Broadband tips & tricks: turn your TV Smart

6th September 2018

The kids are on their way back to university or perhaps the grandkids are in the process of being packed off to school (the kids too, if you’re lucky enough to be that young). Either way, at last, the Internet is truly yours again.

No more data-sapping gaming or constant social media scrolling, no more YouTube streaming or long-distance Skype calling. So, why don’t you sit back at your leisure and treat yourself to some of the best watching out there – and all without needing a single subscription (TV licence not included).

First things first, you’ll want to get the best out of your bigblu broadband but turning your TV into an Internet TV; we’ll get on to our must-watch recommendations in my next blog. Internet TV will give you access to everything from BBC iPlayer to YouTube to ITV Hub to 4OD. So much brilliant creativity at your fingertips and not a Netflix or Amazon account in sight.

My inherited TV was not Smart, although it was doing a good job of outfoxing me

If you don’t already have a Smart TV or struggle to navigate an EPG or have no idea what an EPG is when it’s at home (me neither, it’s an Electronic Programme Guide, btw, which stands for by the way, btw), then this blog is for you – and is based entirely on my own recent researches.

Confession time: I haven’t owned a TV for years, I’ve never watched Mad Men or Game of Thrones, I don’t have Amazon Prime or a Netflix account. But last week my sister gave me her old TV (a Sony Bravia since you ask) and so I thought I’d turn my wireless knob to off and crank up the screen.

My first challenge was working out how to get any sort of picture. My inherited TV was not Smart, although it was doing a good job of outfoxing me. By Smart TV I mean an Internet-connected television that offers a range of online features, such as on-demand content access to streaming services and the ability to connect to other wireless devices like smartphones.

The good news was that I could use my broadband connection to turn my over-five-years-old telly into a bang-up-to-date model. And here’s how I did it…

Step One: Freeview options
I looked into Freeview set-top boxes. There’s a whole range of them out there, from the top-of-the-range £250+ Humax HDR-FOX T2 that can be used to record up to three channels simultaneously. And also has a portal that features a range of streaming apps including BBC iPlayer and YouTube. Its picture quality for live and recorded TV is among the best around.

Step Two: best budget option
I thought to myself that it would be nice to have a spare £250 but, seeing as I’m new to this TV malarkey, I wanted something a little more budget. That led me to Now TV’s Freeview box. It lets me watch, pause and rewind channels like BBC, ITV and Channel 4 live but, unlike the Humax, it won’t let me record live TV.

Step 3: ask the experts
Listen to my web developer colleague. Most of what he says I don’t understand but I did catch the phrase “get a HDMI cable”. So, I nodded sagely and scribbled it down. When he had left the room I quickly Googled ‘HDMI cable’. Google told me that it stands for High Definition Multimedia Interface and is the most used cable for connecting devices such as digital TV, DVD players, BluRay players, Xbox, Playstation and, crucially in my case, laptops.

Step 4: ready and cable
I did some more research and discovered that getting into cable connections with our tech guys is like opening Pandora’s box. I’ll do just that in the future but for now all you or I need to know is that, over short distances, say under six feet (two metres), just about any recent “High Speed” HDMI cable should work fine.

Step 5: the right port in the storm
I found one for less than £5 in my local Wilko, went home, plugged one end into the unmistakable port on the side of my laptop (a pretty basic Lenovo 300 from 2015) and the other end into the same pretty unmistakable port on the side of the TV.

Step 6: power up the PC
I connected my laptop to my broadband, opened up my browser and navigated to the BBC iPlayer website (other streaming sites are available).

Step 7: mirror image
I then turned on my TV, pressed the “source” button on the side (my sister forgot to gift me a remote control) and, as if by magic, I had turned my TV into a big 42” version of my puny laptop. All I had to do is choose what I wanted to watch using my laptop as normal and the display was mirrored on my TV.

I still couldn’t record but for the price of a HDMI cable I had turned my aged TV into a Smart TV and revolutionised my whole viewing experience. So, once you’ve set up your TV (or, perhaps for most of you who know more of these things than I do, simply turned it on), tune into the next blog to find out what exactly you could be watching this September now that you have the house and your broadband all to yourself.