But more than just smart TV, manufacturers are also casually throwing around a lot of tech terms in their marketing materials: Android TV, Fire TV, Roku TV, media streaming device, Apple TV, and on and on. What do these terms even mean? And how are they related to and different from each other?
If you are confused by these tech terms and want to understand the differences between Android TV and smart TV, you have come to the right place. We have compiled all the relevant information you need into an ultimate guide to help you to navigate this exciting but confusing new world of TV technologies.
What is the Difference Between Smart TV and Android TV?
While Smart TV is a TV with integrated Internet connectivity and computing power (processor, RAM, storage), Android TV is an operating system for smart TV. It is also a type of smart TV that runs the Android TV operating system.
What is Smart TV
A smart TV is a TV set with integrated Internet connectivity and computing power (processor, RAM, storage). It connects to the Internet through either its built-in Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable.
Smart TV Brands
There are many vendors of smart TVs. Major brands include:
- Samsung – a premium brand from South Korea. Known for its high end OLED TVs
- LG – another premium brand from South Korea. Known for its high end OLED TVs. LG is also the only company in the world that makes OLED TV panels. It sells OLED TV panels to other companies such as Samsung & Sony who then make their OLED TV sets using those OLED TV panels
- Sony – a premium brand from Japan. Known for its high end OLED TVs and high quality image processing chips
- Vizio – a value brand from the US
- Insignia – a value brand owned by Best Buy
- TCL – a budget brand from China
- Hisense – another budget brand from China
Different brands and models of smart TVs will have different functionality. Some apps might be available on one smart TV but not on another. Likewise, some streaming services might be available on one smart TV but not on another. So be careful when you pick a smart TV – make sure the TV you choose supports the apps and streaming services you want. We will get into this in more detail in a later section.
Smart TV Functionality
Just like a smartphone, a smart TV lets you run apps locally and also access content and services over the Internet:
- Paid TV & Movie Streaming: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Disney+, HBO Max, etc
- Free Ad-Supported TV & Movie Streaming: Crackle, Pluto TV, Tubi, etc
- Music Streaming: Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Apple Music, etc
- Video Streaming: YouTube, Vimeo, Twitch, etc
- Photo Storage & Viewing: Flickr, Google Photos, etc
- Social Network: Facebook, Twitter, etc
- App Store: Different smart TVs come with different integrated app stores. You can download apps from the integrated app stores and run apps on your smart TV
- Gaming: Download games from the integrated app store and you can play games on your TV. If available, you can also play streamed games over gaming services such as Steam or Google Stadia
- Web Browsing: Most smart TVs come with a built-in web browser that you can use to browse the World Wide Web. However, web browsing on a smart TV can be quite challenging. Typically, smart TVs do not come with keyboards or mice. So you would have to navigate the web using a remote control or voice commands. Neither method is very user friendly for web browsing. To make things easier, you can buy a wireless keyboard and a wireless mouse and connect them to your smart TV.
Some of the more recent models of smart TV also include other functionality such as:
- Voice Based Assistant: One of the biggest trends in smart TVs is the integration of voice based virtual assistants similar to Amazon Alexa or Apple Siri. You can talk to your smart TV and ask it to check the weather or do shopping. Smart TVs with this functionality typically have a microphone built into their remote controls – you interact with the TV by speaking at the remote. Some of the more expensive models might come with a far field microphone built directly into the TV set itself – that way you can just speak to your TV across the room without having to find the remote first.
- Smart Connected Home: Another smart TV trend is to turn the TV into the hub of your connected smart home. Many smart TVs come with a smart home control dashboard. Using your smart TV as a central hub, you can control smart thermostats, streamed video from smart doorbells & surveillance cameras, control robotic vacuums, and control any other number of connected devices – all from the comfort of your couch.
As you can see, a smart TV is a computing device just like a laptop or a smartphone. You can watch videos, play games, check Facebook, browse YouTube, and listen to Spotify on a smart TV just like you can do all those things on a laptop or a smartphone. The main difference is the size of the screen:
- Smartphone: a computing device with a small screen of 4 to 7 inches
- Laptop: a computing device with a medium screen of 11 to 17 inches
- Smart TV: a computing device with a large screen of 32 to 100 inches
Smart TV Disadvantages
Given the fact that a smart TV is a computing device no different from a laptop or a smartphone, it should not be a surprise that smart TVs also come with privacy and security concerns just like laptops and smartphones do.
When you use a laptop or a smartphone to go online, you are being tracked every step of the way by companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, or Netflix. Using a smart TV is not any different.
