How to turn a TV into a smart TV

If you don’t have a smart TV, you could be missing out on tons of entertainment features.

Luckily, there are plenty of options available. Read on to find out how you can easily turn a standard TV into a smart TV.

If you don’t have a smart TV, you could be missing out on tons of entertainment features.

Luckily, there are plenty of options available. Read on to find out how you can easily turn a standard TV into a smart TV.

Holly Niblett
From the Digital team
4
minute read
Do you know someone who could benefit from this article?
Posted 1 JUNE 2021

What is a smart TV?

A smart TV connects directly to the internet without the need for cables or a set-top box. It comes with built-in apps like BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub, and also gives you access to on-demand content from streaming services like Netflix. Most smart TVs also have the ability to connect to other wireless devices like laptops or smartphones.

Today, nearly all new TVs have ‘smart’ capabilities. But what if you have a standard telly that still works perfectly well? Before you ditch your old set, take a look at some of the options that can turn your TV into a smart TV.

Spoiler alert: You’ll need a decent Wi-Fi connection, popcorn and a comfy sofa.

Set-top boxes

A set-top box gives you access to apps so you can stream content directly to your TV, but they typically come with a monthly fee. Free catch-up services like BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and All 4 typically come as standard, while other apps included depend on the TV package you choose.

Sky Q
Sky Q Ultimate TV package includes Sky Signature TV – over 300 channels (100 more than Freeview), over 40 catch-up channels and 500 box sets as well as unlimited access to Netflix series, films and shows. You can also customise your package to include Sky Sports, Sky Cinema, Sky Multiscreen and BT Sport.

Apps available on Sky Q include:

  • Netflix
  • Disney+
  • Vevo
  • YouTube
  • Spotify

BT YouView
The BT YouView G4 box comes as standard when you take out a BT TV package. There are five flexible TV packages that can be swapped monthly, so you only pay for what you want to watch. Deals also include a NOW Entertainment add-on, so you don’t have to miss out on your favourite Sky channels.

Apps available on BT YouView include:

  • Netflix
  • Amazon Prime Video
  • NOW
  • BritBox

Compare BT TV and broadband deals

EE’s Apple TV 4K
Sign up for an EE broadband package, and you can add Apple TV 4K with BT Sport included.

The Apple TV set-top box comes with a remote that includes voice-controls for Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri. Using your Apple ID, you’ll be able to stream any music or videos from Apple Music and download popular apps from the Apple Store.

If your TV isn’t 4K, you’ll still be able to watch your chosen content, it just won’t be in 4K HDR quality.

Apps available on EE’s Apple TV 4K include:

  • Netflix
  • Amazon Prime Video
  • NOW
  • YouTube
  • Apple TV+

TalkTalk TV box
TalkTalk’s set-top box is essentially BT’s YouView. TalkTalk’s Fibre + TV packages which include NOW membership, are among the cheapest in the UK.

Apps available on TalkTalk YouView include:

  • Netflix
  • Amazon Prime Video
  • NOW
  • BritBox

Compare TalkTalk TV and broadband packages

Virgin Media TV 360 box
Virgin’s TV bundles come with a TV 360 box that is 4K and HDR ready and includes a voice-controlled remote. Virgin’s Big Bundles include Drama, Movies and Sports packages. You can also rent or buy movies from the Virgin Media Store.

Apps available on Virgin Media TV 360 box include:

  • Netflix
  • Amazon Prime
  • YouTube
  • Vevo

Compare Virgin Media packages and bundles

Streaming sticks

Small and compact, streaming sticks are devices that simply plug into the HDMI port on your TV and connect to the internet via your home broadband connection.

Amazon Fire TV Stick
Amazon’s Fire Stick has built-in Alexa features so you can tell your TV what to search for. Amazon Prime members will also have access to exclusive shows and Prime originals.

The Amazon Fire Stick lets you access streaming favourites like Netflix, Apple Music and Spotify; although you can’t get NOW TV.

