New Delhi: Thirty-four-year-old Iram Mirza bought a smart television last year. Till date, she has been unable to install Netflix on it. That’s because the only way to get Netflix (Amazon Prime or Hotstar) on her TV is to “sideload" it—a term most users may not be familiar with.

Sideloading is when you install an app on a smart device that is not available on its respective app store. It’s difficult, especially on TVs, and sometimes a security hazard too. Mirza’s problem, however, brings to fore a very real question. Should one buy a smart TV?

What’s a Smart TV?

Typically, a smart TV is defined by its operating system, the ability to connect to the internet and run internet-enabled services. Like your phone, a smart TV is only as good as the apps you get on it. In the three main smart operating systems (OS) for TVs—AndroidTV, Samsung’s Tizen and LG’s WebOS— you do get an app store. However, as Mumbai resident, Kaustav Bhattacharya says, he has to revert to his Amazon Fire TV Stick every time his mother requests an obscure TV series.

Smart, only in name

Buying a smart TV is an attractive proposition. However, challenges surface when you buy one because of the underdeveloped app ecosystems. The problem gets amplified when you buy low-cost smart televisions. In these, manufacturers “fork" the Android OS onto the television. That means, at its core, the OS is meant for a phone but since it’s open-sourced, anyone can tweak it to fit a different screen. In doing so, you get a lacklustre experience.

Further, smart operating systems have hardware requirements to go with them. In low-cost TVs, companies skimp out on the amount of RAM, processor speeds, etc. As a result, your TV is slow when you’re navigating the interface, will stutter often, and even crash at times.

Moreover, since low-cost TV sellers can’t tout numbers unlike a Samsung, Sony or LG, they can’t convince Netflix, Amazon and Hotstar to build apps for their forked OS(es). Case in point, the once popular LeEco TVs in India never had any of these apps.

The solution

What you really need is a good smart interface, rather than a smart TV. For that, an Amazon Fire TV Stick, Google Chromecast or Apple TV fit the bill. All of these devices have custom software. The Fire TV Stick even has its own remote and the widest collection of apps.

A Chromecast allows you to “cast" content from your phone to the TV.

Lastly, for those who can shell out more money, Apple’s TV box (anything above 12,000) isn’t a bad option. It’s by far the fastest of the three devices and has the essential apps..

In sum, if it’s a “smart" TV you want, these devices will make a dumb TV smart, as long as they have high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) ports. That’s, perhaps, a better way to spend your money.

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