A lot of people went straight to HD as soon as HDTVs hit the market. These early adopters have been able to enjoy the benefits of the HD content from the start. Unfortunately, the older models were quickly overtaken by smarter products.
Early HDTVs were exclusively high definition televisions. But modern HDTVs are essentially all-in-one computers that can run apps, browse the web, run games, and all sorts of other cool things.
If you have an older HDTV without any "smart" features and you can't or don't want to buy a newer model, you may be interested in these fairly inexpensive devices to add "smart" features to your current television.
Google's Chromecast HDMI dongle ($35) is a very affordable way to add useful features to a TV. It doesn't add any smart features to an HDTV itself; but after installing the Chromecast app on an iOS or Android device, you can send content from supported streaming sources to an HDTV - Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Pandora, Google Play Music & Movies, and so on. You can also send content from your Google Chrome browser on a Mac or Windows system to a Chromecast device, if you have installed the free Google Cast plug-in.
To set it up, simply plug it into an available HDMI port on your TV and plug in the Chromecast's power cable. The power cable uses a standard micro USB connector, so you can probably even use your TV's USB port (if it has one) to power your Chromecast. If not, you can use the standalone power supply.
Select the appropriate HDMI input on your TV to see what the Chromecast is showing, and run the Chromecast app on your mobile device to complete the setup. The Chromecast will show some information on the screen that you need to identify with to access the Chrome app, and then the app will run a scan to find the device so you can configure it for your wireless network. When this is done you can stream content to your TV by pressing the Chromecast button in a supported app or browser.
At a level above simple devices like the Google Chromecast, you'll find Android-based HDMI dongles like the Tronsmart CX-919 and the Measy 'U' line of products (U1A, U2A, and so on). These devices usually cost between $60 and $100 depending on their specs (more powerful devices are more expensive).
These dongles feature internal hardware similar to many smartphones and tablets: They have ARM-based SoCs combined with some memory, flash storage, and network controllers, and they run on the Android operating system. Plug the device into a free HDMI port on an HDTV, power it up, and the dongle turns your TV into an all-in-one computer running Android.
You will need to plug a mouse and keyboard into the dongle (or connect the devices wirelessly via Bluetooth) to complete the setup and click icons or enter text. Once you're done, you'll have access to everything the web and the Google Play store have to offer.
Other options in this price range include services like Apple TV, Roku, and the Boxee Box, all great products. However, they have access to far fewer apps than the Android-based dongles, which can access just about anything an Android mobile device can access.
Go all out
Connecting a Home Theater PC (HTPC) to your HDTV is undoubtedly the most flexible and powerful way to add smart features to your television. With an HTPC you can run different operating systems and HTPC front-ends, and access content via the web or via standalone applications such as Netflix and Hulu. However, all that added flexibility and power requires a larger investment, and using an HTPC tends to be more clumsy and complicated than using a dedicated dongle or media streaming device.
HTPCs come in all shapes and sizes, and with widely varying price tags. Do-it-yourselfers can configure an HTPC to their liking, but companies such as Zotac and ASRock also offer smaller systems for use in home theater environments.
Connecting an HTPC to an HDTV usually requires nothing more than plugging an HDMI cable into an input on the TV; but there is a wide variety of software, content portals, HTPC front-ends and players, which makes it impossible for us to cover them all. XBMC and Plex are favorites among HTPC enthusiasts, but there are also tons of standalone apps available. TechHive's HTPC showdown review is highly recommended.
This is a loosely translated article from our US sister site TechHive.com, written by Marco Chiappetta (@MarcoChiappetta). The article is published by Computer!Totaal to provide you with useful How To's, smart tips and practical solutions as quickly as possible. Described terms, operations and settings may be region specific.