Apps available on Amazon Fire TV Stick include:

  • Amazon Prime Video
  • Netflix
  • Spotify
  • YouTube
  • Disney+

NOW Smart Stick
NOW TV offers a range of no-contract packages that allow you to watch the very best of Sky Originals, Sky Cinema and Sky Sports on-demand. Buy a pass on a rolling monthly basis and cancel anytime. Deals include the NOW Smart Stick pre-loaded with one-month Sky Cinema, Entertainment and Sports passes.

Apps available on NOW include:

  • Netflix
  • Disney+
  • YouTube
  • Spotify

Google Chromecast
Simply plug in the small Google Chromecast device into the HDMI port of your TV, and you’ll have access to all the popular streaming apps, music and games.

Instead of a remote control, you can control your TV content from the Google Home app on your smartphone. You can also display your videos and photos stored on your phone directly on your TV.

Apps available on Google Chromecast include:

  • Netflix
  • NOW
  • YouTube
  • Spotify
  • Vevo

Roku
If you’re looking for a budget streaming device, you might want to consider the Roku Express streaming stick. Enjoy a massive range of TV apps and the convenience of a smart TV at a fraction of the cost.

Apps available on Roku Express include:

  • Netflix
  • YouTube
  • Amazon Prime Video

Other streaming devices

Latest versions of games consoles like PlayStation and Xbox allow you to connect to the internet and stream popular apps like Netflix and catch-up TV.

Modern Blu-ray players can also connect to the internet, and many have streaming apps already built-in.

Connecting your laptop to your TV

Another alternative is to connect your laptop or tablet to your TV using a dedicated HDMI cable. Just make sure both your TV and mobile device share the same types of ports. For example, older laptops may have a DisplayPort instead of a HDMI port. In this case, you’ll need to buy an adapter that has a DisplayPort connection on one end and an HDMI connection on the other.

Frequently asked questions

What broadband speed do I need for HD streaming?

Once you’ve decided on a smart option for your TV, you’ll want to make sure your broadband speed is fast enough for seamless, uninterrupted streaming.

At the very minimum, you’d need a bandwidth speed of 5Mbps to stream Netflix in HD. But 5Mbps alone won’t be enough if other people in the house are using the internet at the same time. Also, trying to stream at the very limit of your internet allowance means you’ll probably experience a lot of annoying buffering.

Although 10Mb can give you enough bandwidth to stream comfortably, a fibre-optic connection with an average speed of around 35Mb might be a better choice for most family homes. This will let you enjoy decent quality HD with enough left over for other internet activities.

What broadband speed do I need for 4K streaming?

If you’re considering upgrading to a smart TV with 4K ultra HD, Netflix recommends a download speed of 25Mbps. That said, fibre optic broadband with a download rate of 50Mbps should give you a more enjoyable 4K experience without compromising on picture quality or buffering.

What is streaming and buffering?

Streaming is when data for a film or TV show is being delivered as you watch it.

Buffering happens when the data being delivered isn’t fast enough to keep up with your viewing, so the programme will pause until it downloads enough data. This can happen a lot if you have a slow speed or a poor internet connection – not much fun when you’re at a crucial point in Line Of Duty.

The faster and more stable your broadband speed, the less risk of buffering while you’re streaming.

Top tips to minimise buffering

Even if you have a slow broadband speed, there are still things you can do to minimise buffering and improve streaming:

  • Switch off any other devices that are using an internet connection.
  • If you’re not that fussed about HD, stream in SD instead – younger kids especially won’t notice the slight difference in picture quality.
  • Instead of trying to stream, download the entire video, then watch it offline later.
  • Use a wired connection instead of Wi-Fi.
  • Test your broadband speed – if you’re coming to the end of your current contract, consider switching to a faster broadband deal. Just be aware of any penalty charges if you want to get out of your contract early.

Should I just get a smart TV?

If you’re looking to upgrade your TV, then it’s definitely worth considering a smart TV. Prices are coming down, and you can now find even big-name brands such as Samsung and LG at reasonable prices.

Where can I find a cheap broadband deal?

Talking of reasonable, there are some fantastic broadband deals on the market right now.

Use our postcode checker to find out what broadband deals are currently available in your area.

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