Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • In many cases you can use your smart TV to issue commands and control other smart home devices like lights, switches, and thermostats.
  • Use your smart TV’s built-in assistant to play music from sources like Spotify and YouTube, or make use of entertainment apps like Plex and Game Pass to watch downloaded content and stream games.
  • More advanced operations include monitoring your security system right from a compatible TV or creating advanced automations with services like IFTTT.

I’ve been reviewing and writing about smart home devices for a few years now, and I don’t think the “smart” part of our smart TVs gets enough attention. I’m not just talking about the built-in apps, I’m referring to the bigger world of web-connected capabilities that you’re probably completely unaware of.

Dim the Lights, Raise the Temperature

The most basic smart home commands and automations are designed to give users as much convenience as possible. To that end, your living room sofa should always be a place that delivers guaranteed comfort and peace of mind, whenever you need it. Nobody wants to get up once they’ve settled down to watch a movie or play some games. If the cushions feel just fine, there’s a chance your “not-quite-right” feelings have something to do with lighting or temperature.

If your home is equipped with smart lights and a smart thermostat, you’ll be able to use voice commands and a companion app to dim the bulbs and make the room cooler. If you’re using an ecosystem-friendly smart TV, you’ll be able to use your LED, QLED, or OLED to make these adjustments, too.

Person using Singled app to turn on lights

When I say “ecosystem-friendly,” I’m talking about smart TVs that include some form of smart assistant integration. Amazon’s Fire TV OS and Google’s Google TV OS are two of the leading interfaces for smart TVs, which bodes well for those of us with Amazon and Nest-branded lights and thermostats. But even LG and Samsung models include the option to use third-party assistants from Google and Amazon.

A good rule of thumb: If your smart home devices can be controlled with the Alexa or Google Home app, there’s a very good chance you can use a web-connected Fire TV or Google TV to control them, too. Ditto for any Amazon and Google TV-powered streaming devices.

Functionality-wise, some smart TVs will require you to execute voice commands through an Alexa or Google Assistant-powered remote. More advanced sets (like the Amazon Fire TV Omni QLED) have hands-free Alexa controls. So, as long as you’re within earshot of the TV when shouting a voice command, Alexa or Google Assistant will carry it out.

Cue the Music

If you’re like me, you relish every opportunity you have to leave your phone in another room. It’s a nice break from a screen I probably spend too much time staring at, and a sound reminder that I’m a complete human being that isn’t tethered to Wi-Fi. So once you’re in a meditative space, how about some calming music to really help the relaxation set in? But wait! Won’t we need our phone to get some tunes playing? Not if your smart TV is nearby.

Regardless of your smart TV’s OS, most web-connected TVs have access to popular music-streaming apps. These are services like Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and even Apple Music. If you’re not content with using your TV speakers to experience your favorite songs and playlists, it’s easy to improve your audio experience.

Sennheiser AMBEO Soundbar Mini alongside the AMBEO Soundbar Plus and AMBEO Soundbar Max.
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

A soundbar or AV receiver with connected speakers are great investments that you’ll be able to use for everything from movies and TV shows to gaming and music. There are even some smart TVs (Samsung models come to mind) that wirelessly pair with a soundbar; using both the TV speakers and soundbar drivers to deliver a bigger, richer soundstage.

But most importantly: when you ask your smart TV’s assistant to play a song, artist, or playlist; these tunes should start playing without you having to lift a finger.

Entertainment for Days

We’ve covered basic automations and music controls, so what about movies, TV shows, and video games? After all, these three tent-pole mediums are the main reasons most folks buy a TV in the first place.

You don’t need me to tell you that smart TVs and streaming devices now feature more entertainment apps than ever before. Beyond the most popular services like Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and Max, smart TVs have access to more boutique entertainment, too. Roku TVs and streaming gadgets are particularly good at hosting third-party apps that specialize in niche genres and rarer forms of content.

In essence, you can almost think of your smart TV as a gigantic smart display. Devices like the Amazon Echo Show and Google Nest Hub have access to Netflix, Disney+, and other streaming services, and they can also be used as voice command hubs just like your smart TV!

So how can we take things step a further? How about leveraging our smart TV’s ability to double as a virtual console? If you have an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Membership, and own a Samsung smart TV 2020 model or later, you can download the Xbox app to stream Xbox games right on your TV, no console required. And the only thing you’ll need to play the games is a compatible controller.

We can also turn our smart TVs into digital stockpiles of our own downloads. Sure, you’ll be able to connect a USB flash drive to most TVs. But how about uploading that movie, show, picture, or song to a Plex Media Server or Plex alternative Jellyfin instead?

I’ve been using Plex for about six months now, and can’t express how much I love the platform. It’s easy to work with, and the client app is available on most smart TVs and streaming devices. Once you’ve added movies, shows, or music to your Plex server, you’ll be able to pull it up on your smart TV, through your TV’s Plex app or via UPnP streaming if no app is available.

Keep Tabs on Your Home

Convenience and peace of mind are two of the most important boxes to check when investing in home security. And luckily, your web-connected cameras and sensors usually work nicely with your smart TV.

How can a smart TV be used for property surveillance? Simple: through a handshake with your cameras and sensors. Many smart security brands design their products to work in unison with smart TVs and streaming devices.

For example, let’s take a look at the Ring Doorbell Pro lineup. Ring engineered these video doorbells to be directly compatible with Samsung’s smart TVs. Once you’ve linked your Ring and Samsung SmartThings apps, you’ll be able to pull up a live video feed from your Ring doorbells right on your Samsung TV’s interface.

Pressing the button on a Google Nest smart doorbell.

Own a Google TV-powered television or streaming device? You’ll be able to pull off the same live-monitor trick using Nest video doorbells and security cameras. The same goes for Roku TVs, streaming devices, and other surveillance gear.

Make Life Easier With Advanced Automations

Have you heard of the Amazon Fire TV Cube? It’s one of the fastest streaming devices on the market, and it delivers some of the best picture and sound quality, too. But one of my favorite features of the third-gen Cube is its HDMI input. Big whoop, right?

Well, an HDMI input means there has to be an HDMI output, too. So yes, you’ll be able to plug components like cable boxes and game consoles into the Fire TV Cube, while running another HDMI from the Cube to your TV. So why would you do that, when you can just plug your device right into your smart TV? Automations!

Fire TV Cube

If you’re all about optimizing and evolving your smart TV experience, one of the best ways to upgrade your entertainment is through IFTTT applets. Think of these as special instructions that IFTTT-compatible devices (like the 3rd Gen Fire TV Cube) can understand. You can do all kinds of cool things with IFTTT programming.

One go-to example of mine is creating custom automations for your cable box and a web-connected TV backlight kit. Let’s say you’re a huge football fan. With IFTTT, you can program your backlights to pulse red and yellow whenever your team scores a goal.

Geofencing is another great way to take advantage of your smart TV and smart home devices. This would allow peripherals like smartphones to trigger automations when you’re in proximity to your residence or business. With IFTTT at the helm, simply pulling into your driveway can power on your TV, while switching the cable box to your preferred news station.

More Than a Netflix Streamer

One of the toughest things about covering consumer tech is how often I want to wrap things up by saying things like “the sky is truly the limit” or “the possibilities are endless.” But these phrases are often on my mind for a reason: they’re true. And the real beauty of the “smart” moniker is the infinite trove of capabilities (hey, I tried) that fall behind the all-powerful adjective.

Hopefully, you now realize that your smart TV can be far more than just a glorified Netflix box.

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By John P.

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