The FIFA World Cup, Black Friday and Christmas are all fast approaching, which means that there will be literally millions of consumers over the next few weeks and months looking to buy a brand new TV. It would be to their interest to have a general idea of the basics of the three different display technologies available in the market today – as well as understand how their viewing habits and the lighting conditions of the room that TV will be placed in affect image quality – before considering any one specific model. Consumers who are after “the cinematic experience at home” should also decide how big a TV they actually need and how close to it they’ll be sitting, while choosing between a 4K TV and an 8K TV could probably save them a lot of money, as the 8K models still command a price premium.
After settling on the above, it’s time to discuss specific use cases, as different types of TVs can do a better job than others when it comes to sports viewing, to film watching or playing video games. What makes for a sports-friendly TV is actually quite simple to describe, “cinematic TVs” come with their own checklists while “gaming TVs” are clearly defined by specific features.
After taking these into account – as well as the differences between the software platforms powering most modern Smart TVs – it’s time to talk extras. These features are considered to be of lesser importance than the core functions of any TV, but prove to be useful to many people or even indispensable to some. Needless to say, since consumers are already paying for a new television anyway, the more of these extras it offers, the better. Let’s break it all down.
The must-have extras of a new Smart TV
Extras they may be called but, in practical terms, one can’t easily imagine a modern Smart TV that does not offer these in some form or another (or in many different forms even!). An app store, for instance, is not actually necessary for a Smart TV to be called that – it has more to do with Internet access and general connectivity than anything else – but, since most modern televisions rely on operating systems anyway, apps are the obvious way for consumers to extend the functionality of those TV sets.
Android TV and Google TV televisions offer the widest selection of apps through the Google Play store (although their quality varies wildly). LG’s WebOS and Samsung’s Tizen go for a more curated approach, offering a lower number of apps that work better with their respective operating systems and televisions (but many of those apps tend to not be updated that often). Some TV operating systems do not have access to any app store, some offer just the basics (such as Panasonic’s My Home Screen that’s based on Firefox OS), while others are either too new (like Huawei’s Harmony OS) or too outdated (such as Sharp’s Aquos Net+) to offer proper, extensive app stores. So a competent TV app store is definitely the kind of “extra” that proves to be a “must” in practice.
Then there’s voice control and the functions revolving around “voice assistants”. Many consumers do not actually use Amazon Alexa, Samsung Bixby or Google Assistant all that much, but they are handy in situations where text input is required or certain functions would just be too complex and time-consuming to carry out with button presses. Since voice seems to be one of the most common ways we’ll be interacting with tech products in the future, voice control is considered to be an important “extra” too.
Last but not least: mobile device connectivity. It may sound like a not-all-that-important extra, but many people end up finding out that showing a photo or a video from their smartphone or tablet “on the big screen” of a TV is a fun, cool way to share something with a group of people in the same room. Most televisions offer Chromecast compatibility – so they can work with all modern Android smartphones and tablets – while many new models now offer AirPlay compatibility too for use with iPhones or iPads.
Some manufacturers (like Samsung who is ideally positioned for such an approach) even offer special communication functions between their smartphones and their TVs. If mobile device connectivity sounds like something you’d love to use, then you should definitely look out for it when deciding about a new TV.
The often-useful extras of a new Smart TV
After making sure that the TV set they are interested in offers a proper app store, voice control and mobile device connectivity, consumers can look for secondary but still quite handy extras. People interested in home automation and smart home functionality in general, for instance, would probably like their new Smart TV to be included in such a setup, an existing one or a future one. A big TV screen makes for an excellent dashboard where one can have a complete view of security cameras, lighting, thermostats etc. at the touch of a button. Many TV sets offer control over smart home equipment with voice commands too, which is one of the coolest ways to carry out simple but boring tasks.
Since the smart home and automation market does not have a universally accepted standard that all such devices adhere to – at least not yet, but Matter is on the way – it’s important to know which of the current standards a new TV supports. There’s Apple’s Homekit, Samsung’s Smarthings and Google’s Home to name but a few, with more specialized standards catering to more demanding user scenarios. The higher number of smart home standards a new Smart TV supports, of course, the better (many models support two or more).
Media player functionality is something that used to be much more valuable a few years back but the rising popularity of Internet streaming services and apps has diminished its importance. Still, a lot of people often need that multimedia playback capability – via USB or the home local network – in order to enjoy their own photo, music or video files. Not all Smart TVs offer pre-installed media player apps and not every app store offers quality media player apps, so for consumers who know that they’ll need multimedia file playback, it pays to check for either a built-in “system” media player app or one available through the app store of the TV they are interested in buying.
In the same set of “often useful” extras one can include the picture-in-picture and/or picture-by-picture functions: the ability of a Smart TV, that is, to show content from one source in a “window” residing on the content that’s displayed full-screen or to show two sources of content side by side. Either is a nice option to have when e.g. watching two sports games happening at the same time or e.g. watching something on TV while playing a video game etc. Needless to say that the larger the TV set, the better results one can expect from either of those functions.
The just-nice-to-have extras of a new Smart TV
After all of the above boxes are checked, there are still some extras that, admittedly, most consumers seldom have a use for. But since nobody knows when they might be needed, they deserve a mention anyway. Not many people, for instance, know that a fair number of Smart TVs can use external USB PC webcams in order to offer video conferencing functionality. Samsung’s recent TV sets play well with Logitech webcams and Skype, for instance, while TV sets based on Android TV or Google TV can work with a wider selection of webcams and the Google Meet app.
Then there’s that all-time, well-advertised favorite, the “digital painting” function. Many marketing videos or photos like to show TV sets – especially OLED ones – flush against a wall displaying famous paintings like giant photo frames of sorts. Some manufacturers even offer digital stores where consumers can purchase their favorite paintings for their TV to display as a slideshow. In real life, of course, not a lot of people would leave a television on for so many hours a day just to make a wall visually interesting, but hey!
There are a few other “nice to have” extras, such as recording of TV programming on USB storage or the ability of a modern TV to act as a center speaker in a home theater sound system setup, but these are use cases that either not many people are interested in anymore or use cases that are rather specialized. Most consumers may be using a couple of all the extras mentioned in this piece, after all, or a few more at best. But, again: since they’ll be paying for that new television anyway, it doesn’t hurt to have these extras at their disposal, yes?
This article is included in our ten-part 2022 TV Buying Guide. Here is a list of them in full:
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Which display tech to go for?
There may be only three available options but it’s still complicated. Here’s some help.
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Pick a spot and a time of day, you say?
Taking viewing habits and lighting conditions into account can help avoid an expensive mistake. Here’s how.
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: How big, how far?
Viewing distance and ideal screen size go hand in hand, here’s how they should be matched for maximum effect
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Stay at 4K or go 8K?
The extra millions of pixels may or may not be worth the extra money, here’s how to decide
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, sports fans
Not all TVs can display sports content in the same clear, smooth manner – here’s what makes all the difference
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, movie fans
What the experts call “a cinematic picture” is defined in specific ways, here’s the full rundown
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, gamers
All TVs can display video games just fine, but gaming TVs do modern titles justice by offering these specific features
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Which Smart TV platform to choose?
Four main options and a number of differences between them, here’s what’s worth keeping in mind
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: All the extras that matter
Modern televisions feature various supplementary functions these days, here are the most helpful ones
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: So, you just got it! Now what?
A few things to do right away, a couple of things to consider doing at some point down the line