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How to turn a regular TV into a smart TV

Before you buy a new smart TV, try these tips to breathe new life into your older model.

streaming devices tv illustration on grey
Last updated: 29 March 2023

Technology moves so quickly that a TV that was cutting-edge when you bought it can feel outdated after just a couple of years. These days it's all about 'smart' connectivty, aka TVs that can connect to the internet. This allows easy access to TV, movie and sports streaming services like Stan, Netflix, Binge or Disney+.

But what if you own an older TV that doesn't have smart functions? Or maybe your smart TV isn't the best model on the block anymore, it doesn't support all the streaming services, and you're wondering whether it's time to upgrade?

Here's the good news: you don't necessarily need to rush out and buy the latest and greatest smart TV just so you're up to date. There are some simple, cheap tricks you can try to smarten up your existing TV.

How to convert your regular TV into a smart TV

Can you use a streaming service like Netflix or Disney+ on a regular TV or computer monitor? Absolutely! You just need to borrow the smarts of another device that can connect to your screen. 

There are a few ways you can do it:

  1. Connect a media streaming device or game console that allows video and music to be delivered to your TV over the internet.
  2. Use your smartphone to mirror or cast to your TV if it supports this feature.
  3. Stream shows on your laptop and watch on your TV by plugging it into a spare HDMI connection on your TV.

We'll talk you through each method. 

If you already have an older smart TV that you want to spruce up, we'll cover that further down.


The HDMI port on your TV will look like this.

How to connect a streaming device to your TV

You can use an external streaming device to turn your regular TV into a smart TV. These are small dongles or boxes with internet connectivity that support video and music streaming services. Some well-known streaming devices you may have heard of include Google TV, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick and Google Chromecast. 

These devices use HDMI so before you do anything, make sure your TV has at least one HDMI port. You're more or less out of luck if your TV doesn't support HDMI and though you can buy converters for other inputs, they're not always reliable and tend to reduce picture and sound quality.

Before you do anything, make sure your TV has at least one HDMI port

Once you've located it, check our TV streaming device reviews to see which products our experts recommend. You can filter by price, 4K capability, available streaming services and brand to find the right device for your needs and budget. Also note that a dongle may not fit correctly if your TV has a recessed HDMI port.

"If you have home broadband and a spare HDMI connection on your TV, then you could buy something like an Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max or Google TV 4K for around $100," says CHOICE TV expert Denis Gallagher

"If your TV can't handle 4K video, then the non-4K Fire TV Stick and Google TV models are about half the price. There's also an Apple TV option starting from $220.

"The Amazon Fire TV Stick, Google TV and Apple TV products come with a remote control which is easy to use and will also allow you to control the volume of the TV."

You can also use a game console like a PlayStation or Xbox or a set-top box like a Fetch TV box instead of a streaming device. All these devices should be connected to your TV via the HDMI port as it delivers both the audio and video over a single cable.

How to use your smartphone to stream on your TV

If you already have the streaming services you want to access installed on your phone, you may be able to simply view your smartphone content on your TV.

There are three ways to do this: you can either mirror, cast or AirPlay content. The terms are often used together but they actually work very differently.

Mirroring is when you're simply showing whatever is on your smartphone on your TV. This can be both audio and video and is usually delivered over a direct Wi-Fi connection. 

Many older TVs support mirroring and it can be a handy feature to show family and friends photos and movies stored on your phone. You can also show streaming movies but the experience can be a bit clunky as mirroring simply replicates what's happening on your phone's screen. 

Casting is a bit more sophisticated. Instead of just showing what's playing on your smartphone, casting sends a link from the app on your phone to your TV. This delivers an experience similar to what you'd expect from a streaming device such as a Google Chromecast or Amazon Firestick, allowing you to control the content either from your smartphone or by using the TV remote.

For casting to work most effectively, both the smartphone (or other smart device such as a tablet) and the TV should be connected to the internet via the same Wi-Fi network.

AirPlay is Apple's version of casting. Though it's built into a small number of smart TVs, AirPlay is typically limited to first-party devices such as the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV. Like casting, both devices need to be connected to the same network.

usb c to hdmi cable

If your laptop doesn't have a full-sized HDMI port, you'll need a USB-C to HDMI cable like this one.

How to use your laptop to stream on your TV

An easy way to smarten up a TV is to simply plug your laptop into it. This basically turns any TV with an HDMI connection into a big-screen computer.

Almost all new laptops can quickly connect to a TV via a direct HDMI cable connection (you'll just need to buy an HDMI cable, which should cost around $20). 

Some laptops may not have the full-sized HDMI port, but you can also use a USB-C to HDMI cable (around $20) which should recognise the connection and show the screen directly on the TV as well as transmitting audio. 

How to extend the life of your existing smart TV

If you already own a smart TV but it's getting a little long in the tooth, you don't need to replace it the second it starts playing up. 

We'll explain why you may be having trouble with your apps, plus a few quick fixes to get things running smoothly again. 

Why have my TV apps disappeared?

Old-school TVs had just a few main tasks: pick up signals for free-to-air TV and connect to DVD players or game consoles. You could buy one knowing it would likely last you 10–15 years. 

But modern TVs have modern problems. While they may still function for the same length of time as their predecessors as far as video quality is concerned, you're likely to encounter different issues such as apps becoming obsolete and platforms cutting off support for your operating system. 

Sometimes this is because streaming services won't update apps designed for older TVs, and sometimes new apps can't be accessed by your TV. Here are some real examples of support for apps either changing or being removed altogether that you may have experienced.

  • In 2019, Netflix stopped working on some early 2010s Samsung and Panasonic smart TVs.
  • SBS On Demand was removed from some Sony TVs that weren't using Google's TV software.
  • Disney+ launched in Australia in 2019, but some Hisense TVs couldn't support the Disney+ service until late 2021.

This is where a media streaming device, game console or laptop can come in handy. They generally support almost all (if not all) the main streaming services that may not be available on your TV.

Quick troubleshooting tips for your older smart TV

Here are a few simple steps to start sprucing up your TV.

  • If an app is playing up or won't open, delete it and install it again. 
  • Perform a manual software update for your smart TV via the settings menu. 
  • Restore your TV to the factory default settings, clearing out all the setting changes you may have made over the years.
  • If performance is still average or poor, or you still can't find the streaming apps you want, look into buying a streaming device.
  • If you can't find an HDMI connection on your old TV and you want to use streaming services, it's probably time to go shopping for a new TV.
We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.