Schooling up on the latest smart TVs

CLAIRE ROGERS
Last updated 05:00 20/04/2013
Smart TVs
Fairfax

PROFESSOR ZOOM: Smart TVs let you access the web through your flat-screen, but is the upgrade worth it?

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Smart TVs are televisions that connect to the internet, allowing consumers to use applications like Skype and Twitter and watch television programmes and movies downloaded from the internet on their flat screens.

The televisions typically connect to the web through your home wi-fi network, with any data you use coming from your monthly home broadband data allowance.

If you're after a Smart TV be prepared to pay from about $500. The televisions usually sit at the mid to high-end of the television price range, and premium models often have extras such as 3-D and gesture, voice and face recognition - so, for example, the TV knows who's watching and what home screen or preferences to display.

Smart TVs can often also connect over your home network so you can enjoy multimedia content stored on other devices in your home, such as computers, on them. Some come with built-in cameras for applications such as Skype, while others will require you to buy a separate camera. You can also buy wireless keyboards so you can post tweets and send emails over your television.

IN STORE

❏ Panasonic has about 27 smart TVs available in New Zealand, 19 of which are internet-capable.

Its cheapest is the TH-L32XV6Z, with a recommended retail price of $849, while its top-of-the-range TV, the TH-P65VT60Z - which has a RRP of $5999 and will be available from June - is also internet capable.

Smart TVPanasonic has about 60 apps available for download, including Skype, YouTube, Trade Me and WeatherWatch. Some Panasonic Smart TVs let owners customise their homepages with the apps they use most for easy access.

❏ Most Sony TVs are internet-capable, ranging from the 26-inch EX550 (RRP $540) to the high-end 65-inch HX925 (RRP $9000).

Sony has more than 20 channels or apps available, including Quickflix, news app Stuff, kids' channel Wiggle TV, Sony's subscription arthouse movie and music channels - Mubi and Music Unlimited - and New Zealand's free online TV channel Ziln.

❏ Samsung has hundreds of apps available to download to its Smart TVs but says not all will be available in New Zealand. One that is available is the TVNZ On Demand app which lets Kiwis catch up on TVNZ programming and is exclusive to Samsung web TVs. About 60 per cent of Samsung's TVs out this year will be smart TVs, with pricing yet to be announced.

❏ LG has more than 200 apps but again, not all will be available locally. LG's entry-level smart TV is the $1299 42-inch LN5710 - or you can pay an eye-watering $24,999 for its 84-inch, ultra high-definition, 3-D LM9600 model.

WHAT YOU CAN DO AND WATCH

While the content differs depending on the television, all platforms have apps so you can easily use Skype, Facebook and Twitter and watch content through YouTube and Quickflix.

Quickflix is an online movie and TV streaming subscription service, which costs $14.99 a month, with 560 movies, more than 800 TV episodes including Fawlty Towers and Little Britain, more than 500 kids' TV episodes, and over 370 pay per view movies.

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You will also be able to browse the web, just like you do on your computer, and access web content such as on-demand TV that way.

DEVICE SYNCING

Most manufacturers let you link your smartphone or tablet to your TV so you can use it as a wireless keyboard and mouse, and view content on your phone or tablet - such as photos and videos - on the big screen.

You'll usually need to download an app to your phone or tablet to do this.

So should you switch on?

According to broadband network company Chorus, about 40 per cent of Kiwis have a smart TV - but only half are connected to the internet.

Smart TVs have copped flak for their difficult interfaces and lack of compelling content. Panasonic estimates 10 per cent of smart TV owners are accessing apps, the web and internet content, but that number is growing as consumers become more educated, and content grows.

Smart TVWhile content is improving, for most it's still not compelling.

Apps such as Skype and YouTube make sense and work well on a larger, high-definition screen, but others such as Facebook and Twitter are less natural and in many cases more easily used on a smartphone or tablet, where the screen is just centimetres, as opposed to metres, from your face.

Video content is also improving but New Zealand still lacks online and movie-streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix, which have a huge range of (more recent) content.

Home tech help provider Need a Nerd recommends upgrading your PC if you want to access online video content, and even watch normal TV content, as it's cheaper than shelling out for a smart TV.

If you're in the market for a new TV then internet-capability is probably still a "nice-to-have" bonus on mid to high-end models, rather than a reason in itself to spend up on a flat-screen.

SETTING UP YOUR SMART-TV

Deloitte estimates that only 15 per cent of new smart televisions purchased are bought for their smart abilities and so few are actually used by their owners for anything other than watching television. Here are some tips for unlocking the extra features:

Different makes and models of smart televisions connect to the internet by different means. Most smart TVs have built in wi-fi, much like a laptop or smartphone.

Others get their connectivity to the internet through a supplied antenna that connects to a USB port on the television. Others still come equipped with a local area network, or LAN, port into which an ethernet cable must be plugged.

If you are not sure which method your smart television uses, consult the manual and follow the instructions for set up.

Once your set is connected, you'll be able to use your smart TV's pre-installed applications. There may only be a small selection of these. If so, visit the television's application store to download more and add extra functionality. Consult your manual, again, to learn how to do this as it varies from model to model.

Remember you'll need to sign in to certain accounts, such as Facebook, iTunes or Skype, to get use out of them.

Firmware (embedded software which runs all manner of electrical equipment including televisions) is sometimes updated by the manufacturer to add new features. Consult your manual to see how to check whether the firmware on your smart television is up to date.

Carl Beentjes is the chief nerd of Need A Nerd in Wellington. service@needanerd.co.nz

Sources: Panasonic, Sony, LG, Samsung, Noel Leeming, Dick Smith, Wired, Digital Trends, Need a Nerd.

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