Pretty much every new TV on sale these days has ‘smarts’. This means they offer more than just the traditional ability to receive a TV signal and let you plug in a DVD player. They have facilities for watching online services including YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and NowTV, alongside photo galleries, sending video from your phone, listening to music, plus a fair splattering of catchup TV from BBC iPlayer and the like.
They save you from having to buy a separate media streamer such as the Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV.
This can seem a little bewildering at first, but getting all these features up and running is actually easier than you think. Just follow our handy guide below and you’ll soon be feeling a lot smarter about your TV.
Obviously there are quite a few different makes and models of TV currently available, so this guide will address general principles rather than specific instructions for your particular device. We recommend keeping the quick start guide that came with your new TV close to hand so you can reference anything that seems different. We would also suggest finding a copy of the manual. These tend not to come in the box anymore, but if you Google the model number it should be easy to find online.
How to attach set-top boxes to your TV
Once you’ve removed the TV from its box and stored away the polystyrene bits that held it in place (don’t throw anything away for a few weeks just in case something goes wrong with the unit), the next thing to do is plug in your other devices.
The majority of set-top boxes, video consoles, and blu-ray players use HDMI cables. These will often be included with the device but if not you can pick them up for a few pounds from Amazon or in larger supermarkets.
Newer TVs tend to have several HDMI ports available for plugging cables into, these will be labelled HDMI1, HDMI2, and so on. Unless you’re attaching devices capable of delivering ultra-high definition video to a 4K TV, it doesn’t matter which ones you use, they all work the same.
You’ll need to make a note so that you know which HDMI ‘channel’ you’ll need to turn to when you want to view content from a particular device. So if you plug your PS4 into HDMI2 then you’ll need to select HDMI2 from the menu to play your games.
Often you can rename the inputs to something more sensible like Xbox or DVD player.
Some older devices, such as video recorders and the occasional Freeview boxe, might use SCART cables instead, but the same principles apply.
If you are attaching a 4K Blu-ray player, a Chromecast Ultra or 4K Amazon Fire TV, be sure to connect it to a an HDMI 2.0 port on your TV: your manual will explain which (if any) support this standard.
How to set up Wi-Fi and networking
One of the core elements that turns a regular TV into a Smart TV is a network connection to internet. This is the feature that brings streaming services, apps, music, and most content to your screen.
To ensure the best viewing experience you’ll want to connect your TV directly to your router with a network cable if possible. You do this via an Ethernet cable which may or may not be included in the box with the TV.
Check the back of the router to see if you have any ports free. On the BT Hub (one of the most common in the UK) you’ll see four yellow square ports labelled as Gig Ethernet or something similar.
Again choose whichever one you want then connect the cable to that and then into the same style socket on the back of the TV. The advantages of a direct connection are generally more stable performance and you won’t need to enter any passwords to connect to your home network.
If the router is in a different part of the house then you could always use Powerline Adapters. If you haven’t come across these before they’re clever little units that use the electricity ring main in your house to route an internet connection, often bringing a signal to areas of the home that your router’s Wi-Fi signal can’t reach.
If you can’t access the router directly, or prefer to use Wi-Fi, then be sure that the TV is in a part of the house with a good signal. Otherwise you could well experience plenty of stuttering and buffering when watching HD content online.
You’ll also need to make a note of the network name (often called the Wireless SSID on the back of the router) and the password to log onto the network (again usually found on the back or underside of the router and called something along the lines of the Wireless Key). Armed with this you’re ready to set up the software side of the TV.
How to set up a Smart TV: Turning it on
Switch on the TV and you’ll most likely be asked to select the language you want to use. After this there’s a good chance you’ll be asked for your Wi-Fi connection details.
If you’re using a cable then select the Wired connection, otherwise opt for Wireless then enter the Wi-Fi details. Once your connection is confirmed follow the instruction on the screen for tuning-in your channels, plus any other general information that the system needs.
Depending on your interface there might well be a number of additional apps already present on your TV. These will often include YouTube and a number of catchup services such as iPlayer, All 4, and others.
You can select these apps and watch as a guest, but to get the most out of each service – including recommendations, search history, and subscribed channels – we recommend creating accounts for each and logging in. The TV should retain your login information, so you won’t have to do it each time.
Some services, such as iPlayer now require you to create an account and log in before you can watch anything.
An important thing you’ll want to check is the display mode. The reason for this is that TVs on display in shops are set up to be super bright with oversaturated colours so that they catch the eye. If your TV defaults to this mode your eyes will be screaming within a few minutes.
Look for a settings option – it will often have an icon that looks like a few tools or a cog – and then find either Video or Display settings. There will be several modes – Cinema, Game, Vivid, etc. – so cycle through them until you are happy with what you see.
If you want to go beyond this, use a calibration DVD or even a YouTube video and dive into the manual settings to adjust things such as colour balance, dynamic contrast, HDR (if supported) and smoothing options such as sharpness and ‘intelligent frame creation’. There isn’t scope here to explain those fully, but with some tweaking you should be able to get an excellent picture.
The last part of a normal setup is adjusting the sound. Just like the picture quality settings you should see an option for Audio settings, within which will be a number of modes. Again move through them so you can hear the differences.
To be honest, due to the thinness of modern TVs, audio can often be somewhat paltry when compared to the stunning visuals on HD and UHD TVs. If you find this to be the case then you can always invest in a soundbar to beef up the sonic performance of your new purchase. Take a look at our Best Soundbar roundup for inspiration as they really do make a big difference.
There you go. Your smart TV should now be fully configured, all your apps are ready for action, and you can crash out on the sofa and indulge in a little binge session. Well, you’ve got to road test the new TV don’t you?