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Are Smart TVs ever as good as dedicated streaming players?

By Julio Franco · 27 replies
Dec 2, 2016
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  1. As streaming media sources have become increasingly popular, so have devices that bring Netflix and more to our television screens. Now our TVsBlu-ray players, and game consoles can all stream online video. With so many options, is it worth buying a Roku or other dedicated streaming player?

    If your streaming media needs are basic, Smart TVs will let you watch Netflix, Hulu, and other mainstream services just fine. But are they as good as a dedicated streaming device? The short answer is sometimes, but the full explanation is a bit more complicated. Read on to see what streaming media players and Smart TVs offer in terms of content, interface, and other features, so you can pick the best option for you.

    Streaming Players Provide Lots of Content Options

    While a Smart TV gets you the basics, a dedicated streaming media player will let you watch almost anything. Roku is definitely the king of content, with 3,500-plus streaming channels. Admittedly, that includes a lot of channels you probably don't care about, but the point is that Roku covers everything you're likely to want. For anyone interested in iTunes content, a streaming player is the only way to go: Apple TV is the sole device that supports iTunes. And while not every streaming device is the same, most offer more options than Smart TVs.

    Another advantage of a streaming player is the ability to send content from your computer or mobile device to your television screen. It's a good way to watch content your streaming player doesn't have an app for — like playing Amazon Video on an Apple TV — or to just browse the web on a big screen. You can AirPlay to Apple TV from other Apple devices, Cast to Chromecast and Android TV, and mirror your screen to Roku from Android and Windows devices.

    One advantage of a streaming player is the ability to send content from your computer or mobile device to your television screen.

    Smart TVs can't compete with that variety. Though you can expect Netflix and YouTube as a matter of course, beyond that it's a mixed bag. For example, Vizio Smart TVs won't stream Amazon (though neither will Apple TV) and neither Panasonic nor Vizio stream HBO. LG, Samsung, and Sony Smart TVs offer the most variety, but none of the traditional TV-makers compete with Roku on channel selection.

    Some exceptions do exist: Roku TVs and Sony Smart TVs are both essentially TVs with third-party streaming media players baked in. Roku TVs are made by a variety of manufacturers and integrate Roku's interface and capabilities. Sony integrates Android TV, which, while not our top choice in streaming media systems, is a step up from the average Smart TV. On top of that, LG offers a solid Smart TV interface that allows for screen sharing (from select devices) with its Magic Mobile Connection feature.

    So, which device wins for content? Definitely Roku (or Roku TV), but other stand-alone streaming players are also solid options, depending on what you want to watch. For a Smart TV, LG, Samsung, and Sony all offer respectable streaming options... but not quite the best.

    Interfaces Vary From Brand to Brand

    Software in a Smart TV can feel like an afterthought. TV manufacturers are, after all, TV manufacturers — they're working to create the most impressive screens they can, while slapping a "Smart" label on the box to impress consumers. Companies that make streaming media players are more invested in making software that's easy to use. But because each manufacturer uses its own system, this varies from brand to brand. Along with their respectable content options, LG (running webOS), Samsung (running mobile OS Tizen), and Sony (running Android TV) all provide decent interfaces. LG's and Sony's are even customizable.

    The most notable feature you'll find on streaming players — but few Smart TVs — is universal search functionality. That lets you search multiple streaming services at once, and it's a huge time-saver when you're navigating the multitude of streaming services. Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku all offer their own universal search function; on the Smart TV side, you'll find it on Sony and Panasonic sets.

    The usefulness of universal search goes back, again, to the number of channels available. The more channels a device can search, the better universal search is at finding what you want. This again gives Roku an edge.

    Apps and Games Are Better on Certain Devices

    While Smart TVs focus on what you can watch, Apple TV, Fire TV, and Android TV let you access select games and apps for iOS (Apple TV) or Android (Fire TV and Android TV). Roku has some games, as do certain Smart TVs. But other than the offerings from Sony, which uses Android TV, they're all fairly lackluster.

    This isn't a big deal if you only want to watch TV and movies. If you're looking for more than movies, however, a streaming player has the variety you want.

    Every Streaming Device Is Different

    It's hard to say if a streaming media player is definitively better than a Smart TV because each player and each TV are different. As we've said, LG, Samsung, and Sony all produce Smart TVs with good interfaces and a respectable content selection, which makes them competitive with streaming media players. Because Roku TV and Sony Smart TVs have integrated Roku and Android TV players, respectively, those Smart TVs are just as good as having a stand-alone device — but for everything else, it's a toss-up. In the end, what's better really depends on what features you want.

