I finally have a smart TV.
Four decades: Independent, honest, reliable, sensible Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online since 1983


Get a TV that's as smart as you are

May 17, 2015

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2015, Al Fasoldt

I finally have a smart TV.

Not that I had dumb TVs in the past. A smart TV is a TV set that lets you do more than simply pick up channels from cable or off the air. A smart TV is connected to the Internet, and that means it can pick up streaming TV from Netflix, You Tube and others. A smart TV can also show webpages, play games and do lots of other things.

But foo on all that stuff. That's chicken doo-doo. What I like most about my new smart TV is its media playback capabilities. I can literally plug a hard drive into my smart TV and watch movies I've put on the hard drive. Or home videos. Or TV shows. Or listen to music.

The TV is a Hisense brand. All Hisense smart TVs work pretty much the same, so buy the size you want and don't worry about the rest. The two best features of Hisense TVs are the quality, as good as anything else on the market, and the price, the lowest you'll find for any brand-name TV. (Anyone with a brain can contract with one of the barn-door oh-so-cheap electronics factories in China to make TVs with any name attached. Those aren't brand-name TVs.)

Until now, I actually did have a way of playing movies, videos and music on my regular, non-smart HDTV. I used my Apple TV box and my Mac or my iPad. Either one can send to the Apple TV box using AirPlay. The TV box then sends the signal to the TV. There's a nice menu system that takes advantage of iTunes running on my Mac, using the iTunes content library, or from practically anything at all -- webpage, video, text, Facebook, you name it -- showing on my iPad.

But my smart TV -- I'm resisting capitalization, but you'll undoubtedly see the term as Smart TV elsewhere -- doesn't need an Apple box. Or a Roku box. Or a Google dongle. Or anything extra. All that Internet and network capability is built in.

So when Nancy and I want to watch Orange is the New Black, in its boring third season, we can hit the Netflix button on the remote for our smart TV and that's that. Chapman and Vouse are there in living color.

But media playback is the big draw. I normally store all my movies, TV shows and home videos on one of my big Mac-formated drives. (Sorry, super spellers; "formated" is how it's spelled. With the accent on the first sylable, the consonant isn't doubled. Now go back to finding mistakes in the Times.)

That drive (and an equally large backup drive just for video) has maybe a thousand MP4s on it. (Those are modern video files playable on all systems.) My smart TV doesn't like Mac-formated drives -- just the creaky old FAT and FAT32 formats from the Windows world -- so I formatted a terabyte-size portable USB drive as FAT32 and copied a few hundred movies and videos to it.

I plugged the drive into the USB jack on the back and turned on the TV. The TV powered up the drive and displayed all the files as icons as soon as I pressed the media button on the remote. Choosing which one to view was as simple as sliding the selection cursor over to the one I wanted and pressing a big round button on the remote.

Music played just as well. Apple-standard music files played as did MP3s, of course, but music of any type that was encrypted (older Apple iTunes purchases, for example) won't play.

Power to the USB external drive is cut when the TV is turned off, so I simply leave the drive plugged into the TV all the time.

Al Fasoldt is a retired technology writer for The Post Standard newspaper in Syracuse, New York. His landmark column, Technofile, is the world's longest running online column. Read any of the thousands of current and previous columns at technofileonline.com.