Black Friday and Cyber Monday had come and gone, but did you manage to grab the best entertainment deals? Delhi-based executive Garima Kapoor, a television buff who is rarely happy with the content dished out by local channels, decided to take the plunge and invest in a smart TV this time.
She is not a techie, of course, but quite familiar with the term Android operating system (OS), and had no trouble purchasing a TV running on the mobile version of that OS. By doing so, Kapoor hoped to access the latest apps for content streaming. Unfortunately, she has ended up with a not-so-smart TV and is planning to add a streaming dongle. It is not a one-off incident, though, and many have suffered a similar fate.
"The right kind of smart TV can vastly improve your home entertainment, introducing you to the world of on-demand content, which is just a click away. A smart TV is loaded with myriad apps and widgets that can take the entertainment level a notch higher," says Neeraj Bahl, Associate Director - Business Group Head, Consumer Electronic, Panasonic India.
Much like smartphones and laptops, smart TVs have an OS at the core, which is optimised for the big screen. Other than connecting your DTH box, DVD player, gaming console and more, it also supports Internet connectivity and can be used to stream videos and movies, listen to music, play games or browse the Web. Plus, the user interface (UI) should be intuitive and easy to navigate, and applications should work without a glitch.
While leading brands such as LG, Samsung and Panasonic have developed their respective TV platforms, giving access to plenty of apps and games, Sony, Philips and Sharp have adopted Google's Android TV platform. The latter has a neat, row-based user interface, provides access to apps, games and live TV, and also comes with a built-in Google Assistant. Just say "Ok Google" or press the mic button on the remote to find relevant content in no time.
Chinese technology company Xiaomi, which launched its batch of smart TVs in India earlier this year, features its proprietary PatchWall OS and displays content from various apps. Xiaomi's new Pro series comes with both PatchWall and Android TV UI, enabling users to download apps from the Play Store.
German audio equipment company, Blaupunkt, has launched its smart TV range in India but they run on a trimmed-down version of the Android OS. Although the UI is very similar to Android TV, some of the apps, including Netflix, failed to update. VU also offers a range of smart TVs in India, but only a handful of them run on Android TV OS.
What should worry buyers is that quite a few manufacturers are loading the mobile version of the Android OS and calling them smart TVs. But the experience, UI and app access are not similar. For instance, you will not be able to instal apps like Netflix and may face streaming issues. The incompatible UI makes it difficult to access the settings page or even log in to your Gmail account to access apps.
"A good smart TV should be smart enough to do things that you do every day, but in the most ergonomic way possible," says Sudeep Sahu, Product Manager at Xiaomi India. "Smart does not mean it has to be complicated and sophisticated; instead, it should be effective but easy to operate, helping you discover what you want to watch. Users mostly fall under two broad categories - those who know what they want to watch and others who rely on content discovery. A smart TV should be able to serve both."
You should also keep in mind connectivity options. New-age smart TVs support Wi-Fi, but many of us end up investing in separate Wi-Fi dongles (avoid these). Also, do not feel confused about TV resolution and picture quality. Although 4K panels with HDR+ technology is the latest and future-proof, 4K content is still very limited. If your budget permits, go for one. Otherwise, stick to a full HD TV as it will stream clean, clear and sharp content. A lot also depends on fast Internet connections.
Finally, you need not invest in a smart TV if your current plasma, LCD or LED TV is working fine. You can access apps and content using streaming dongles and devices. For instance, Google Chromecast is a popular dongle that can be controlled using your smartphone. Once the set-up is done, the content playing on the phone can also be streamed on to the TV using the cast icon. Amazon Fire TV Stick is the new favourite as it comes with a dedicated remote and Alexa-powered voice search. You can instal a number of apps here, including Netflix, Hotstar, Hungama and Sony Liv, among others. The UI is neat and easy to use. Apple TV is priced on the higher side but is fast and provides access to apps such as Netflix, Prime Video, Hotstar, Zee5 and more.