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Updated 22 March 2024

How to keep your TV smart using a streaming device

If your smart TV has lost internet connectivity, or an app has stopped working, these small inexpensive devices are your new best friend.

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Digital media players (also known as “dongles”) are small computers that plug in to a TV and take over its smart functions. When you use one, you can keep using your malfunctioning TV for its primary role as a display, effectively turning it into a “dumb TV” of old.

Smart TV software often fails first

Manufacturers have historically been poor at supporting TVs for long enough. As a result, they tend to lose compatibility with third-party apps or stop receiving security updates, making it unsafe to use them to access the internet. You shouldn’t expect your smart TV to keep supporting your streaming apps indefinitely.

Unfortunately, local New Zealand apps are more likely to drop off first, because they’re maintained by smaller companies with fewer resources, and TV operating systems are developed overseas. We saw this happen in July 2023, when the TVNZ+ app stopped working properly on Samsung TVs made in 2015 and 2016, affecting about 25,000 consumers.

Media players are the solution

Once you start losing apps, it's time to switch to a separate device for handling streaming. Luckily, it’s easy. Plug a dongle into an HDMI port on your TV, set it up on your WiFi network, and you’re away. The device will come with some apps preinstalled – think the big names like Netflix and Neon – and an app store of some sort where you can download niche services.

Nearly all streaming devices come with a basic remote control and are used in much the same way you’d interact with a smart TV. They also have built-in Chromecast and/or Airplay, allowing you to control your TV from your Android or iOS mobile device, respectively.

Which media player is best?

There are several to choose from - the best media player depends on your circumstances.

  • Chromecast with Google TV ($110) is the most popular device. It uses the same operating system as many Smart TVs, so it might be familiar to use. If you’ve owned a Chromecast in the past, note that the new version is much improved, with a proper menu system and remote control. For consumers without a 4K TV, an HD version is available for just $70.

  • SmartVU SV11 ($150) is a great option if you watch a lot of New Zealand TV. It comes with Freeview built in and is generally better at supporting New Zealand-specific channels (SmartVU is a brand from Dish TV, a company based in Kirikiriroa). There’s also a non-4K version of the SV11 available for $95.

  • Apple TV 4K ($280) is on the pricier side, but can’t be beaten if you use an iPhone or iPad as your mobile device. There are other media players available in New Zealand, such as Amazon’s Fire TV, but we think one of the above three will be best for most consumers.

A media player in every living room?

We foresee a world where many more consumers run their TV needs through a streaming device, rather than buying a new TV every few years. Display technology has reached a standard where we think a mid-range TV you buy in 2024 could keep you visually satisfied for at least a decade. You might need to buy another media player in that time, but that’s far cheaper than $3,000 on a new TV.

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