Rome, Smart TVs and “casting” (not spells…)

By | November 20, 2017
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One of the things that the internet has made a huge difference to is how people watch TV.

Instead of having to watch programmes when they’re on, or remember to set a video to record them, you can browse what programmes are available on umpteen channels and watch them when you want.

It means you don’t forget to set the video to record and then end up missing out, and it means if you didn’t know a programme was on until afterwards, you can still watch it.

Not only that, you might not have even known a series existed – but find out about it and you can usually catch up on the episodes you missed. (We’ve been watching “8 days that made Rome” on channel 5 – interesting stuff and if you like the sound of it, you can still watch the episodes you’ve missed.) You can watch them on the internet, on a PC or tablet (or smartphone in theory – though obviously the screen is small).

But one of the odd things about it is that after years when televisions have tended to get bigger and easier to see, now people are watching TV on computer screens, which tend to be smaller and tablet screens, which are smaller still.

So how do you go about watching TV that’s on the internet on your actual TV? There are a few ways.

First, if you have a “smart TV”, it’s built into the TV. You control it with the remote and it connects itself to your wifi so you should be able to access BBC iPlayer, 4 On Demand, YouTube and the rest – and if you subscribe to Netflix or Amazon Prime you can usually set it up to play them for you as well.

If I was going out and buying a TV now I’d probably get a Smart TV – but if you don’t have one and you’re happy with what you’ve got, there’s not a lot of point in splashing out on a whole new TV – how else can you do it?

If you use a laptop to watch online TV, you probably have a socket on the side of it called an HDMI socket. It looks a bit like a USB socket but instead of rectangular it’s more D shaped. You can plug an HDMI cable into that and plug the other end into the TV – set the TV source to HDMI and you should be able to see whatever’s on the laptop screen on the TV. The only snag is you have to have a cable long enough to connect the two… or to put the laptop on the floor right next to the TV.

There are two other popular ways to do it – and people get them mixed up but they actually work totally differently.

First is a gadget like Amazon’s Fire Stick. This plugs into the back of your TV and basically turns it into a Smart TV. The Fire Stick connects to your wifi and will let you access BBC iPlayer, ITV, Channel 4 and so on along with YouTube. You can also access Netflix and Amazon Prime if you subscribe to them.

It works pretty well – in fact we’ve just bought one so we can watch catch-up TV on our actual TV and I’ve been impressed at the quality of the picture and so on.

The other option is something called a Chromecast, made by Google. This also plugs into the back of your TV but the way it works is different. It doesn’t connect to the internet and let you watch programmes itself.

What a Chromecast does is let you “cast” the screen of your PC/laptop/tablet/smartphone to the TV screen. So you turn it on and set it up, then start playing whatever it is you want to watch on the tablet or whatever you’re using.

It’s quite clever but it doesn’t work quite as well with all channels on all devices – for example Apple have deliberately decided to make it harder to use it with iPads, so there are some channels you simply can’t use it with on an iPad.

On the other hand, because it’ll display whatever is on your tablet, laptop or whatever, it means you can use it for things other than just TV – if you’re browsing the web and want to share it with other people, want to see a game you’re playing on the big screen or just want to show several people your photos, you can “cast” that onto the TV.

I’m not going to try to say which method is best – it depends on what you have at the moment and what you want it for. But at least now you know what the options are!

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