Smartening up a dumb TV

Internet streaming services are awesome, and you’d very much like to be able to watch in the loungeroom.

But you have an old “dumb” TV and aren’t all that interested in buying a whole new smart TV just to watch Stan or Presto.

So what’s the best way to get streaming services to the loungeroom? Here, we’ll take a look at some of the major options.

Supported Services

Android media players

Price: Varies

There are a quite a few set-top boxes that run Android. The Kaiser Baas Smart Media Player, Gearbest Chiptrip MXV and Laser MMC-S30 are just a few.

They generally rely on Kodi for local media streaming and the standard Android apps for other streaming services.

Because they have access to the Android ecosystem, they tick a lot of boxes; pretty much every service is supported. But there’s a caveat: the Android apps are built for touchscreen operation, not remote control, and using them is frequently an ugly and awkward business.

As a rule, these boxes get the job done, but they’re kind of sucky to use for apps not designed for touchscreens (that is, most of them).

Apple TV

Price: $109 (3rd gen) or $269 (4th gen)
From: Apple

Apple TVIn terms of native streaming support, the Apple TV has a limited bag of supported apps with Netflix and Stan supported and three of the five free-to-air networks available.

There are other apps as well, including Crackle, YouTube, Vevo and a variety of others. It’s an OK selection overall, and its media player functions are also just OK, requiring iTunes and with limited format support.

If you have a Mac or an iOS device like an iPhone or iPad, you can patch its streaming deficiencies using AirPlay casting.

Now working like Miracasting or Chromecasting, AirPlay lets you mirror either an app or your device’s full screen through the Apple TV.

Many streaming apps on iOS support it natively, and those that don’t can still be used with full-screen mirroring.

Chromecast

Price: $49
From: Google

ChromecastAlthough it is extremely disappointing that, at the time of writing at least, the second gen Chromecast is not available in Australia, the Chromecast remains a very cheap and easy way to get streaming services on your TV.

Unlike most of the other solutions, Chromecast does not have integral apps — instead, it relies entirely on casting from external devices. You can cast from Android, iOS and PC.

Most commonly, you’ll use a mobile phone or tablet, which will operate as both the video source and the remote control (Chromecast does support HDMI-CEC, so some apps will support you controlling them with the TV remote as well).

Many of the native Android streaming apps support casting to Chromecast natively, and even for those that don’t, you can use the Chrome browser to cast them from the service’s website.

Telstra TV

Price: $109
From: Telstra

Telstra TVThe Roku set-top box has been a huge success overseas, with good reason. It supports a huge variety of streaming services and has a customisable interface that allows you to add just the streaming services you want to your main page.

And now we finally have it in Australia, rebadged as the new Telstra TV.

But there’s an enormous caveat: Telstra has locked it down so that it’s only available to Telstra broadband customers. You can still import a Roku 2 from the US, but it won’t have proper support for Australian streaming services.

If you are a Telstra customer, however, it is a very good option. It supports pretty much everything bar QuickFlix, and it’s one of the few devices outside of FreeviewPlus that supports all five free-to-air catch up services.

There are a bunch of additional apps besides, including crunchyroll, Vimeo and YouTube — and, of course, BigPond Movies. You can also stream your own movies and TV shows with its media player.

For $109, it’s a very good deal for Telstra customers. It just sucks that everybody else is left out in the cold.

WD TV

Price: $149
From: Western Digital

Once the premier set-top box for streaming media, the WD TV has become a major disappointment.

It has failed to keep up with the emergence of new streaming apps, and looking at its list of apps now will likely prompt a whole bunch of “What the hell is that?” responses. It doesn’t even support Netflix anymore, though it once did.

It is redeemed somewhat by its native support for Miracast. With Miracast, it serves as a casting target for just about anything. Miracast mirrors the screen of the casting device, and both Android devices and Windows devices (since Windows 8.1) support it.

In Windows, you need to go to the Display Control panel and select Connect to a wireless display. As long as your wireless network is up to snuff, it works perfectly well as a Miracast target for 720p streams.

It also remains one of the best network media players on the market for playing your own videos, supporting both DLNA and Windows file sharing as well as a large variety of formats.

Consoles

Price: $499 (1TB models)

Xbox OneNow that they have DLNA support, both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One make fine media players. Both have progressively added more streaming services to their app selection as well.

There are still some notable gaps, particularly with respect to free-to-air channels and minor streaming services, but if you’re into games as well as streaming, it might be the time to get one.

Other devices

Smart TVs

A TV with built-in support for streaming is always a great option, and Samsung, LG, Sony and Panasonic in particular have done a good job of keeping up with the times.

Just be sure to check which services they support before you buy — Netflix is almost universal, but Stan, Quickflix and Presto are not.

FetchTV

Price: $399
From: FetchTV

The FetchTV set-top box is designed primarily to service the Foxtel-like FetchTV service, but it also includes support for Netflix, local media streaming and a few other services (a Netflix subscription is not included with a FetchTV sub).

The box itself costs $399 stand-alone, so unless you’re a FetchTV subscriber, it’s probably not a good option.

FreeviewPlus

From: Freeview

This is not a specific device, but a service that’s integrated into others, primarily PVRs and smart TVs for now.

FreeviewPlus integrates all the free-to-air catch-up services — ABC iView, SBS on Demand, TenPlay, Plus7, 9JumpIn and more — into a single service, giving you access to all their on-demand content in one place.

Blu-ray players

A number of Blu-ray players also support streaming services and you should definitely take a look at them as well.

The $118 LG BP 450 3D Network Blu-ray Player, for example, essentially has LG’s smart TV software built in, as well as being a Blu-ray player.