Adam from Motorhome WiFi Discusses Smart TV and looks at the Best Smart TV for your Motorhome in 2020
If you were purchasing a TV for home, it’s unlikely in 2020 that you would consider purchasing one that wasn’t Smart. In fact, if you specifically wanted one that wasn’t Smart you would find your choice severely limited, however, for 12v TV’s the reverse has been true for some time.
Avtex, to many the undisputed king of the leisure TV market and they, certainly make good TV’s but they’ve been incredibly slow on the update in the area of Smart TV’s although it’s hard to believe that will be the case forever.
You can, of course, make any old TV into a ‘Smart TV’ by adding a plugin dongle provided that the TV in question has at least an HDMI socket for input and ideally a USB socket also to draw power from, although the latter is not essential.
A smart TV is an internet-connected telly that gives you the opportunity to watch on demand content from apps. like BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and All 4, access to streaming services like Netflix, and the ability to connect to other wireless devices like smartphones.
An Amazon Firestick is my personal favourite since this is the most versatile device both in terms of available applications and what else can be added by the enthusiast. Roku / NowTV sticks are also popular since NowTV app cannot be officially downloaded for the Firestick, although there is a workaround. Many people swear by Google Chromecast, but this is a slightly different thing that requires your phone to act as the remote and isn’t as flexible as a standalone option.
However, perhaps you’re looking at upgrading the TV in your motorhome and fancy a fully integrated Smart TV so what do you need to look out for?
Each manufacturer will have a different platform on which their Smart TV’s are based, this can mean that there are discrepancies between what applications are available and sometimes delays when one platform gets few features or bug fixes before another. It’s worth checking that the important apps you use are available on the TV of your choice before purchasing.
Most Smart TV’s are WiFi-enabled and in the close proximity of a motorhome, there is likely not any real benefit from running a hard-wired network connection even if you have a compatible router installed.
Don’t forget that you’ll need an internet connection for your Smart TV and it’s unlikely that streaming TV will be possible on campsite WiFi or that a Smart TV could cope with the ‘captive portal’ login page many require to connect.
If you have a SmartPhone and a suitable data plan, you can try connecting the Smart TV to your handset to see how you get on. However, a dedicated 4G system ideally with a roof antenna would likely yield the best results and allow you to use the TV reliably in most locations.
Smart TV’s will also have a regular TV/Freeview tuner to connect to a regular DVB-T aerial so you can watch Live TV without an internet connection.
Here’s a quick look at three different models:
Dimensions: 21.5” and 24”
Model: 22HE4001 / 24HE4001
Satellite Tuner: Yes
Wall Mountable: Yes
The Hitachi is a new product to the UK market and doesn’t have a DVD player which means it’s both thinner and lighter. It’s available in two sizes – 21.5” and 24” meaning tight mounting locations are also catered for. The remote control has direct access buttons for Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime with a further button you can program for an app of your choice which is a handy shortcut. The Hitachi is one of the fastest Smart TV’s I’ve used and the picture is clear with a good viewing angle.
Satellite Tuner: Yes
Wall Mountable: Yes
The Sharp, with its brushed thin bezel, is certainly punching above its weight and looks wise is every much as premium as the Avtex. It has a DVD player as well, which means if you’d still like the option of putting a disc in then you’ll be able to with this unit. There is only one size available in this range and having a DVD player means its also quite deep so it’s not going to suit everyone.
Satellite Tuner: Yes
Wall Mountable: Yes
The Cello TV is arguably not the best looking TV on the market and has a bit of a shiny and plasticky feel with a larger bezel than its competitors. However, given it’s one of the cheapest Smart TV on the market this can largely be forgiven.
The ‘Smart’ interface used by Cello has always been a bit quirky in as far as it runs on Android and hasn’t had the same level of customization that most other manufacturers develop for their interfaces – it’s more like using an android tablet or tv box. As a result, it has access to the full Google Play store to download Android Apps and therefore you can download SkyGo – an app that you cannot otherwise easily access on a Smart TV which could be of interest to many. This is something unlikely to be possible on some of the newer models which run the NetGem.TV interface.
To discuss other issues about Smart TV in your motorhome visit that specific forum section
This article first appeared in the February 2020 issue of MotorhomeFun Magazine
The Follow up to this article Appeared in the March 2020 Magazine
SMART HOME, SMART MOTORHOME PART 2
Back in January I wrote a feature ‘Smart Home, Smart Motorhome’ where I covered the main Smart Hubs for your motorhome. Alexa and Google Home are the most popular options and I touched on some of the other ‘Smart’ technologies you could use in your van, including WiFi cameras and the ability to control 12v lighting circuits using a smartphone, timers or Alexa.
If you have a 4G WiFi system in your motorhome, or you are in an area of sufficient reception whereby you can use a MiFi/router without an antenna there are a great number of things you could use these cameras for.
