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Smart TVs vs. Set Top Boxes: A Home Entertainment Showdown

Embedded Services OTT

January 31, 2014

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Home entertainment has come a long way since the days of strategizing with aluminum foil-topped black and white boxes. Embedded systems have made it possible to create a gaming, TV watching, and internet browsing experience in your home that rivals most movie theaters.  Shopping for televisions used to be easy. Did you want a 13, 15, or 17 inch? Now, consumers are faced with decisions about adaptability, connectivity, and smart technology, not to mention many more size options. With literally thousands of decision points, not to mention ongoing development of new smart TVs and set top boxes, how is the average consumer supposed to prepare for the tech-talk their likely to experience in the electronics store? This is a quick guide to help make sense of the options.

What is a Smart TV?


Think of a smart TV like a smart phone. There are phones, and then there are smart phones. Capable of streaming Internet content like Netflix, Pandora, Facebook, YouTube, and Hulu…it would be quite the accomplishment to run out of things to watch. With Internet on your television, you can connect your smart TV to the home Wi-Fi network, download apps straight to your TV, and much more.

What is a Smart Set Top Box?

Think of a set top box as a conduit to the Internet for your television set, no smart TV required! These boxes can often take your current, “dumb” TV (provided it was purchased in the last three years or so) and connect you to Wi-Fi, streaming online video content; doubling as a great music player if your television is hooked up your stereo system. They are small, transportable, and inexpensive. Best of all, you don’t (likely) need to buy a new TV.

Set Top Box

Comparing the Two

Out of Box Ease Smart TVs are the all-in-one package. Easy connectivity to streaming media, built-in Bluetooth, and full web-browser. You take it out of the box, plug it in, connect it to Wi-Fi, and you’re good to go. Although it’s not as complex as say, wiring a house, set top boxes require a bit more out of box setup before use. It might require a couple trips to the store to exchange a cord or two, and you’ll also want to do some research to find out exactly what features are going to be available from the box to your current TV. While many TVs come smart-technology compatible, there might be a feature like streaming music or setting up a remote on your smartphone that the set top box cannot configure.

Cost: Smart TVs will start at around $350-$400 and can go as high as your dreams allow… like the Sharp AQUOS 657 Series LED, which starts at around $8,000. With this cost you’re getting a brand new television set combined with a brand new laptop. Set top-boxes will sell for much less. If you want Internet on the big screen and don’t mind a little setup time and you’re okay with the quality and size of your current TV, a set top box can be a great option. Ranging from about $50 to $150, set-top boxes offer a more affordable option for getting smart technology on the tube.

Image Quality: Smart TVs will typically have better image quality than set-top boxes, mostly because when you buy a smart TV you’re getting a new television with the purchase. Capable of 1080p 3D imaging using 3D glasses, innovation in picture quality is happening in this space. The image quality of the TV you currently own will be almost the same with the addition of streaming media through a set top box.

Pro and Cons


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