    Unless you just can't deal with another remote, a stand-alone player is typically a better way to stream to your TV.

    When shopping for a new TV, you'll be hard-pressed to find one that isn't Smart — meaning you're likely to have Smart features even if you won't use them. If you're on a tight budget, even if your Smart TV isn't the best way to get streaming media, it's probably good enough. However, the Chromecast, Fire TV Stick, and certain Roku products cost less than $50. (During the holidays, you're likely to find them for much less than that.) So why settle for a potentially second-rate Smart TV when you could have a streaming media player? Unless you just can't deal with another remote, a stand-alone player is typically a better way to stream to your TV.

    Elizabeth Harper is a contributing writer at dealnews. Republished with permission.

    Permalink to story.

  2. Kunming

    Kunming TS Maniac Posts: 308   +187

    Buying a Smart TV is a Dumb choice.
    bobc4012 likes this.
  3. mbrowne5061

    mbrowne5061 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,156   +624

    Vizio Smart TVs won't stream Amazon? Since when? I bought one three years ago that streams Amazon just fine*

    *just as fine as all the other sources - Netflix, Youtube, etc - in that it is hit or miss, slow to load the app, and crashes every so often.
  4. fktech

    fktech TS Maniac Posts: 512   +128

    My solution is TiVo, Samsung Smart TVs and Samsung smart Blu-rays. Allshare for simple easy DLNA streaming from computer content, NAS based media management is too time consuming. Mezzmo is a close second to Allshare AND I have tried them ALL including Plex. If I can't buy and own the use of the content then I move on quickly to those vendors that support my specifications. Nothing beats watching movies and shows commercial free on your own schedule. And binge watching is fun when busy schedules permit.
  5. Kenrick

    Kenrick TS Evangelist Posts: 630   +403

    New and present TVs from Sony has the best OS in all TV. They use android and its a really good interface. Kodi is available at play store. Then you can even install airplay/dlna app so that you can mirror your apple devices or pc. You can also use cast if android is your thing. Installing keyboard or mouse is easy as A. Netflix, HBO, Amazon Starz, MLB, etc, all are there even anime Crunchroll. One of the best purchases I did last year. Oh Plex is available.

    I love OLED from LG and samsung but lets face it. They have the worst OS or you can say limited in a lot of ways. That is a typical Samsung. Great in hardware, poor in software.
  6. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 3,754   +1,148

    A couple of weeks ago I stayed in a hotel without smart tvs and I couldn't find a way to stream from my phone to it, which really sucked... came back and started looking for devices to have and I come up with this article, talk about timing =P

    I used to have a Samsung smart TV but the streaming function was lacklustre and super hard to setup with my non-samsung phone. *Hard eyeing that Roku express*
  7. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 3,694   +2,064

    Personally, I think an HTPC is the way to go - though I do not use mine to copy media to a portable device. You can use any display technology you want with an HTPC, and I bet that you can get just as many if not more media sources than with a Roku.
  8. Kibaruk

    Kibaruk TechSpot Paladin Posts: 3,754   +1,148

    At a higher price, with more cables, additional external devices to control it and so on and so forth. For less <$50 you get a device made for the task and a control. To me that's enough but it maybe not enough for someone else.
  9. m-tec

    m-tec TS Enthusiast Posts: 64   +16

    The problem is ,there is not one device that can do everything that I am aware of). I use Samsung smart TV's mainly. Then I use my Android tablet plugged in via HDMI for the things the TV doesn't cover. The great thing is, I can take it anywhere and use it on any tv with HDMI via wifi or tether it to my phone.
  10. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 3,694   +2,064

    Yes, cost is higher.

    I also get blu-ray playback (but not yet UHD blu-ray playback), and with things like "Event Ghost," it is also possible to consolidate remotes with something like Command Fusion. I am not yet controlling the HTPC with Command Fusion, however, I do have an IR remote that works to control video playback in the Netflix App, MediaPortal, and in some browser playback situations. The one other thing that I think is much easier to do is to use the keyboard for searching. MediaPortal gives me OTA DVR capabilities as well as being a portal to many different online media sources.

    Pretty much with any app situation, if one has a laptop with an HDMI out, it is possible to connect that to any TV, too.

