How to turn any TV into a Smart TV for Free
With this guide, I’m going to show you how to convert your tv to smart tv.
This guide was written in 2019 but has been kept up to date with modern standards
It’s 2020, everyone who buys a new TV will expect it to be a Smart TV, but what’s the point in swapping out a perfectly good dumb TV that works with an expensive inclusive smart TV? There is no reason!
How do I make my dumb TV a Smart TV?
Simply plug in an Amazon Firestick or Google ChromeCast into your dumb TV, connect those devices to your Wi-Fi Network and use a Smartphone, Tablet, Laptop or their remotes to stream Music and Videos to your now Smart TV. You can also use something like Miracast which mirrors your mobile device onto your TV and that only requires an additional HDMI cable.
There are many alternatives to the Google Chromecast and Amazon Firestick, one of these being the Roku Express or Now TV Smart Stick. But I tend to stick with the more well-known devices. The Roku will likely have more apps available and can certainly add third-party devices but this can be a security risk.
How do you know if you have a Smart TV?
A Smart TV is essentially a TV which connects to other devices or the internet. In this case, using Netflix, Plex, Amazon Prime would all be Smart TV utilities.
If you have a 4K TV, you will need to upgrade your Netflix plan if you want to stream in 4K!
If you have this natively, congratulations, your Television is Smart TV ready. Otherwise, you will need to convert your TV from a “Dumb TV”.
Can I get Netflix without a Smart TV?
Yes! In addition to being able to turn your TV into a Smart TV for free, a lot of the newer TVs now have Netflix as an App built-in, a lot of older TVs and budget newer TVs don’t.
So, to get your Netflix and Chill on easily, you may find that the Google Chromecast, Amazon Firestick and Even the Roku is the way to go.
There are alternatives like the Raspberry Pi and even using Plex which we will discuss later.
The Best TV Dongle Which Uses Wi-Fi
There is no ‘best’ Wi-Fi Dongle, most of them simply stream video wirelessly over your network from Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Video and even Plex if you have a localised Network.
A lot of people call them “PC-TV Sticks” and there’s a ton of them on the market which aren’t exactly great and essentially run on the same Linux based software as the Roku.
Personally, I consider Roku as the best of the lower tier types of PC-TV Sticks for user interactivity.
If you’re a little more technical, the Roku is great. If you just want it to work out of the box, go for the Amazon Firestick / Google Chromecast.
The Amazon Fire TV Streaming service is pretty clean if you have Amazon Prime, but doesn’t have a great Prime selection as it tricks you into seeing non-prime content that you need to pay for.
Can I stream videos to my TV in 4k?
Amazon recently released the Fire TV Stick 4k which replaces the standard Fire TV Stick and supports 4K Streaming.
It is still a budget device which is great at only £40 ($50). Obviously this only really works if your internet connection is quick enough to buffer at 4K and your TV supports 4K.
It’s worth noting the standard Firestick is the only device which doesn’t have the ability to stream in 4K.
Can I turn a CRT Monitor into a Smart TV?
Most CRT monitors use what is called VGA, you’ll have seen this in the back of the monitor which has a lot of holes and requires a pin connector. This is definitely possible, but not recommended.
You’re going to need a VGA to HDMI converter for this which will allow you to connect your Amazon Firestick, Roku or Google Chromecast. It’s worth noting it needs to be a VGA to HDMI, not the other way round, see the picture below for an example.
Can I control my Smart TV without a remote?
Yes you can! If you have the Alexa Firestick, you’ll get a remote with a microphone in it to quick search, but if you have yourself an Alexa Smart Hub, you can send voice commands to your Firestick.
“Alexa, play Stranger Things on Netflix”
For those of us who are lazy, this is fantastic. You can do this via other hubs such as the Google Home, but it requires a lot of workarounds with IFTTT. Honestly, it’s not worth the stress.
You would be better using a Chromecast with the Google Home, as this works natively and can be done with the following command:
Play a movie or TV show on Netflix using Chromecast: “OK, Google, play Stranger Things on the Kitchen TV.”
