus Fire TV and Roku were recently announced to be having Apple TV apps.
You can do just about anything (as far as streaming from the most popular media services) that the other popular devices do. It also has Siri built-in just as Fire TV has Alexa and Google Chromecast has Google Home.
That being said and simply put, this is an option I need to explain to you, but it isn’t recommended.
Here is Amazon’s current price for an Apple TV media player.
This is another easy to use, simple solution like the Fire Stick. The Roku design is kind of flawed though.
The device itself is a small, light-weight box that uses dangling cords – one that goes to the TV’s HDMI port and one as a power cord. The HDMI cable will usually not allow it to lay flat on your tv stand since it’s so light-weight so it kind of dangles itself with the cord. There is an included adhesive strip that will tape it down, but then when you go to move it, there’s another issue.
The Roku Premiere has a great interface though. Some may like the interaction better than other streaming media devices. They have about as many Apps available as Fire TV, but Fire TV wipes them out in the Gaming app department.
The remote control isn’t quite as good as the Fire TV remote either. It uses IR technology so you’ll need a direct line of sight to control the Roku. You can’t hide the box behind your TV if that’s the case. There is the option (for quite a price increase) to get the Roku Premiere Plus which solves that issue.
A Few More Things
How do I know if my TV is HD?
At this day in age, your TV is most likely HD, especially if you have a flat panel. An HD TV is simply any TV displaying a 720P or higher screen resolution. As of 2018, they account for 85% of all televisions in use.
One way to tell if your TV is HD is to look up your model number online. A simple google search of the model number will usually lead you to the manufacturer’s page with your TV’s specs. You should be able to find the model number on the back of the TV itself. If the resolution is at least 720P (1280 x 720), then you have an HD TV.
How do I know if my TV Has WiFi?
If your TV has WiFi there should be a WiFi Alliance logo on the box and often times at the bottom of the screen on the base of the television. In your settings menu, you’ll also find a network connections or Wi-Fi Setup section. Again, a simple Google search of your TV’s model number should easily answer this question for you.
Again, if you buy a new TV today it’s probably going the be an HD Smart TV. It’s come to be pretty standard. You’ll know it’s a Smart TV by the Internet connection and third-party app capabilities.
If you find you don’t have a smart tv, then you can convert an older TV with an external streaming media player. I would recommend purchasing the Fire TV Stick or Fire TV Cube.
You can also view my article on using Alexa with your Fire Stick here.