family smart tvs
With entertainment available to stream and download via your broadband connection, TVs now offer connectivity and smart technology to enhance your viewing experience and give you more choice of content.
Five things you should consider when buying a Smart TV
Like computers, all connected televisions have the ability to restrict access to apps or internet browsing. The instructions will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer so make sure you check the manual if you need to set them up.
Check out the channels offered for children through the different pay TV and online streaming services available to make sure you’re going to get the children’s content you expect. Depending on the service, you can set up different user accounts and use PINs to prevent children downloading pay-as-you-go content.
Applications can also be downloaded and used on Smart TVs like you would a smartphone, such as the free BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5. There are also likely to be a collection of apps for subscription services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Now TV. You will need to pay them a subscription fee individually to use them and ensure you have adjusted the settings to make sure your children can’t view explicit content.
Most Smart TVs offer rudimentary internet browsers, and while connected to your home broadband will apply any parental control filters you have set to prevent your children seeing anything inappropriate.
Almost all modern flat panel TVs offer built-in Wi-Fi and wired connections to access the internet and your home network. However, it’s recommended that you connect them through the wired (ethernet) connection to get the most stable and fastest connection.
Platforms to consider for your family
Here are some reviews of selected television manufacturers based on the operating systems they use with pointers on their level of functionality and the safety features they offer.
We’ve reviewed the following:
This new version of Apple TV is a great device that gives you access to loads of videos and apps that should suit family members of all ages.
However, there are plenty of apps to entertain and games suitable for all ages including right down to the inbetweenies level (2-5 year olds).
Parental controls are very much the same as Apple’s iOS phone and tablet operating system allowing you to block content based on age, but you can’t have individual account log-ins for you and your kids.
It’s also certainly worth turning off in-app purchases too, it’s not off by default and with a new interface to learn, it can be a lot easier to buy extras without even realising it.
Amazon Fire TV
Offers access to movies and TV shows through Amazon’s streaming services
As well as offering access to movies and TV shows through Amazon’s own and other streaming services, the Fire TV is also a capable games console for the family as it provides access to plenty of downloadable apps.
If your family is not concerned with more expensive consoles and software it provides a fun and simple way to play games. They are also a lot cheaper than the conventional games, as they are, in many cases, exactly the same as the games you can get for smartphones and tablets.
You can also limit the Fire TV to only allow age appropriate games and video content to be available by setting a parental PIN code. That way adults can watch and play what they like, but children can only play age appropriate content.
Available from £79.
Nvidia Shield Android TV
All-round entertainment device
The Nvidia Shield Android TV box is made by a company more associated with games, so it offers a bit more and is possibly aimed more at teenagers than Amazon’s equivalent.
It uses Android TV as the user interface, so you can access to Google Play app store and other movie and TV show streaming services.
Its gaming features are more advanced than many rivals and it includes Nvidia’s own GeForce Now cloud gaming platform. This provides access to more than 50 games for a one-off monthly fee of £7.49 (first three months are free). It also comes with its own games controller in the box so no need to buy it separately.
One warning is that several of the games on the platform are rated for older children, even adults-only, but parental controls can be set to limit them by age category
Available from £150.
Philips and Sony: Android
A familiar system for Android users, complete with Android apps
Both Sony and Philips have chosen the latest version of Android to run their television platforms. This not only provides a more familiar system for people used to Android smartphones and tablets, but many of the applications bought for mobile devices can be downloaded on the TVs too through the same Google Play account you might use already. If you’ve previously bought music or video content from Google Play, it can immediately be played on the TV through pre-installed applications.
The same level of protection for child access is available on Android TV platforms as on phones. And as many Android games work on the TV version of the system, you’ll be able to ensure only those rated as age appropriate for your child are available to play without a PIN code or password. The same is true for internet browsing through the built-in Chrome browser.
Panasonic Firefox OS
Familiar for Firefox users, and complete with browser
For 2015, Panasonic has opted for Firefox OS, the operating system that stems from the same company as the Firefox web browser on computers, phones and tablets. It provides a clean, simple to use interface that, like the others, is mainly based around the apps.
All of the common streaming services are available, including Netflix and YouTube, and you can stream your own home music and video files through your home network to the TV.
As Firefox was originally a web browser, there is a full browser on Panasonic TVs that works in much the same way as you’d find on a computer. That means you’ll also need to set the parental control levels appropriately. The same is true for app access, although as it isn’t as wide reaching as the Google Play Store on Android TVs, in-app purchases and premium content shouldn’t be a worry.
Useful set-up assistant to help those with less tech proficiency
Unlike the others, LG’s webOS TV system has been available on some of the more premium flatscreen TVs from the manufacturer for over a year. Even some own-branded TVs from John Lewis adopt the same Smart TV platform as they are built by LG for the high street store.
Like Samsung’s Tizen TV, webOS presents different options and areas through a tile interface running along the bottom of the screen when called up. However, LG’s system is the only one that comes with “Bean Bird”, a cute character that helps you set up your television, so you don’t need to be too technologically proficient.
As with all of the platforms covered, webOS has plenty of the most common applications and access to streaming services, and all content can be protected through parental controls. If Bean Bird hasn’t already helped you set them up originally, you should check the manual for further instructions on how to turn them on.
- Ofcom, The Communications Report 2014: Television and Audio-Visual