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What is Android TV and how does it differ from a Smart TV?
Android TV

TVs have come a long way in the last decade, and what used to be a large box where you could only watch what your TV provider gave you, is now a slim TV with more functionality than you know. We’re way past the TV being just an entertainer. Of course, there are still things that will differentiate one TV from another, but the most obvious is whether or not you’re looking at buying an Android TV or a conventional one. And, there’s a massive difference that could (and should!) be a deal-breaker when shopping.

What is a smart TV?

To explain what a smart TV is, you should know that with a regular TV, you can only watch content your TV provider gives you. Sure, you could connect a computer and play your own content, but quite frankly, that’s too much hassle – things could be easier. The availability of content is quite limited without a smart TV, and applications like Google and YouTube won’t be accessible either.

On the other hand, smart TVs add an entire operating system to your TV, turning it into somewhat of a computer. Why should this matter to you? Because you get access to significantly more functionality and a lot more content to watch, making the TV more than a simple entertainer.

Not only do you get things like Google and YouTube, but you can also watch shows on Netflix, Plex, Amazon Prime, or any other service that streamers love. This all depends on the operating system you’re using, so let’s take a look at what you get with Android TV, and what the difference is between that and other operating systems.

What is an Android TV?

An Android TV, simply put, is a TV that uses Android as its operating system. The operating system has been adapted for the big screen, and unless you’re deep into the Apple ecosystem, is your best option for a smart TV. This operating system will get you applications like the Google Play Store, which lets you download apps and games, as well as access things like the Google Assistant. One of the operating system’s main goals is to get you the availability of streaming services and let you organize all your local media files.

Now, an Android TV is not the same as a regular smart TV, so what is the difference between smart TV and Android TV? Well, with just a smart TV, you’re still limited. Some manufacturers believed it was better to use their smart operating system, which not a lot of developers tend to support. You might get some of the basics, but if you need newer applications for your device or a newer update, they might not be available. This would just be a headache in itself, so if you go for a smart option, Android TV is the way to go.

Initially, the operating system was offered on devices like the Nexus Player, which is a TV box (we’ll get to those in a minute). Today though, most (if not all) popular TV manufacturers offer TVs that have it built-in, which negates the need to buy a TV box or any other device, like an Apple TV.

Something to note is that a few months ago, a significant change was introduced with Google TV. What used to be just a service is now a complete user interface that modernizes your TV with a newer design language and a better feature set. You can also expect availability on some TV sets soon.

What is an Android TV box?

If your TV doesn’t have an operating system built-in, you can add one by using a TV box. TV boxes are devices that have an operating system and act as a computer, with your TV as the display output. Now, how good (or bad) they are, depends on the box itself.

When looking at Android TV boxes, you have the premium models, which are ones like Nvidia’s Shield or Xiaomi’s Mi Box S, as well as some other alternatives like Google’s Chromecast. The price difference between these and the budget variants is rather significant, but so are the user experience and overall quality.

Budget TV boxes tend to come with old OS versions, no update options, and an overall sluggish experience. The available apps are also sometimes outdated, and you will very likely run into trouble if you try to play higher resolution or higher bitrate files. You will experience frame drops, app glitches, and you might even have a crash or two.

With a premium TV box, you do get a much better experience, especially if you’re a more demanding user. Higher resolutions aren’t an issue, the software is updated regularly, and everything works as it’s supposed to. But that does dictate a higher price, which oftentimes puts these models out of reach.

Without getting into too much detail – is a TV box worth it over a TV that already makes use of an Android OS? Not really, because if you can get it integrated, you’ll simply elevate your experience. Additionally, a high-quality Android TV is cheaper than both a high-quality TV and a separate high-quality TV box.

What features to look for in an Android TV

If you’re in the market for a new TV, there are a few things you should keep an eye out for.

The first thing to note is the TV’s resolution and panel quality. Even though Full HD (1080p) has been the standard for a few years now, things are moving towards 4K rather quickly. A lot of the content you usually watch is available in 4K, so why not make use of it if you can? This resolution will be much sharper than Full HD, especially if you’re thinking of getting a TV that’s larger than 40” in width.

When it comes to panel quality, your best bet is a QLED panel with Mini-LED technology. We’re talking about vivid, lifelike colors that look stunning, with excellent viewing angles. QLED panels use quantum dot technology for improved color accuracy and brightness, deeper blacks, and an excellent HDR experience. Mini-LED reduces the size of the LEDs themselves, to allow for more dimming zones. The result? Better brightness, and better black colors too.

The refresh rate is next up – 60Hz is considered the old standard, but 120Hz will get you a significantly smoother experience. This is something you will immediately notice with any type of content, but it will arguably make the most difference with sports and gaming.

Last but not least, you should consider the Android TV functionalities you’ll be getting. Even though the operating system is almost the same, some manufacturers might choose to expand the feature set by adding their apps or modifications. Since this will significantly impact your user experience, you should make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Any good Android TV will let you enjoy your content with no glitches, and there is something for everyone’s needs in TCL’s range!