    Certainly not a solution for everyone, though.
  11. KiwiCant

    KiwiCant TS Rookie

    Not true at all. I bought a my parants (75 & 72 yo) the latest Minix Neo 4K streaming player but they just couldnt get the hang of it... too many buttons to push, lol. So I bought them a 4K Smart TV with big Red Netflix button on the remote and easy to find apps - job done!
    Johnnyblaze1957 likes this.
  12. LNCPapa

    LNCPapa TS Special Forces Posts: 4,271   +520

    My vote goes to the nVidia Shield TV - a thousand times. Having used most of the devices mentioned so far in this article and the comments the Shield has impressed me the most. I bought a non-Pro version just to give it a shot and now wish I had gotten the Pro for the additional $100. I'm planning to get another Shield TV eventually - and you can bet that one will be a Pro.

    My only real issue with it is the lack of Amazon streaming capability, but several devices are missing that. A tiny complaint I have is that the CNN app isn't as nice as the Apple TV CNN app - and I find I actually switch to my Apple TV when I watch CNN.
  13. spydercanopus

    spydercanopus TS Evangelist Posts: 857   +127

    LG WebOS has SmartShare so you can stream your video collection from your PC or any DLNA device. It works really well.
  14. bobc4012

    bobc4012 TS Booster Posts: 99   +41

    Agree. I notice a big difference in startup performance (and even in options) between my Roku stick and my Samsung Smart TV. Also have a Vizio Smart TV with fewer apps and slower than the Samsung. Needless to say, I plug in my Roku stick and forget the TV apps. BTW, IMO, the Vizio has very few apps worthwhile a large number of them are for various TV stations around the country and only show "old" news clips and the like - no ability to watch a network show that was preempted by our local network station for some event.
  15. tipstir

    tipstir TS Ambassador Posts: 2,842   +193

    I've been streaming since 2003, I've use so many of these products Hauppauge MVP, SONY N100 and N200. I still feel using Linux, Android Windows XP/7/8/10, laptop and wireless keyboard with touch-pad mouse works the best. If you really need to stream the Chromecast from black friday 2016 was neat to me. But still I feel it only good for places you need to stream media to that has to be wireless instead of wired. Kitchen or Patio. In my chance the patio workout gym. Chromcast in there on 24" HDTV mounted on the cement block works perfect for me. I did think about the 23" HDTV in the Kitchen mounted on the cabinet.
    bluto 2050 likes this.
  16. bluto 2050

    bluto 2050 TS Addict Posts: 270   +33

    I have a 2015 4K HDR Sony XBR TV in here with Android TV that streams the mainstream apps ,some others and You Tube up to 4K HDR .I side loaded a few apps and Android Chrome into it outside of the Google /Sony play-store services also ,some of them worked and some did not .

    OTOH My 1080p Roku has ~200 installed channels so far and the Roku is a pretty good addition to the apps in the TV and some of the duplicated Roku apps outside of the mainstream movie content like Netflix,Amazon Video ,VUDU ,Ultra 4K ,Hulu Plus,Cinema now ,Crackle and the YouTube etc. work better on the Roku than in the Andoid TV . The WSJ app video quality is better on the ROKU also ☺
  17. bluto 2050

    bluto 2050 TS Addict Posts: 270   +33

    For IPTV steaming I use the Sony Android system in my 4K Sony XBR -HDR TV most of the time and my 1080p Roku at times and there are a few duplicate apps that have better video quality on the Roku but the mainsream content sites up to 4K HDR are decent in the TV albeit slower than a PC which I have pushing 2160.P into the TV now and then .

    Problem with a PC outside of the WUP Roku app is that you cant get 5.1 digital surround protected content audio bit steaming in a web browser for external decoding and no 4K Netflix or Amazon .

    Netflix and Amazon 1080p is better than DirecTV or Dish TV 1080p or 1080i and VUDU HDX 1080p is nearly Blue Ray quality .
  18. tipstir

    tipstir TS Ambassador Posts: 2,842   +193

    Odd I get 7.1 TrueHD digital surround, but my blue-ray laptop supports Dolby Digital though.. I haven't made the jump to 4K since everything is still 1080i.
    bluto 2050 likes this.
  19. bluto 2050

    bluto 2050 TS Addict Posts: 270   +33

    All that may be possible with an HDCP compliant PC BD drive ,Media player and HDMI output but not on the web with a PC outside of a windows 8.1 or windows 10 WUP streaming app .

