Reader Question: Do You Need a Smart TV To Use a Streaming Media Player?

This is a question I’ve received a few times recently, which probably means a lot of other people are wondering the same thing but not asking. So I’m writing this post to answer it and I will also add it to the Streaming Media Players: Frequently Asked Questions post as well.

A Smart TV is one that can connect directly to the Internet to access various features like channel guides, websites and, most commonly, streaming content. So you could say that a streaming media player actually turns a regular TV into a Smart TV because it pulls content from the Internet to display on the TV.

So no, you don’t need a Smart TV to use a streaming player. However, if you have a Smart TV, you still may want to use a separate player because, generally speaking, the TVs often don’t support as many apps as the players do. One major exception is that some Smart TVs have a web browser built into them but the major streaming players don’t. I expect both of these previous sentences to change before too long as more and more people move away from traditional cable and satellite services to Internet-based content.

One other thing to note is that all of the Big Four streaming players (Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast) do require a TV with at least one HDMI port to plug into except for the Roku 1 model, which can connect to a TV using composite A/V cables (red/white/yellow connectors). So the Roku 1 is a good choice if you have an older TV that doesn’t have HDMI ports.

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Elizabeth Kricfalusi

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  • Thanks so much for very helpful article - now l hope to be able to make more use of my older TV with Roku 1...

  • I received a Firestick as a gift. I have internet access, but my TV is not at all smart. Is my Firestick thus unusable? Thanks!

    • Hi Z.

      As long as your TV has an HDMI port, you can use the Fire TV Stick. When you connect it to the port and switch your TV to that input, there's an onscreen wizard that will walk you through connecting it to the Internet using the remote.

      Enjoy!

      - Elizabeth

    • Hi Cheryl.

      I'm not sure what a Kobo smart box is. The only Kobo I'm aware of is an e-reader. However, that sounds like a problem you'll need to address with the company's support department.

      - Elizabeth

  • Elizabeth,

    I am looking to upgrade my TV and I love my Fire Stick (especially the newest version). So which is better for easy of accessing all my apps like Netflix, Amazon or even Hulu. I see most TVs now have them built in but I know with my older Fire Stick, it can be slow to get apps going does that hold true with Smart TVs?

    • Hi Bob.

      While I have a few Smart TVs (for testing), I don't regularly use their built-in apps, mainly because I'm so used to using my streaming players. I don't think there's a big issue with speed with the built-in apps. The bigger one is that at the moment most Smart TVs don't support as many different apps as the dedicated players. However, most will have Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, although you should definitely double-check that before you buy.

      Also, I don't think the interfaces for the built-in apps are always as easy to use as the players, although I imagine they're getting better with each new model.

      I'm sorry I can't provide more specific guidance. You'd do better checking tech review sites like CNET and PC Mag for more details or check out customer ratings and reviews on Amazon.

      One T4L post you might want to check out, though, is this one about some different types of TV technologies available.

      Smart TV, 4K, and HDR: What Do They Mean and Do You Need Them?

      Good luck!

      - Elizabeth

  • I was trying to hook up a roku streaming stick- I have DirecTv (an older box, I guess) and when I chose the input for the roku hdmi, the screen said the directv box was not wi-fi capable and that I needed a cinebox from Directv, which when I called they said it costs $100. Why is the roku searching for internet with the Directv box? Should I turn the directv box off? The two inputs should not need one another, correct? I don't understand. I thought the streaming stick was wi-fi and would be accessing the internet from the router.

    • Hi Rene.

      You're correct that there should be no connection between the DirecTV box and your Roku stick. Just to be clear, is your stick plugged directly into your TV?

      If it is, then maybe something from the DirecTV box is interfering with the Roku. (That would be weird, but who knows...?) What I would try is unplugging the DirecTV box while you set up the Roku and then once it's all set up, try plugging the DirecTV box back into the TV and switch between the two HDMI inputs to see if they're both working.

      Good luck and let us know how it goes!

      - Elizabeth

      • Thank you! I will do that. And, yes, the Roku was plugged directly into the TV
        The tv only has 1 hdmi.

        • Oh, so the DirecTV box is connected to the TV with A/V cables? For some reason that seems even weirder to me, but I hope this option works out!

  • We just got a 58 in. Samsung smart TV.
    We also have digital antenna plus we've used roku for our Old TV.
    My question is... We are finding that since our New Smart TV
    Netflix is Freezing a Lot.
    Do we still use our Roku or no??

    • Hi Sandra.

      I'm sorry but I'm not clear on what you're asking. You can try your Roku on your new TV to see if Netflix works better with it, but it depends on what's causing the problem whether or not it will help.

      - Elizabeth

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