If you use a Roku stick, you can download the Skill for this onto Alexa which allows you to then ask Roku to search for something.
“Alexa, launch Hulu on Roku”
Do Smart TVs need aerials?
No, as you’re using Wi-Fi, you’ll not need to connect to any stations. Essentially you’re streaming data just over your internet connection, just like if you watched YouTube on your phone.
Without any need to tune your TV, you’ll literally be able to watch anything, anywhere.
Will my Smart TV work without an internet connection?
Technically, yes. But mostly, no. You can use your Smart TV to connect locally to something along the lines of Plex, but should you wish to use something along the lines of Netflix, Amazon Movies, BBC iPlayer etc you would need an internet connection.
Will my DIY Smart TV regularly update the software with new features?
This is something I can’t directly answer, this really depends on whether or not the device you’re using to connect to the internet is updated. A lot of these devices will be updated for years to come and due to their price it’s not really a problem if you need to upgrade.
A lot of the major platforms such as Roku, Google Chromecast and Amazon Firestick will keep up to date with the latest security protocols and add new features when they can because they’re constantly in competition with one another. A lot of these patches will add new support for extras such as Dolby Vision, HDR etc.
If you’re using an Android or Linux based platform you’ll find that there is a whole operating system update as well as the TV software updates that are on it, I highly suggest updating both.
I really wouldn’t worry about thinking if you’ll be up to date on everything, if the next Netflix turns up, you’ll find it will appear on your service too because the competitors will want to supply it too.
Can my smart TV crash or hang?
100% they can and will, Smart TVs are just compact computers, so they’ll be trying to work on Video Processing, up-scaling/converting to your monitor / TVs resolution. There’s plenty more specifics such as memory and processing power, very similar to your phone.
This will happen for a variety of different reasons across a variety of different tools and platforms. Typically it happens more often if you’re using a cheap third-party tool which utilises Android or Linux and doesn’t have the right specifications for what it’s trying to do.
Is it better to buy a smart TV or get a cheaper TV and a set-top box
The answer is yes, with the price of a Smart TV getting smaller and smaller an investment to that would be better if you could, it’s all in one, less cables and they tend to have a completely inclusive update package making it easier for yourself.
Regardless of the price difference in the specifications of Smart TVs between one another. Smart TVs offer better video processing and higher quality in the picture.
If you’re looking to save money with Smart Home Technology, check out my blog post here on Saving Money with Home Automation.
“Alexa, Play Friends”
Whilst I don’t actually watch TV very much as I use it mostly for my Nintendo Switch, Xbox 360 and RetroPi (I may actually cover this on my blog as it’s a cool home addition for you and your friends!), I do have a tendency to go back and watch older films I love, like Full Metal Jacket and Citizen Kane.
So yes, whilst I may have a stick up my backside about cinema and it’s importance, I do still love to binge watch Netflix shows.
In this world of interconnection based on Smart Devices and APIs and timeywimey stuff, it can be easy to lose track of your setup.
That’s why SmartTVs doing all the work for you built into one are fantastic! I only have a Hisense 2018 4K Smart TV which does the job fine, but I also have a ‘dumb’ TV I converted into a Smart TV.
Cheap Smart TVs on the Market
There are currently a few budget Smart TVs I’ll recommend to you as of the moment, one of which is my Hisense 2018 4K Smart TV, honestly, it does a great job, quality is enough for me and I love everything being tweaked into one package.
Alternatively, there is an off-brand SmartTV which a friend of mine owns and it seems pretty good! It’s 40″ and 4K, it holds up really well, the quality is great for the price bracket (£240 ish with free delivery), it has Netflix, YouTube, iPlayer, Freeview and enough HDMI ports for extra goodies!
How does a smart TV work with Alexa?
This depends on the software on the TV / The way you’re doing it, if you’re using a DumbTV and using an external device it’ll have full integration via the WiFi connection as per my blog post here.