All sorts of companies, including the manufacturer of your smart TV, will be tracking your activities and collecting information about your viewing habits. In 2017, Vizio, a smart TV vendor, agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle a case with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission).
The New Jersey attorney general’s office after the agencies accused it of secretly collecting and selling data about its customers’ locations, demographics and viewing habits. Other smart TV vendors no doubt have been doing the same thing.
Just like your laptop can get hacked by hackers over the Internet, your smart TV is equally vulnerable.
Hackers could hack into your smart TV to gain access to your viewing habits. If your TV is equipped with a voice-based assistant and a far-field microphone, hackers could also use that to eavesdrop on your conversations inside your own home.
Last but not the least, hackers could use your smart TV to gain access to your smart home devices such as doorbells and security alarms if they are connected to your TV.
How to Choose a Smart TV Hardware
When you are shopping for a smart TV, the software operating system that a TV runs is an important factor to consider. But it is not the only factor. You should also pay attention to a TV’s hardware features such as TV panel technology, picture quality, and refresh rate. To fully cover all these hardware features would take a whole different article. Here we will just briefly touch upon a few important ones.
TV Panel Technology
Your choices for TV panel techs are LED – LCD, OLED, and QLED
- LED – LCD: The cheapest and the most common panel tech. Picture quality is acceptable but far from the best.
- OLED: The most expensive panel tech. Picture quality is the highest, much better than that of LED – LCD. LG is the only producer of OLED TV panels in the world and is well known for its OLED TV sets.
- QLED: An affordable alternative to OLED. More expensive than LED – LCD but cheaper than OLED. Picture quality is higher than LED – LCD but not as good as OLED
In this day and age, do not buy any TV set with less than 4K (Ultra HD) resolution. That means no 720p (HD) or 1080p (Full HD) TVs. But at the same time, hold off on buying 8K TV sets – they are still too expensive and 8K TV shows or movies are still very rare.
The higher the better. Go for at least a 60 MHz refresh rate. If possible, opt for 120 MHz – sports, gaming, and action movies would look a lot smoother and better on a 120 MHz TV set.
Looks for HDR (High Dynamic Range) TV sets. HDR TVs offer more colors, more contrast levels, and higher brightness. In short, they provide a more vivid and stunning picture. A few technical terms to look out for:
- HDR10: The basic industry standard for high dynamic range
- Dolby Vision: A more demanding standard for HDR created by Dolby Labs, the company that brought us Dolby Noise Reduction and surround sound. Dolby Vision is quickly becoming the industry standard for HDR content
- HDR10+: A premium standard for HDR created by Samsung. It is similar to Dolby Sound but much less common than it.
- Technicolor Advanced HDR: Proprietary standard for HDR created by Technicolor. Not very common
- IMAX Enhanced: Proprietary standard for HDR created by IMAX. Not very common
Audio quality is often overlooked on a TV. Do not make that mistake. Things to look for:
- Soundbar: TV sets with built in soundbars offer a much better audio experience. If the TV you like does not come with a built in soundbar, consider adding an aftermarket soundbar to it
- Dolby Atmos: A new audio standard from Dolby Labs that includes overhead sound. It makes for a much fuller audio experience, especially when watching movies or gaming.
The more the better. Pick a TV set with at least 3 HDMI ports. Ideally, they should support the HDMI 2.1 standard.
Media Streaming Devices (Digital Media Players)
Say you have an old TV you bought a long time ago. It still works perfectly fine but it is not a smart TV.
Now, you want to watch Netflix on your TV. What can you do? Well, you could go out and buy a new smart TV that supports Netflix.
This would probably set you back a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the screen size and feature set of the smart TV you choose.
On the other hand, you could just buy a media streaming device such as an Amazon Fire TV Stick or an Apple TV box for $30 to $150, plug it into the HDMI port of your TV, and turn your TV into a smart TV. That is it. Now you have a smart TV and can stream shows from Netflix and Disney+. All for a low, low price of $30 to $150.
Sometimes even when you already have a smart TV you might still want to buy a media streaming device.
For example, say your smart TV is several years old and does not support some latest and greatest streaming video services you want to watch.
Instead of buying a new smart TV, you could just buy a media streaming device that does support the streaming video services you want and plug it into your TV. It will be a lot less expensive this way.
In other words, a media streaming device is a quick and inexpensive way to upgrade your smart TV to support the latest streaming services and features.
Media streaming devices are also called digital media players. They provide the networking and computing capability (Wi-Fi connection to the Internet, processor, RAM, storage) that makes a smart TV “smart.” All you have to do is to plug a media streaming device into your TV set.
In a way, a media streaming device is a smart TV without a screen.
