Digital TV goes smart
This page, started on the 14 June
2014, follows on from The digital TV minefield,
which I started on the 8 May 2009 and which
offers lots of background - so if you haven't read it
this might be a good time! Like that page, this one is a
sort of personal brainstorm, a bit like some of the
recipes in The
Online Cookbook- experimental notes but
written tidily enough to help others too!
A TV on the blink
We bought our 32-inch Panasonic Viera LCD shortly after
moving into our present home in around 2006. We did this
not simply to keep up with the technology but because our
old analogue telly was too deep front-to-back for our
long, narrow sitting room.
A few weeks ago, this veteran - which had worked
flawlessly for all those years - developed an attack of
the hiccups, Specifically, it started switching
spontaneously from whatever video input we were using -
FeeSat, DVD recorder or DVD player - back to digital TV.
Getting back to what we were watching took just long
enough for us to loose critical bits of dialogue.
An investigation when the problem was at its worst
revealed that this was happening pretty precisely every 30
seconds. Maybe this otherwise superb telly had reached the
end of its natural life...
The resulting long chat with our tech-savvy 17-year-old
grandson, Barney, got me into smart TV territory. I'd
a;ready got the rig slightly smart by connecting the
FreeSat player to our BT Broadband router, which allowed
us to use the disappointingly crude version of BBC iPlayer
and the virtually unusable version of ITV Player,
both of which I took to be additions to the Humax FreeSat
box's firmware and were seriosusly inferior to the
versions on my PC. The idea of connecting the TV directly
to the Internet, which would allow us to use the same
versions of the players as on the PC, not to mention
getting Channels 4 and 5's on-demand services, was very
attractive. When I grasped that this would also allow me
to do everything I can do on my Samsung smartphone (apart
from the actual phone functions) on the TV, I got
seriously interested. I would even be using the familiar
environment of the Android operating system.
Just as I was getting quite excited about all this, the
old Viera mysteriously recovered spontaneously from its
hiccups, so the idea of coughing up several hundred quid
for a new receiver became less attractive.
Watching the box - 2014 style!
However, by then Barney had mentioned 'smart TV boxes' -
standalone Android 'mini-PCs' which would connect to my
network, and from there to the Internet, via wi-fi and to
the TV via the high quality HDMI interface.
Perfect! I could buy one of these and connect it to the
Viera for as long as that lasts, and when it really
conks out I could buy an LED TV without the added expense
of the smart functionality.
Moreover, I wouldn't be locked into a TV's smart
functionality - which is bound to go on evolving at
breakneck speed - until the set dies the death. I could
just replace the smart box for about fifty quid when it
got a bit long in the tooth.
Decision made. I rambled indecisively around Ebay and
Amazon for a couple of days and then made a decision.
There is one box which is sold under many brand-names and
which has a pretty mouthwatering specification. I ordered
one on Ebay for just £43.08 with free postage. Where the
odd 8p comes in, I can't imagine, but I'm now wating
eagerly for it to arrive. I've already bought the
essential 32GB mini-SD card to upgrade the box's internal
8GB of storage.
Here is the description extracted from the Ebay listing:
Android 4.2 operating system (my Samsung phone is 4.3)
RK3188T quad-core Cortex A9 main processor (this is the
RISC processor developed in the 1980s by Acorn - times
four!). The graphics processor is also quad-core
2G DDR3 RAM
8GB Nand flash storage (to which I will be adding a 32GB
Full HD 1080P video decoding and output
Compatible with 2.4G wireless mouse and keyboard (will
probably get one of those - I hate virtual keyboards)
With external wifi antenna, enhance wifi signal
You can download apps from the Google Play Store; watch
videos; play games; surf the internet; use Skype, Youtube,
Flicker, Facebook etc (in other words, anything you can do
on the Internet - including streaming video, legally or
Built-in Micro SD/TF card slot, supports Micro SD/TF card
up to 32GB (card not included)
Equipped with HDMI and AV cables
Comes with a remote control powered by 2 AAA battery
Android TV Box
Power Adapter (EU Plug)
is the Ebay page for as long as it lasts:
Update - August 2016
The smart TV box was altogether too complicated to use
and vhad rather limited Android capability. In the end we
decided on a totally different solution, the decision
being prompted by Patricia's deaf, visually-impaired
brother's need for a bigger, clearer TV. He was familiar
with our 32-inch Panasonic, so we thought we could give
him that. The research that followed led me unerringly to
another Panasonic Viera. This one was not HD-ready, or
even full HD, but ultra-high definition (UHD), and was
very smart indeed. It was also much bigger than the old
set, with a 40-inch screen with a liny border allowing it
to fit - just! - between my two shelf units.
So another learning curve to negotiate...
Most smart TVs have Android operating systems
but this one. is based on the open-source FireFox
browser, which has its own app market. Pressing the 'Apps'
button on the remote revealed at BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub,
All4, Demand5, NetFlix, Amazon Video and a range of
other preinstalled apps. I had already decided to
subscribe to Amazon Prime (which, with its one-day free
delivery, immediately transformed our shopping behaviour)
so the prospect of loads of free video content was
irresistible. Stepson Aidan gave me his NetFlix
login, though he has since cancelled his suibscription. He
also gave us a NowTV box, but I haven't got to grips with
Extra goodies include three USB sockets (as well as 3
HDMIs). I bought a 128GB USB flash card and am currently
watching Game of Thrones (downloaded by Aidan from
some 'torrent' or other) from that.
The only down side is that the UHD screen doesn't do
standard definition programmes as well as the old HD-Ready
one did - the rendering is quite fuzzy. Ordinary HD is
great, and the Olympics have really been brought to life
on the BBC. Amazon has quite a lot of UHD viseo, including
the other real goody - the first two seaons of Bosch,
my favourite fictional detective.
FreeView Play is a definite disappointment. It is
supposed to give you an intuitive programme guide that
allows you to scroll backward from the present day for
catch-up as easily as you scroll forwards through future
programmes. In practice, I find the channels' catch-up
apps (which is where FreeView Play takes you
anyway) easier and more untuitive.
Viewing of online content isn't quite as intuitive as
watching my own recorded stuff. Fast-forward and rewind
don't let you see the picture at high speed so getting
back or forward to where you want to be is rather
All in all, though, a really good move forward.