The same tends to go with Smart TVs as they are recognised as Smart Devices and utilise an API to get stuff done, Smart TVs with Alexa already integrated offer a super simple set-up when you first turn them on.
How to hook up your Samsung Smart TV to Alexa
Samsung as of the moment are the kings of integration across multiple platforms. With the use of the Samsung SmartThings Hub, you can connect your Samsung SmartTV directly to Alexa meaning you don’t need the firestick controller.
- Start by connecting your Samsung smart TV with the SmartThings Hub.
- If it’s compatible, turn your TV on and put it on the same network as the hub.
- Press the button your TV remote and select “Settings.“ Go to “System” and then select “Samsung Account.” Your TV should now show up on your SmartThings app.
- Open the Alexa app and tap “Menu.” Click on “Smart Home” on the dropdown list and turn it on.
- Use the search bar at the top and search for “SmartThings.” When you find it, tap “Enable.” (If this doesn’t appear, There is a section below these points on how to fix this).
- A new window will come up asking you to sign into your SmartThings account. Fill in the details and hit “Sign in.”
- You will see a new page with a drop-down area. Click on the bar with the arrow and choose “Live.SmartHomeDB.com.” Click “Authorize.”
- You should get a message telling you Alexa was successfully linked with SmartThings.
- Close the window, find a pop-up menu and click “Discover devices.”
- You should see the SmartThings skill added to your Alexa app with a blue button below it. Tap the blue button that says “Discover,” and wait for Alexa to notice all the connected devices.
For those of you without the Official Samsung Smart TV integration, look for a skill called “Unofficial Samsung SmartTV Controller” by “ShemeshApps”, it is a bit of a hack job and does require a Raspberry Pi, It works great but does require some technical hackery to work.
Alexa Commands for my TV
It’s very straight forward to use Alexa with your TV once it’s all set up, simply keep Alexa within the distance of yourself (I suggest not keeping it next to the TV Speakers, it makes it hard to control).
Make sure the extra apps you want are installed (NBC, Fox Now, BBC iPlayer, Netflix, etc and then say the following:
- “Alexa, watch Breaking Bad on Netflix”
- “Alexa, watch The Man in the High Castle on Amazon”
- “Alexa, watch Bill and Ben the flowerpot men”
Leaving out the “On _____” part will make it search for you which is great if you still have a remote next to you. You can also ask it to rewind, pause and play as well:
- “Alexa, rewind”
- “Alexa, rewind two minutes.”
- “Alexa, Pause”
Why should I use Alexa?
It goes without saying, Alexa is the #1 in this industry for this specific area. In terms of competition, I don’t really think that there’s anything commercially available which beats this.
If you have a Raspberry Pi or you know how to work with Linux, the Roku box may be good for you. However, to keep things simple, Alexa is my option.
What do you think? Do you use the Alexa Firestick or have a recommended Smart TV?
What Smart TV Apps can I use?
This completely depends on the TV you have if that has Smart Apps as well as the Set-Top Boxes you opt to use. There is no set standard, however, most of these devices do offer the major Catch-up services.
A catch-up service is anything along the lines of BBC iPlayer, All 4, ITV Hub, Hulu and Fox On Demand.
Set-top boxes with pre-installed apps
BT YouView Box
The BT YouView HD Box boasts UHD DTR Freeview with 7 days worth of Catch up TV. It has some fairly good reviews and allows up to 300 hours of recorded TV (Although I’m not sure on how much of that can be UHD). The free-view menu seems a tad dated for a product at around £170, however, it does come with the following apps:
- Now TV
- BT TV Store
Apple TV 4K
This device comes in two models both have different amounts of onboard storage (32GB and 64GB). If you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, this is quite possibly the better option to have as it allows you to view photos and videos from your iPhone / iPad on your TV. It has Siri voice search on the remote, supports Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 Surround Sound and 4K HDR10 / Dolby Vision for quality.
