How to Buy Smart TVs

Anyone shopping for a new set over the past year is likely to have encountered the term “Smart TV.” But what is a Smart TV? And why exactly should you want one? These are relevant questions because Smart TV is the latest marketing juggernaut to hit premium sets. Unless you make an effort to learn about Smart TV, there’s a chance you’ll end up paying for features that you don’t want or need.

At the most basic level, a Smart TV is one that can connect to the Internet over a wired or wireless home network and provides a menu of apps to stream video, audio, and data from services like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora, Skype, AccuWeather, Flickr, etc. The DLNA capability of these sets also lets you access videos, music, and photos on the TV from your computer. Beyond streaming, many Smart TVs also offer Web-browsing features and popular social media apps such as Facebook and Twitter. These let you “extend” the TV-viewing experience by providing a secondary window to search for information/view real-time comments related to a program you’re watching.

All of the features I’ve mentioned so far could be considered part of the first wave of Smart TV functionality. New features found on the most recent Smart TVs encompass everything from voice and gesture control for changing channels, navigating menus, etc., to interactive workout apps. Then there’s Second Screen, which lets you use your smartphone/tablet to not just control TV functions but also view supplementary information related to a program.

Sound cool? To some, yes. To others who want to simply watch The Walking Dead on a set with a traditional, easy-to-grok interface, maybe not.