- Check in on your motorhome. whilst parked on a campsite/aire
- Security when parked in storage or at home.
- Allowing you to check in on a pet left in the van while you are out, some cameras also allow two way communication which might be an option.
- Check in on children, grandchildren or the other half – with their knowledge and consent of course!
- Mount a camera externally to give you piece of mind when wild camping, some cameras will also give an audible alarm when motion triggered.
- Use the camera to point at a display, such as a control panel displaying battery voltage or thermometer to show conditions when away from the van.
Since then, I’ve been inundated with messages and e-mails asking me to go into a bit more detail about some of these other options and how they can be used in the
motorhome. If you start looking online you will see a mind-boggling number of cameras from names you have heard of such as Nest and Ring, but the majority will likely be from unknown Chinese firms with a huge variation in terms of quality and usability of the apps.
One of the most popular options is usually for a camera that runs from its own internal batteries and does not require external power. Blink make a camera that does just that and has 2AA batteries which it claims will last up to 2 years and provided the camera is never accessed or viewed you might just get that long. The reality is if the camera is mounted in a high traffic area, or you like to check in on the camera regularly, the battery life will be significantly less. The other issue when used in a motorhome setting is that while the camera might be battery operated, the ‘sync module’ which is required to operate the camera is not and this requires USB power. The other issue I’ve found when experimenting with these cameras is they are always asleep until woken by a motion trigger; this invariably means the event has passed by the time the camera starts recording, resulting in a lot blank alerts and the unsettled feeling that something has been missed.
The Yi cameras I mentioned in an earlier article are my personal budget choice for cameras. There are a number of different versions, the cheapest and easiest being the ‘Home’ version which can be found on Amazon or YiHome’s own store for as little as £16 delivered when on promotion.
This little 1080p USB camera has a weighted/magnetic base and the camera part itself can be easily removed from the stand and mounted discreetly in a location of your choice and is just thin enough to be mounted between the blind and the window in my van; the lens has night vision and there is a two way audio function also.
Powered by 5v Micro USB, I worked out over a week of continuous use that it consumed about 5amp @ 12v per day which in my van is easily replaced by the solar panel, even in winter.
Setting up the camera couldn’t really be any more straightforward. When you turn them on for the first time, the camera will speak ‘Waiting to connect’. You download and open the Yi home app from the relevant Appstore for your smartphone or tablet and once registered simply show the camera a QR code from your screen. This then allows the camera to connect to the local WiFi network you told it to and becomes part of your YiHome ‘cloud’.
The camera by default will push
you a 6 second clip in the event its motion sensing is triggered. If you install a MicroSD card into the slot on the camera itself, you can increase this clip length to as long as the event lasted and the card can store up to 3 days of either continuous or event video.
The other option is to record to a cloud based plan, for about £12/month you can store all of the motion events from up to 5 cameras on the same account.
Other cameras in the Yi range include two 1080p dome cameras that are motorized and can be rotated 360 degrees using the app and a fully weatherproof outdoor camera which is probably of more use in a home rather than a motorhome setting. The little home camera has various third party accessories that can be purchased to allow it to be mounted outside and while it’s not strictly weatherproof, at £16 it’s not breaking the bank should it succumb to the elements.
There are only two gripes I’ve found – the first is that the cameras can’t be used with an external display, you would need a laptop or mini PC connected to a monitor to show them on a regular TV screen. Alternatively, if you wanted to keep an eye out whilst inside the van, you could perhaps re-purpose an old tablet or phone to do so. Remember, if you’re not on an unlimited data plan or roaming abroad, even if you’re watching the cameras ‘locally’ while sat in the van and using the same WiFi network, you will be consuming data as the traffic is routed via the internet. Do also ensure that you always update the cameras firmware on receipt, which is a prompt on the first time setup.
The other item from the previous article that generated many questions was the ability to control and dim a 12v lighting circuit using a small inexpensive controller. Since the time of writing, these have disappeared from Amazon and seemingly eBay UK, but are still available direct from China using one of the many sourcing sites in this case Ali Express https://www.aliexpress.com/item/33014219678.html
This small 12v module has a 5.5×2.1mm connector at both ends which means you can either buy a suitable connector for one end and a lamp for the other or in my case simply remove the connectors and wire in line directly to the existing LED light source after the switch. Through the app, this allows you to dim the lights to a desired brightness which will be remembered if you do isolate the light using the switch, as well as allowing the lights to be turned on/off remotely using the app or using a pre-set timer which perhaps might be of interest from a security perspective. One function I won’t be using, however, is the ability to flash the lights in time to the music using the microphone from the controlling device as the novelty wore off in just a few seconds.
There are of course hundreds of similar devices, many of which come with their own LED strips which might be of interest for those looking to run lights alongside an external awning rail or use an RGB strip to be able to remotely control the colour which will be my next project when the weather picks up.