So, to recap:
- Smartphone: a computing device with a small screen of 4 to 7 inches
- Laptop: a computing device with a medium screen of 11 to 17 inches
- Smart TV: a computing device with a large screen of 40 to 100 inches
- Media Streaming Device: a computing device with no screen. Needs to be plugged into a TV to use the screen of that TV
Popular media streaming devices include:
- Roku Streaming Stick+
- Roku Express
- Roku Express+
- Roku Premiere
- Roku Ultra
- Roku Ultra LT
- Amazon Fire TV
- Fire TV Cube
- Fire TV Stick 4K
- Fire TV Stick
- Apple TV
- Nvidia Shield TV
- Shield TV
- Shield TV Pro
Just like smart TVs, different media streaming devices support different app stores, streaming services, and feature sets. An app that is available for one streaming device might not be available for a different device.
A video streaming service that you can watch on one device might not be available if you are using a different device. For example, the video streaming service Vudu is available on Apple TV and Roku but not on Amazon Fire TV.
And just like smart TVs, media streaming devices come with their own privacy and security concerns. It is safe to assume that the manufacturer of your media streaming device is tracking you every step of the way, recording your video viewing habit, and selling your data to the highest bidders.
Your media streaming device is also vulnerable to hacking. Hackers could potentially hack into your streaming device to steal your data, use your device to eavesdrop on your conversations at home, and gain control of your other connected home gadgets such as doorbells and security systems.
Related: Android TV vs Smart: Streaming Platforms Comparison
What is Android TV
Android TV is an operating system for smart TVs just like Android is an operating system for smartphones. Android TV is a modified version of Android specifically designed to run on smart TVs. Just like Android, Android TV is also developed and maintained by Google.
Since a smart TV is a computing device just like a smartphone or a laptop, it also requires an operating system to work.
A smartphone requires an operating system to work. Different smartphones may use different operating systems.
For example, an iPhone runs the operating system iOS while a Samsung phone runs the operating system Android. There are only 2 major operating systems for smartphones: iOS & Android.
The brand of your smartphone will determine what operating system it runs – smartphones from Apple run iOS while smartphones from all other brands (Samsung, LG, Motorola, etc) run Android.
Likewise, a laptop requires an operating system to work. Different laptops may use different operating systems. For example, a MacBook runs the operating system macOS while an HP laptop runs the operating system Windows.
There are only 2 major operating systems for laptops: macOS & Windows. The brand of your laptop will determine what operating system it runs – laptops from Apple run macOS while laptops from all other brands (HP, ASUS, Dell, Samsung, LG) mostly run Windows.
Remember we said earlier that media streaming devices were just like smart TVs but with no screen? So it should not be a surprise that those media streaming devices also require an operating system to work.
It also should not be a surprise that smart TV operating systems also work on media streaming devices – after all, they are very similar to each other. All this is to say, Android TV is an operating system for both smart TVs and media streaming devices.
When you get a smart TV such as the Sony X750H 55-inch 4K Ultra HD LED TV, it runs the operating system Android TV.
When you get a media streaming device such as the Nvidia Shield Pro 4K, it also runs the operating system Android TV.
But unlike operating systems for smartphones and laptops, the world of operating systems for smart TVs and media streaming devices is much more fragmented.
While there are only 2 major operating systems for smartphones (iOS & Android) and only 2 major operating systems for laptops (macOS & Windows), there are many operating systems for smart TVs and media streaming devices.
Android TV is just one of the many. When you buy a smart TV or a media streaming device, depending on the brand, it might run the operating system Android TV or it might run a different operating system.
Many smart TV manufacturers develop and maintain their own smart TV operating systems. For example, Samsung smart TVs run on Samsung’s own smart TV operating system Tizen while LG smart TVs run on LG’s own smart TV operating system webOS.
To further complicate matters, Android TV can mean more than one thing depending on the context. In addition to being an operating system for smart TVs (and media streaming devices), Android TV can also mean a particular type of smart TV. Very often, people call a smart TV that runs the Android operating system an Android TV.
Going back to our earlier example, Sony X750H 55-inch 4K Ultra HD LED TV is a smart TV that runs the Android TV operating system. As a result, many people would call this particular smart TV an Android TV. In this sense, Android TV is a type of smart TV.
To recap, Android TV is:
- An operating system for smart TV and media streaming devices, or
- A type of smart TV that runs the Android TV operating system
Benjamin is a certified financial advisor, with over 10 years of experience in the industry. He is knowledgeable about various business and financial topics, such as retirement planning and investment management. Ben has been recognized for his work in the financial planning industry. He has also been featured in various publications.