Pretty much every new TV on sale is 'smart'. This means they offer more than just the ability to receive a TV signal from a rooftop aerial and somewhere to plug in a DVD player. They have facilities for watching online services including YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and NowTV, and may also let you view photo galleries, beam video from your phone, listen to music and catch up on shows from local TV providers such as BBC iPlayer.
They can save you from having to buy a separate media streamer such as the Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV.
Getting all these features up and running is easier than you might think. Just follow our simple guide below and you’ll soon be feeling a lot smarter about your TV.
Since there are quite a few different makes and models, our guide will address general principles rather than specific instructions for your particular device. We recommend keeping the quick-start guide or manual that came with your new TV close to hand so you can reference anything that seems different.
Connect it all up
Once you’ve removed the TV from its box, it's time to plug it in and connect any devices. The majority of set-top boxes, games consoles and DVD or Blu-ray players use HDMI cables.
Most TVs tend to have several HDMI ports available for plugging cables into, these will be labelled HDMI1, HDMI2, and so on. Unless you're attaching devices capable of delivering ultra-high definition video to a 4K TV, it generally doesn’t matter which ones you use.
However, if you are connecting something like a 4K Blu-ray player, a Chromecast Ultra or 4K Amazon Fire TV, be sure to connect it to a an HDMI 2.0 port on your TV: your manual will explain which (if any) support this standard.
You’ll need to make a note so that you know which HDMI ‘channel’ you’ll need to turn to when you want to view content from a particular device. So if you plug your PS4 into HDMI 2 then you’ll need to select HDMI 2 as the input from the menu to play your games.
Often you can usually rename the inputs to something friendlier like Xbox or DVD player and some TVs (notably Samsung models) may even do this automatically. Some older devices, such as video recorders and the occasional Freeview boxes, might use SCART cables (below) instead, but the same principles apply - although you might need an adapter if your TV doesn't have a SCART input.
How to set up Wi-Fi and get connected to the internet
Your TV will likely have built-in Wi-Fi (or if not, a connector for a network cable) which is what brings streaming services, apps, music, and most content to your screen.
Some people prefer to use a network cable even if Wi-Fi is present as it is a faster, more reliable connection. You'll need a network cable, and also to check the back of the router to see if you have any ports free. On the BT Hub (one of the most common in the UK) you’ll see four yellow square ports labelled as Gig Ethernet or something similar.
If the router is in a different part of the house then you could always use Powerline Adapters.
If you can’t access the router directly, or prefer to use Wi-Fi because it's more convenient, then be sure that the TV is in a part of the house with a good signal. Otherwise you could well experience plenty of stuttering and buffering when watching HD content online.
You’ll also need to make a note of the network name (often called the Wireless SSID on the back of the router) and the password to log onto the network (again usually found on the back or underside of the router and called something along the lines of the Wireless Key). Armed with this you’re ready to set up the software side of the TV.
Switch on the TV and you’ll most likely be asked to select the language you want to use. After this follow the on-screen instructions and at some point you’ll be asked to pick your Wi-Fi network and enter the password. Once this is configured, follow any remaining steps such as tuning channels and setting your location.
Depending on the interface on your particular model, there might well be a number of additional apps already present on your TV. These will often include YouTube and a number of catchup services such as iPlayer, All 4, and others.
These days almost all apps require you to have an account and sign in, but there are benefits to this including recommendations, search history, and subscribed channels. The TV will retain your login information, so you won’t have to do it each time.
Picture quality settings
An important thing you’ll want to check is the display mode. The reason for this is that TVs on display in shops are set up to be super bright with oversaturated colours so that they catch your eye. If your TV defaults to this mode colours (particularly skin tones) will likely look unnatural, and you won't want to keep it like this for long.
Look for a menu button on the remote control or in the on-screen interface, then look for either Video or Picture settings. There will be several modes - Cinema, Game, Vivid, etc. - so cycle through them until you are happy with what you see.
If you want to go beyond this, use a calibration DVD or even a YouTube video and dive into the advanced settings to adjust things to get the absolute best quality. We've written a guide that explains exactly what to do to get the best picture from your TV.
The last thing to do is adjust the sound. Just as with picture quality settings you should see an option for audio settings, within which will probably be a number of modes. Again move through them so you can hear the differences, or simply adjust the bass and treble.
Unfortunately, there aren't many modern TVs that produce good sound, so we'd recommend investing in a soundbar to beef up the sonic performance of your new purchase. Take a look at our best soundbar roundup as they really do make a big difference.
And that's it. Your smart TV should now be ready to go, all your apps are ready for action, and you can crash out on the sofa and indulge in a little binge session. Well, you’ve got to test the screen out, haven’t you?