Smart TV, media streamer or both?

You want to watch Netflix and YouTube on your TV, but you’re not sure how to go about it. We help you decide…

We’re no longer restricted to the likes of BBC1, ITV and Sky – today’s viewers have masses of options for watching movies, TV shows and sports.

This is mostly down to the rise of sites like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, that stream content over the internet. Other popular services include catch-up channels like BBC iPlayer and All 4 that let you watch Saturday night football on Tuesday afternoon.

Of course, this has all been made possible by fast broadband in our homes. And to get this kind of content, your telly needs to connect to the internet. This means investing in a Smart TV or a media streaming device that connects to your regular TV. But which is right for you? And is there a case for having both? We explore…

watching TV

Smart TV

In a nutshell: A TV that connects to your home Wi-Fi and has built-in apps for things like Netflix and iPlayer without the need for any other device

Smart generally means connected to the internet, and a Smart TV is exactly that – a regular TV that connects to your Wi-Fi.

Most high-end large screen TVs are Smart nowadays – whether you’re choosing a 4K UHD model or a super-swanky OLED TV.

Each manufacturer – Samsung, Sony and LG – has its own type of software, known as a Smart TV platform. This is what you use to work your way around the TV’s menus. Which Smart TV platform is right for me?

These software platforms used to be a bit clunky, but nowadays they’re much more user-friendly – smooth, fluid and easy to get around.

You can watch Netflix, YouTube and BBC iPlayer on Samsung, Sony and LG TVs. While Sony also has Google Play Store, and LG and Samsung Amazon Instant Video – so there’s plenty to watch.

Many Smart TVs also have Freeview HD built-in too. LG Smart TVs have Freeview Play, which puts live TV channels alongside catch-up TV apps in a single episode guide.  


Benefits of Smart TV

  • Everything is inside your TV – no separate box and built-in Wi-Fi to connect to the internet
  • Easy to set up – LG TVs even have a cartoon character to walk you through the process
  • Have live TV, streaming apps and catch up TV in one place
  • Switch between apps like Netflix and iPlayer without leaving what you’re watching
  • Only one remote control – with a new 2016 Samsung TV that can also be used to control Blu-ray players and set-top boxes
  • Play PlayStation games with select Sony and Samsung TVs
  • Built-in Freeview HD for HD channels and Dave, CBeebies, Film 4 and much more 

Find your perfect Smart TV


Media Streamer

In a nutshell: A separate device – a box or a USB-type stick – that connects to your non-Smart TV to stream Netflix over your Wi-Fi

Media streamers are designed to make your ‘dumb’ TV smart. With one you can stream Netflix to a TV that wasn’t designed to connect to the web.

There are 2 different types of streamers. Streaming sticks are small devices that plug directly into your TV’s HDMI port. Streaming boxes are separate devices that sit on your TV unit like a Blu-ray player, connecting to your TV with an HDMI cable.

They work in different ways too. With a Chromecast streaming stick you use your tablet or phone as a remote control, finding what you want to watch and hitting the ‘Cast’ button – now built into most streaming apps.

A streaming box like Apple TV comes with a separate remote control, and loads its own home screen on your TV when switched on.


Benefits of a media streamer

  • Cheapest way to get Netflix, YouTube and iPlayer on your TV
  • Enjoy a serious upgrade without buying a new TV
  • Options to suit every budget – from Chromecast to Apple TV
  • Easy to set-up – just plug into your TV or connect a HDMI cable
  • Access to iTunes, Amazon and Google Play (with certain models) 
  • Access to more nice, offbeat apps

Find your perfect media streamer


Is there a case for having both?

Apple TV, Roku and Chromecast streaming devices all have access to Netflix and BBC iPlayer, but so does your Smart TV. Here’s what else there is on offer. 

By adding…

  • Apple TV you’re able to download and rent movies and TV shows from iTunes and stream your back catalogue. No Smart TV has access to iTunes. You can voice search for movies and TV shows too. Check out Apple TV
  • Chromecast you get Google Play Store, and can also control your TV with your smartphone. Check out Chromecast
  • Roku gives you access to hundreds of channels and apps – including NOW TV for Sky Sports and Sky Movies, Google Play Store, Sky Store as well as more alternative services like indie film app Snag Films. Check out Roku


The verdict

If you’re buying a new large screen TV, it’s most likely to be Smart. This will give you access to Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and catch-up TV like iPlayer and All 4.

But by investing a further £30 on a Roku or Chromecast you can get so much more from your new TV. And if you’re an Apple family, then it’s worth investing that bit more in Apple TV for iTunes.

Now you know what you need to watch your favourite shows online, get the perfect sound system with our guide on home cinema setup.