Barely a week ago the thought of writing this article would never have crossed my mind. I just assumed that everyone knew that a smartphone and a smart TV we made for one another. It would have been akin to writing “Use your smartphone to surf the web” or “Use your smartphone to access Facebook”. However, that all changed during a visit with an old friend. He had owned a 32-inch Samsung TV for over a year by then and I’d just assumed it was a dumb TV because he only ever used it to watch cable. I’d just mentioned to him my recent purchase of an LG smart TV and he told me his TV was “smart” to. He knew it hooked up to the internet and had a web browser in it, but that was pretty much it. He didn’t even have it hooked up to his LAN.
Now my friend is no Luddite, and while he may not be a technology geek like me, but he knows enough about computers to run rings around the average person. If he didn’t realize the potential of his smart TV, then maybe lots of other people don’t either. The purpose of this article is to highlight the features of your smart TV that interact with your smartphone. It isn’t intended to be a how-to guide, so I’m not going to outline the individual steps for setting up these features. If you find the ideas interesting, you’ll have to do your own research on exactly how you do this for your model of TV and smartphone.
Let’s start with the acronym DLNA. This is a standard supported by virtually all smart TVs on the market for sharing and streaming video and audio over a local area network. The following is the definition provided by Google:
The Digital Living Network Alliance is a non-profit collaborative trade organization established by Sony in June 2003 that is responsible for defining interoperability guidelines to enable sharing of digital media between multimedia devices.
For your smart TV to make use of DLNA, it must have a DLNA server to connect to. For starters, your home PC can provide that functionality with a range of programs (including Windows Media Player). However, your smartphone can also act as a DLNA server. This isn’t natively supported by stock Android, but various manufacturer versions of the O/S (such as those from Samsung) have a DLNA server built in. For those with Android or Apple phones without native DLNA support, there are countless apps available. Just search for “DLNA”.
So what exactly does the DLNA server do? In a nutshell it searches for your phone for streamable material (videos, audio, and pictures) and sorts them for presentation to a DLNA client (which includes smart TVs, set-top boxes, home computers, and smartphones). Just use your smart TV to browse the material made available by the server in your phone and play or display the files directly on your big screen. All the necessary data will be streamed from your phone to your TV without you having to...
touch your smartphone at all.
Some of the DLNA servers you can put on your smartphone also allow you to “cast” the material to the TV and use your phone as a remote control over the resulting playback. One of the most useful examples of this is the YouTube app itself. Yes, the very same app you use (probably daily) to watch YouTube videos on your phone can “cast” those videos directly to your TV.
To use this feature your TV must have a YouTube app on it. Most of the brand-name TVs do, so unless you own an off-brand TV that isn’t supported by Google you shouldn’t have a problem. However, before you can make this magic work you must pair your TV with your phone. The YouTube app on your TV should provide you with a wizard for setting up this pairing, which once applied it need not be done again.
Instead of having the phone stream the video from YouTube and then stream it to your TV, the app uses DLNA to “talk” with the YouTube app on your TV. It provides it with the necessary video address and the TV itself streams the video directly. Your phone then provides you with all of the same control you’d have of the video while watching it on the phone. You can pause, play, stop, and reposition the playback exactly the same way you do when using the YouTube app alone.
The great thing about the YouTube apps on many TVs is that they always choose the highest resolution provided by the chosen video. That means that any videos that support 1080p will be streamed to your TV in 1080p. A lot of the professionally-produced videos look as good as anything you’ll see over-the-air or from a Blue-ray disc.
Another great app to get for your phone is call vGet. Once installed on your Android phone (I don’t know for sure how it works on iOS) you can stream videos embedded in web pages to your TV. To use it you surf the web on your phone as usually do, and when you find a page with an embedded video you select the SHARE option. vGet will be one of the apps available in the list of sharing clients. Just choose it and select the smart TV you wish to share the video with. vGet also includes its own web browser that provides an even easier path to getting those embedded videos onto your TV. The only downside to embedded videos is that a lot of them are still Flash, and most smart TVs don’t support Flash.
If you weren’t aware of these options for using your smartphone with your smart TV you’ve been missing out on a great way to provide tons of material to watch on your big screen. All of this can be done for no additional cost (though some of the better-quality apps do have paid versions that, as usual, provide extra features or remove annoying ads). I hope that I’ve provided you with just enough information to peak your interest.