- Roku TVs, Roku Streaming Sticks and Chromecast smart TV devices are an easy way to make take your viewing experience to the next level.
About five months ago, I switched from being a lifelong standard TV owner to a smart TV owner, and I've never looked back.
The main difference between a smart TV and any other screen is that it can be connected to the Internet through Wi-Fi or ethernet to access streaming media apps and services, like Netflix, YouTube or Spotify, and display them on your television. These TVs can also be hooked up to your pre-existing cable package, allowing you to toggle between streaming apps, live television and on-demand programs pretty seamlessly.
And if you're a cord-cutter, if gives you the experience of watching television without having to subscribe to a cable package. It's a bit more adult than binge-watching "The Office" on your laptop in bed (although no judgement if that's your style).
By now, nearly every quality television on the market which can deliver on both sound quality and video display functions as some form of smart TV. If your current visual setup is still "dumb," you have two options to enhance its capabilities: buying a brand new screen that has those functions already built in, or purchasing a streaming stick.
Personally, I own a relatively midrange 39-inch television by Insignia that features a built-in Roku smart platform ($199.99; bestbuy.com). The television connects easily over your already existing Wi-Fi network and also offers advanced TV sound, 3 HDMI inputs for a more robust home theater connection, and HDTV display. I've found that it's the perfect size if you want a high-def screen that still functions in a tiny apartment, since it's small enough to stand on the furniture I already had. That meant I didn't have to buy a new elaborate home theater storage unit or invest in a wall mount.
For just $269.99, it's one of the less expensive smart TVs on the market. Turns out, I'm not alone in loving this device; it's received a 96% customer satisfaction rating on Best Buy.
While the device is high-definition, there is a difference between this television and higher-priced, higher-quality picks out there. If you're shopping for a screen that's top of its class in the 39- to 43-inch range, we recommend Samsung's UN43MU6300 ($599.99; samsung.com), which is the highest scorer of its size according to independent tester Consumer Reports.
And if you're willing to go bigger and dish out more money, LG's OLED65W7P ($7,585; amazon.com) has received an "Excellent" overall score from Consumer Reports, receiving high marks for its HD picture quality, performance, sound quality and versatility.
But if you're not shopping for a new television right now, there are also streaming stick devices like the Roku Streaming Stick ($39.99; bestbuy.com) and Chromecast ($35; bestbuy.com), that essentially help give your existing screen the same capabilities.
Personally, I'm a bigger fan of Roku's interface than I am of Chromecast's. Chromecast requires you to download an extension onto your computer browser or download a designated app onto your devices to allow you to stream shows to your television. It essentially functions as a high-tech screen mirroring system, where you can close out of the tab or even turn off your computer and your shows will keep playing. But the main issue is that it requires you to always have a second device with you in order to watch the programs.
Roku, on the other hand, allows you to log into your apps through the screen and autosaves your login information, so you don't have to worry about always having your phone, tablet or laptop handy.
Whether you prefer to buy a streaming stick or a television screen, switching to a smart TV setup is a real game-changer; the functionality and user experience you get is unparalleled.
They really are — dare we say — pretty genius.