Just how smart is your smart TV? These high-end devices are supposed to combine the best parts of your computer and your TV set. Set up one Samsung Android TV or 43-inch Sony in your den and you could spend days exploring its features and figuring out all the astonishing things it can do.
But even people who swear by their smart TVs may not know their full capacity. You may not know about a certain feature, like built-in video games or live radio, which could unlock limitless entertainment.
Here are some of the smart TV’s less-known capabilities. Try any of these out, and you could be looking at your TV in a whole new way.
1. Stream live feeds
Live feeds are some of the most captivating videos on the internet. It’s hard to believe you can watch the mouth of an active volcano, or the middle of Times Square, or even a central square in Prague. You may not notice anything interesting, but it’s hard to believe the places these streaming videos can take you, especially on a 60-inch screen.
For compatible smart TVs, you can download the Ustream app for free live video streams from around the world. Much easier and more dependable than YouTube, Ustream will enable you to watch some of the most obscure corners of the world, including deep wilderness, aquariums, and sporting events.
If you use Apple TV, your television can even take you to outer space: Try the Earthlapse app, which will give you stunning high definition space views of the Earth taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Earthlapse also features an optional on-screen clock display and eight different ambient soundtracks to choose from. So just kick back and enjoy these majestic views of our planet all day.
2. Web browsing
No matter how big your computer’s display, it probably can’t come close to a wide-screen TV. That’s why many people hook their laptops to their smart TVs using an HDMI cable. This cable allows you to “mirror” the activity on your computer directly onto your TV, including web browsing, YouTube, Amazon Prime, and whatever else you want to see.
Hooking up a computer or tablet is relatively easy: Using your remote control, just set the TV’s input to “HDMI” and attach the special cable to both devices. Just remember, TVs, computers and tablets come in all varieties, so you may have to find an adaptor or special cord before linking them.
Many smart TVs already have a built-in browser, so you can theoretically search the internet without any computer at all. Granted, these TV browsers are painfully slow and limited compared to your trusty laptop. But if you don’t have a phone or tablet handy, you may be able to track down websites with your trusty remote.
3. Play video games without a console
Suppose you’re stuck in a house or hotel room. There’s a smart TV, but no other device, and there’s nothing to pass the time. If you were at home, you’d flip on your Playstation, but of course, that’s far away. The solution? You can play games on the TV itself, and you don’t even need a console.
Most smart TVs have fun and casual mini-games you can download from their respective app stores. The TV remote may not be the best controller, and it may take a little while to adjust, but it should do just fine for simpler games. It’s kind of like playing one of those games on an airplane, using the little TV display in front of you, except without all the claustrophobia.
For a more dedicated gaming experience, check out Playstation Now. This streaming game service works with select Sony and Samsung smart TVs, allowing you to play all your favorite Playstation 3 games without an actual console. Just subscribe to the service on the Sony website, then link to it on your Sony or Samsung television. Games are updated regularly, so there is no limit to the number and variety you can play.
The only thing you’ll need is a Dualshock 3 or 4 controller, the only device compatible with the console-less system. Make sure this controller comes with a USB cable, which you can plug directly into your television.
4. Get Fit
Don’t have time to go to the gym? Your smart TV can help. You may remember when Nintendo’s Wii helped couch potatoes get into shape with its specialized digital workouts. Nowadays, many smart TVs have fitness and training apps built into their menus.
Samsung’s flagship app is Fitness VOD, which provides dozens of videos for yoga, aerobics, and bodybuilding. Real personal trainers guide you through various routines, and different videos are geared toward different skill levels. No special equipment or gym memberships are required, although you should probably position your TV in a room with plenty of space to move around.
5. Use as a Weather Station
Yes, you can check the weather on your smartphone whenever you want. But the sheer size of a smart TV gives your weather report a feeling of authority. It’s hard to take a storm front seriously until its image is taking up three square feet of screen space.
To put a detailed weather report on the big screen, just download an app from Accuweather, The Weather Network or The Weather Channel. Not only will these apps provide you with hourly forecasts and satellite weather images, some of them even have live streams of weather reports around the country.
6. Access Social Media
Most of us can’t keep away from Facebook for more than a couple of hours. If you’re obsessive about checking your social media feeds, you’re in luck: Most name-brand smart TVs like Samsung, Sony, LG and Sharp have dedicated Facebook or Twitter apps available for their respective platforms.
Updating your status on a big Smart TV can be clunky, but if you want to check your Facebook or Twitter feed in a pinch, it’s good to know that you can on your fancy TV. Not to mention mirroring through your laptop or tablet, which will give you access to everything you see on your computer. (See above.)
7. Listen to Live FM Radio
If you have a smart TV, you don’t need an old-timey antenna radio to listen to your favorite music and talk show stations. Get a radio app like TuneIn or iHeart Radio and you can stream live AM/FM stations. If radio feels too old-fashioned, you can also play podcasts straight through your TV by connecting to iTunes or Google Play.
While you’re at it, don't miss my show on a smart TV near you. For more secret uses for your household devices, be sure to listen or download my podcasts, or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.