Smart TV is something that most big technology companies have been working towards—even if in quite different ways. Apple and Google seem to be focused around a set-top-box approach, though rumours keep circulating about an Apple-made television set. Microsoft’s Xbox game console keeps getting more and more TV options, while Samsung is making Smart TVs which integrate Wi-Fi, cameras and microphones.
With Apple finally letting Indian users buy music and movies via iTunes, Apple TV looks like a better option than ever before—particularly if you already own an iPhone or iPad. But what’s the best choice? Here are some options:
Woxi Media SmartPod
Possibly one of the simplest Android set-top boxes around, the SmartPod is small and easy to set up and offers a completely reskinned version of Android. The remote is a little wider than an ordinary TV remote, but packs full qwerty keys, along with arrow and media keys and home and back buttons.
The keyboard also functions as a mouse, but there are a couple of issues with this. It disables the mouse automatically and requires you to press the mouse button to activate it again, but there’s no separate button to deactivate it, which can lead to the mouse being hard to control. Aside from that, the keys are bad, and typing is uncomfortable.
The SmartPod also supports multiple user profiles (up to eight), so each member of the house can have their favourites set up without affecting others. It’s relatively cheap but the interface is a little clunky, so this one’s for the budget-conscious.
Amkette Evo TV 1GB
Six months after Amkette launched its Evo TV Android set-top box, an upgraded version with hardware video acceleration and more RAM was released in December to allow the device to run XBMC—one of the best media management suites available. Unfortunately, XBMC for Android is in beta, and it crashes now and then.
The other USP for Amkette is the Evo TV’s smart remote. It allows you to control the cursor but it’s much smaller and lighter than the SmartPod’s remote, and a touch sensor allows you to control it much more easily as well.
The interface is also far more polished, and gives you easy access to your content, including games. The only real issue here is the lack of integration with TV shows, though this is something we’re told is in the pipeline as well. If you already have a hard drive full of videos, this is the device to buy.
The Apple TV set-top box is the sleekest-looking option, and the easiest to use. The tiny remote isn’t a bother, and is easier to use than the Android options as well. The biggest plus is AirPlay: If you already own a Mac, an iPhone or iPad, then you can use the Wi-Fi network in your house to stream content to television, which is a huge plus—turning the iPad into a media remote gives you a lot of flexibility, and AirPlay mirroring for games can be a lot of fun too.
On the downside, you’re going to be buying all your content from Apple—even uploading content requires you to use iTunes, which is a bothersome process. Even at its imported price tag, though, it’s one of the cheaper options, and definitely the most polished experience. It’s rumoured to be launching in India soon, but the prices are not known.
With Apple’s store finally opening in India, you can also buy movies right from the box—movies are priced competitively, between Rs.150 and Rs.300; you can rent at nearly half the price. It’s a must-buy for people already in the Apple ecosystem, and since the remote is so basic, even people who aren’t tech-savvy can use it easily.
This is the most expensive option, but it also means there are fewer wires and gadgets cluttering your TV room. If you have already bought a high-end TV set recently, then it obviously doesn’t make sense to buy one of these. But if you’re in the market for a new television, then buying a TV with built-in smarts instead of buying a TV and a separate set-top box, makes sense.
Samsung’s TV also has the most varied input options—there’s a regular remote, of course, but there’s also a smart remote with a touch pad and a microphone built in for voice commands, and if that’s not enough, the TV also has a camera built in, which can be used for gesture-based controls or video chats.
The controls work well for the most part, but not always. To make matters worse, using the gestures to enter a website, for example, is a painful experience—literally (your hands will hurt by the time you’ve got a long URL entered).
The biggest problem, of course, is that the experience is limited to one TV—you can’t just pick up the box and go somewhere else if you feel like it.
On the other hand, the experience is much more tightly integrated with your television, and supports features like picture in picture, which can add a lot to the experience.
It’s an expensive solution, but if you’re in the market for a TV, then you should definitely try out the interface and see if you like using it to control the TV.