How to make your TV smart without buying a new set

As Xbox SmartGlass arrives on iOS, we survey the best TV add-ons, and explain why you don’t need to adjust your set

You might be proud of your feature wall, but it’s not the best thing to happen to your living room lately. That would be smart TV, the catch-all term for bringing web browsing, apps, movie streaming and catch-up TV to the big screen. But do you need a new TV? Not necessarily – these add-ons will drag your old TV kicking and screaming into the modern age.

Xbox SmartGlass

Free, xbox.com

How to make your TV smart without buying a new set - Xbox SmartGlass 2

Sometimes all you need is an app. Okay, you’ll need an Xbox 360 (from £140) and a smartphone, too. Xbox SmartGlass – which has just added iOS to a roster of platforms that already includes Windows 8, Windows Phone and Android – is that app. Intuitive touchscreen web browsing for the big screen, a live reference second display for gaming, graphically gorgeous (and informative) menus for video and music libraries, and remote control smarts. And it’s only just getting started.

The Good Life it’s free, multi-platform

Breaking Bad Xbox and movie subs not included

On the other side Zeebox (£Free, iOS) is a socially-driven TV companion app that needs no additional hardware.

Apple TV

£99, apple.com

How to make your TV smart without buying a new set - Apple TV 2

We’ve heard it called a walled garden, a closed shop and many less savoury things in our time, and while it’s true that Apple’s neat little box doesn’t play nicely with much outside the iWorld, it’s still one of the simplest ways to get TV shows and films streamed to your telly. If you’re using a modern (Core iX) Mac with up-to-date software, you can mirror anything on your computer’s screen to the TV via AirPlay. A neat trick that makes it a much more valuable proposition.

The Good Life Simple, with a gorgeous interface

Breaking Bad No third-party (eg. iPlayer) support

On the other side Boxee Box (£130, dlink.com) costs a bit more, but it doesn’t require iTunes, supports more file types and plays nicely with the likes of iPlayer and Spotify.

More after the break...

Humax DTR-T1000 with YouView

£300, humax.co.uk

How to make your TV smart without buying a new set - Humax DTR-T1000 with YouView 2

Making smart TV simple, YouView packs the terrestrial catch-up VoD services into its EPG. There's no faffing around with opening and closing apps – just flit back and forth in the EPG and you can access programmes from the BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD, Demand Five and (for a fee) Sky's Now TV. Plus that 500GB of space and twin tuner set-up makes recording programmes a doddle.

The Good Life Simple to use, 500GB twin tuner PVR

Breaking Bad No Wi-Fi, pricey, no built-in apps or browser

On the other side If you just want to get the BBC iPlayer on your tellybox, the Roku LT (£50, roku.com) serves up iPlayer and Netflix alongside other channels – plus it connects using Wi-Fi.

Sony NSZ-GS7 (with Google TV)

£200, sony.co.uk

How to make your TV smart without buying a new set - Sony NSZ-GS7 (with Google TV) 2

Set-top boxes are ten-a-penny, but not all of them come with Google TV, which lets fly a flurry of punches to the faces of its peers. The big hitters are a Chrome browser and music, movies, apps and games via Google Play. We’re also particularly keen on the remote, which has a QWERTY keyboard on one side and a touchpad on the reverse.

The Good Life Great remote, Google keeps adding more stuff

Breaking Bad Google Play is still playing content catch-up

On the other side Sony SMP-N200 (£100, sony.co.uk) doesn’t have the Google hook-up, but it’s half the price and does iPlayer, Netflix, LoveFilm and Sony’s own Video Unlimited service.

Sony PlayStation 3

£150, playstation.com

How to make your TV smart without buying a new set - Sony PlayStation 3 2

Yes, it’s a games machine first and foremost, but the PS3 has always flown its movie-loving flag, not least with a built-in Blu-ray drive, but also with streaming apps for Netflix, Lovefilm, iPlayer et al. Grab a BD remote (about £15) and you’ll be surprised how quickly your PS3 becomes as much a part of your TV setup as your gaming setup. It’s a shame the browser’s still not as good as better known rivals.

The Good Life Blu-ray, streaming and games are all top-notch

Breaking Bad Dicky browser, some nav issues with eg. 4oD

On the other side Sony BDP-S790 (£200, sony.co.uk) is a Blu-ray

player. But it’s also a streamer. It’s very good at both. And it’s got 4K upscaling. Now you do need a new TV.

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