When buying a new TV, maybe around Black Friday, there’s a dilemma you’ll be faced with right out of the box: do you stick with the built-in smart TV software or do you plug in a streaming player instead? separated?
Both approaches have their merits. You may get better performance and broader app support from an external streaming player, but your smart TV software may offer features that you can’t get by connecting a Fire TV Stick or Roku.
If you’re not sure whether you need a streaming player to use with your smart TV, here’s how to decide:
Test your smart TV software first
Before buying a streaming player separately, test your smart TV software. You probably don’t need an additional streaming device if your TV meets all of the following criteria:
- Has all the video and music streaming apps you plan to use
- Doesn’t feel excruciatingly slow to operate
- You are happy enough with the remote control and the menu system
Smart TVs get a bad rap for a number of reasons. Major TV brands like Samsung, LG, and Vizio tend to offer fewer apps compared to other platforms like Roku and Fire TV, and their long-term software update history is worse. Smart TVs can also be more privacy invasive than some streaming devices, especially if you don’t. disable your content recognition systems that track what you see, and can use slower processors that reduce responsiveness and load times.
But not all smart TVs suffer from these problems. If you buy a TV with the Roku, Fire TV, or Android TV software built in, you’ll get the same apps and features as their standalone streaming player counterparts. And the more you spend on a smart TV, the more likely its processor is fast enough.
Where smart TVs excel
Smart TVs also have several advantages over standalone streaming devices. This is:
Easier HDR setup: If your TV supports Dolby Vision or HDR10 +, your smart TV apps will support those formats automatically. You don’t need to worry about buying a compatible streaming player or figuring out which HDMI input offers the best video quality. Using the smart TV software also frees up your HDMI inputs for game consoles, Blu-ray players, or HDMI-ARC sound bars.
Integration by air: Many Samsung and LG TVs come with detailed channel guides for wireless antennas, as do TVs running Roku, Fire TV, and Android TV software. That means you don’t need to change remotes or set up a network tuner just to watch your local channels. (With Roku and Fire TV Edition TVs, you can even plug in a USB thumb drive to pause and rewind live TV.)
Better voice controls: Some Android TV and Fire TV Edition TVs, including Amazon’s new Omni TVs, have built-in far-field microphones, so you can start videos, control playback, adjust volume, or change inputs without touching the remote. Having the microphone built into your TV is simpler than setting up a Fire TV Cube or trying to pair an external smart speaker with your streaming player.
Roku speaker stand: If you are using a Roku TV with company soundbars or wireless speakers, or Roku compatible devices from TCL wireless sound bar: You’ll get hassle-free setup and the ability to control audio settings through your TV remote. That means you won’t need a separate remote just to adjust the bass or toggle the Roku’s dialog boost feature.
When a streaming player makes sense
As I mentioned earlier, the main reason to switch to a separate streaming player is because your smart TV software is slow, out of date, or lacks app compatibility. But there are also a few other reasons why you might want to ditch the smart TV functionality right out of the box:
More hardware options: Since Apple does not does not make smart TVs, a separate Apple TV box is the only way to get the most powerful streaming device on the market today, one whose interface is also refreshing and ad-free. Also, the Nvidia Shield TV has no equal if you want an Android TV player with the best possible performance.
Additional characteristics: Unless you bought your TV on the basis of its software, you may end up coveting the features of external streaming players. Roku, for example, offers a great mobile app with private headphones to listen to and a “List to Save” to track your shows, while Fire TV offers a practical live TV guide which adds multiple video sources in one menu. If you bought a Samsung, LG, or Vizio TV, it may be worth switching for those kinds of features.
Unification of ecosystems: If all of your TVs are running different software, you might consider unifying them via external streaming players. That way, you get a consistent experience across all of your TVs. Some streaming platforms, like Fire TV and Google TV, even offer watchlists that sync across all your devices and can play multi-room audio on multiple TVs at once.
Either way, you don’t need to rush into a decision, nor do you have to throw away your entire TV if your software isn’t up to the mark. But if you’re ready to replace your smart TV software, you’ll find plenty of external players and streaming devices that are up to the task.
Take a look at Jared’s Cord Cutter Weekly Newsletter for more tips on life without cord.