The apps this device come with are:
- Amazon Prime
- BBC iPlayer
- Apple TV+
- And you can download more via the Apple App Store
Whilst I no longer use Now TV (Thanks to Game of Thrones), I do have to recommend the Now TV Smart Stick. It’s a great little tool for anyone who just wants to get their TV connected to the internet on a budget. It doesn’t boast any amazing features like 4K or UHD streaming but it does give you access to these great apps:
- Disney +
- BBC iPlayer
- ITV Hub
- Sky Store
- and of course, NowTV
I may be wrong here, but I’m fairly certain the TalkTalk YouView is just the original YouView box but rebranded as the TalkTalk TV Box (Confusing I know). If you want this box, you will need to buy it second hand or directly from a vendor on Amazon or be a TalkTalk customer. I can’t really recommend this due to that alone. Regardless, the apps it has are:
- Now TV
- Amazon Prime Video
- TalkTalk TV Store
Sky has always been pretty reliable for streaming TV, they were the big boys back in the day and are still fairly popular in the streaming field now. Even if that’s likely out of contractual convenience.
So, other than Sky TV, what apps can you use via the Sky Q?
Virgin Media TV Box
Another big dog trying to get into the world of Streaming. Virgin have always had either mediocre or good products in this industry, nothing really bad (Other than Virgin holidays and work ethics). You will need to use a service with Virgin for this, as such If you’re not using a Virgin Media service, just avoid this product.
The apps this product uses are:
Streaming Devices that help you turn your dumb TV into a Smart TV
Not looking for a streaming box? Not a problem, just chuck a stick in the back of your TV and be on your way, it’s so easy. A lot of these will be duplicates of the prior section of this guide due to them meeting multiple criteria
Amazon Fire Stick
Quite honestly, my favourite device. I’ve had a few issues with it like overheating and losing internet connection. But generally speaking, it’s got the best User Interface and has the best apps by default. Not to mention you can install Plex and stream directly from your local media server.
It comes with the following apps by default, but there are over 5,000 apps you can download directly:
- Amazon Prime
- BBC iPlaye
The Apple TV box is a difficult one, I consider it a set-top box but also a streaming device as it connects to the WiFi to do it’s work. As I mentioned prior, it’s great if you’re already in the Apple ecosystem and has access to these apps:
- Amazon Prime
- BBC iPlayer
- Apple TV+
- And you can download more via the Apple App Store
My second favourite in the ecosystem, if you’ve read my blog you’ll know I’m not a huge fan of the Google Ecosystem because of the way they axe companies they take over.
But, the Chromecast is pretty damn good at what it does, just like the Amazon Firestick, you just plug it in directly to the HDMI port of the TV, sign into your Google account and it’ll just work.
Apps it contains use:
- NOW TV
- Catch-up TV Apps
Roku has two options, there’s a streaming stick or the Roku Box. Both of these options directly plug into your HDMI port, Roku used to be the big under dog in the streaming wordl. I recall everyone trying to keep hush about it due to the illegal streaming sites you could run off it directly.
Whilst this is still possible, the current Apps include:
- Now TV
- Amazon Prime
- BBC iPlayer
You can install a lot more channels and apps directly on the Roku device, there’s an increasing amount every day up to around 2000 in total.
Ever since the Xbox 360 with Windows Media Center, most modern gaming consoles have had the ability to allow you to install apps and stream directly to your TV.
Some of these devices even allow for “Watch Parties”, the major consoles that allow some form of streaming are:
- PS3, PS4 & PS5
- Wii, Wii U and Nintendo Switch (Limited to YouTube unless Jailbroken)
- Xbox 360, Xbox One & Xbox Series X
Netflix isn’t available on the Wii anymore as it was discontinued on January 30th 2019.
WiFi connected Blu-Ray Players
A lot of Blu-Ray players nower days can connect to the internet. This means if your device allows it, it will likely have Netflix or Amazon Prime by default.
It really does depend on which device you go with.