For the benefit of those not up on television technology, much like your cell phone, a Smart TV has scores of apps. Random examples are Facebook, the NBA, video services such as Vimeo and Daily Motion, pay channels (Netflix, Showtime, et al), weather and world news channels, kids’ options, games and instructionals. Not every app in Google Play Store is supported; however, there are plenty for every taste.
And owning a Smart set means no need for additional hardware, e.g. Chromecast or Hulu box, for beaming anything from phone/tablet/PC to television.
An added bonus is a simplistic—read: low-tech—web browser. Though awkward to navigate with a remote control, you too can be a TV star, pulling up your personal website or blog onto the big screen. With the proper app and some patience, you can also “mirror” the photos on your phone so that they appear on your television screen with remarkable clarity.
But the “killer app”—at least on my Samsung Smart TV—is the pre-installed YouTube app (henceforth referred to as YTA.) What’s so special about a video search engine we’ve all seen hundreds of times online? The fact that that Smart YouTube app is NOT merely the same old same old one sees upon logging in at YouTube.com.
It is a vast improvement. In fact, I consider this app alone to be worth the extra cost to upgrade from a traditional to a Smart set, when in the market for a new TV. Especially when factoring in the $35-100 price tag on a Chromecast, Amazon Fire or similar video streaming device needed to beam content not provided by your cable company…which includes nearly everything online.
(And who needs yet another device?)
The YouTube app exemplifies what smart technology is all about and why it is so named. Simply put, it learns and memorizes your viewing habits and customizes an extensive menu catering to them.
The most obvious and immediately noticeable improvement is in the layout. Rather than the standard “Search bar at the top of a white page, followed by a single column of often-irrelevant thumbnail-links, the YTA screen provides 13 tabs arranged horizontally. Viewers may choose from Recommended, Music, Entertainment, Technology, Trending, Comedy, News, Sports, Live, Gaming, Family, Food and Beauty.
White lettering on a red background for the selected tab and grey for the remaining is eye-appealing and easily legible while seated across the room. Same goes for the white-on-black for the individual videos.
The other tab options are self-explanatory; but “Recommended” is the super-platinum jackpot. Unlike, for instance, Netflix, wherein your viewing history is processed by an algorithm with—to put it nicely—“mixed results” when it comes to suggesting related entertainment that may strike your fancy, the TYA has an absolutely uncanny knack for finding anything from brief clips to full-length movies that very closely reflect your previous selections.
This isn’t simply a matter of matching keywords. For example, if you watch The Creature From The Black Lagoon, your screen won’t be inundated with The Creature From The Haunted Sea, The Eye Creatures, Black Like Me and a music video of Roxy Music performing “Grey Lagoon.”
By the same token, it won’t necessarily just take the easy route and pull up The Creature’s Universal Studios 1930s high-profile brethren Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy.
For a better illustration of the scope of the typical YTA search, let’s use one of my own experiences.
I was curious if YouTube carried any episodes of the BBC comedy series Blackadder, starring Rowan Atkinson. Question answered via the Search function, my future Recommendations included Atkinson in a Doctor Who spoof and as Mr. Bean in a segment not from the Bean series, Rowan performing in the London Olympics opening ceremony, and multiple skits from a live comedy concert starring the Englishman…all but one of which I didn’t even know existed, let alone were preserved online.
In essence, the YTA is the equivalent of a friend who is deeply into a genre/star/field/hobby and delights in exposing you to the obscure.
Take a moment to think about that. There are, oh, a skillion offerings on YouTube. Yet the Smart app somehow finds material so remarkably in tune with your taste, it could almost make you paranoid. Then, it “remembers” your selections, analyzes the data and further fine-tunes the Recommendations the more you watch!
Incidentally, the intelligence carries over to the remaining dozen tabs. Switch to, say, Sports or Music, and the first two rows will reflect your expressed interests, followed by rows dedicated to subgenres of the topic, not always related to your preferences. Consider these General Recommendations, if you will.
The phrase “it pays for itself” gets thrown around far too frequently and is often dubious. Not so with the price difference to upgrade to a Smart TV.
Since purchasing mine, utilizing the YTA and plunking down ten bucks a month for Netflix, I’ve noticed the cable box is rarely powered up. And no more need to trudge through On Demand menus–more increasingly charging a fee for what was once free–when “there’s nothing good on.” In actuality, I rarely even use the YTA Search function, the recommended clips are so spot-on and plentiful.
It is becoming quite the temptation to join the legion who have “cut the cord” by abandoning cable TV all together. Doing so, the pocketed cable fee soon covers the entire cost of the Smart TV and adds up to thousands of dollars over the course of the television’s lifespan.
Don’t want to give up local news, weather and sports? You can change your cable subscription to the most basic package, slashing the monthly bill by roughly 60 percent. The amount saved in just one year will cover the cost of two Smart sets!
Yes, you may lose certain desired channels on the second tier (some of which you can watch from their website, via the browser.) But on the other hand, you will discover loads of previously unknown channels not on cable TV. Everything from Wall Street Journal, Shout Factory TV, Hasbro Studios, Fashionation and All Fitness to Havoc Television, Sotheby’s Auction, Napster, Karaoke TV, The Museum Channel and Pluto TV.
To get an idea of the YTA screen’s appearance, here’s a trick I learned from watching a YouTube video…recommended by the YTA(!) Log on to Youtube.com/TV)