    I've never seen anything play 5.1 /7.1 DD ,DD+ or DTS sound (protected audio content ) out of a web browser app or web browser page .
    PC's cant get 5.1 protected audio content like DTS or DD in web browser but only 5.1 DD and 5.1 DD+ in a windows 8.1 and 10 UWP app or with an HDCP compliant media player software playing a DVD /BD rip or download file and only if you have HDMI sound out or HDMI video with sound out .

    Netflix ,VUDU and Amazon and maybe some others have DD& or DD+ 5.1 encodes for TV's ,game consoles and extenders but not for a PC web browser .

    1080p HDCP protected content wont go above 720p in Chrome or Firefox only in windows 8.1 IE and Windows 10 IE and Edge but only 2 channel sound on a PC ☺

    I use my WMC-HD x64 HDCP compliant PC media player program for ISO files and discs and my Sony XBR 4K HDR TV Android apps for surround sound and external decoding in my Sony ES AVR or I can use the Roku also and D*TV and OTA are DD 5.1 on HD channels.

    Ofc the PC ,D*TV Minnie Genie,PS3 and Roku extender video data cables into the TV inputs for 5.1 audio bit stream pass-through here to the AVR are HDMI
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2016
  20. Emexrulsier

    Emexrulsier TS Evangelist Posts: 596   +76

    I'd say no. Normally the processing power of most "smart tvs" is so dire they are frustrating to use with slow laggy interfaces and slow loading times of any media. On top of that due to various bespoke os designs you are generally limited with app support and often very slow and poorly updated applications.
    wiyosaya likes this.
  21. Darrell b

    Darrell b TS Rookie

    My favorite reason for a stand alone unit like the Roku is when most people buy a TV, it is a long term purchase. but a smart TV soon has an out of date streaming device.

    When Roku upgrades their top player it costs only a small price to upgrade. I bought my first Roku in 2010 and have upgraded with each new top of the line model... gaining features and performance each time.

    I hate it that all 4k TV manufacturers are forcing us to pay for smart functions that we don't want.
  22. tipstir

    tipstir TS Ambassador Posts: 2,842   +193

    HDMI to HDMI 1080p output on one laptop
    All the desktops streamed wired gig or wireless HDMI ports
    PC can get 5.1 or 7.1 if they'are so equipment. I only got one that supports Tosh fiber jack.
    bluto 2050 likes this.
  23. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 3,694   +2,064

    On my HTPC with BD drive, I get DTS-HDMA from any BR disk I play. It is partly a function of the software, and partly a function of the connection to your audio device. I get the HDMA via the HDMI output which is connected to a Yamaha HT receiver. The receiver is the DAC in my case. The more recent BR compliant audio formats are not supported over TOS because TOS does not have a bitrate that is fast enough. All the BR compliant audio formats are supported over HDMI, though. Playing a BR disk is totally different than streaming media, though, in that there is no bandwidth limitation as there is on streamed media.

    Getting the HD audio formats from a browser is yet another problem. I would imagine that it is partly software, however, my thoughts are that it is more that the browser embedded players are not capable of the requisite bandwidth that would be required to transmit these formats over the internet. Even if they are capable of supporting the requisite bandwidth, streaming all that data over the internet is more likely the limitation. The Netflix app for Windows 8.1 and 10 supports DD+, but nothing better than that at this time. I expect that the fact that the Netflix app supports only DD+ is also partly an internet bandwidth issue.
  24. Emexrulsier

    Emexrulsier TS Evangelist Posts: 596   +76

    I use a pi and an nvidia shield, both far out weight the potential and power of a smart tv.
  25. bluto 2050

    bluto 2050 TS Addict Posts: 270   +33

    Yea but the only protected 5.1/7.1 audio content PC can play are media files a BD /DVD drive *both with the right media player like WMC-HC or a WUP app like Netflix you cant get it in a web browser same as this 6 mo old Haswell Core i5 desktop PC and 3 other Windows 10 PC here with HDMI and or Display port for wired connections while at least Steam,Plex and DNLA may support some 5.1 streaming and Chromecast is weak ,only 720p on protected web content like Chrome and slow to load into the client display ,I have built into my Sony XBR 4K HDR TV .

    I can get HDMI > 2160p alll day out of this Haswell core i5 PC for the 4K TV extended desktop but my PC main display monitor isn't 4K and a $95.00 Roku 4K or smart 4K SDR -HDR TV will stream protected content ,5.1 and up to 4K SDR and HDR all Day but PC web browsers are good for browsing Netflix and VUUDU,You Tube or whatever and populating your playlists ☺
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2016

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