Smart TVs

From low to high-end, nearly every TV offers some ability to stream media.

: Jens Kreuter @ Unsplash
Categories > Media > Home Theater > Home Automation
Competitors in this space: LG, Samsung, Sony, Vizio, TCL, Philips, Sharp, Toshiba
September 17, 2019: The TCL 6-Series TVs are the easiest to automate, thanks to the included Roku platform.

I’ve personally tested the following:

P-Series 65” (2015)
E-Series 42” (2015)
OLED65C8PUAP 65” (2017) XBR-55X900F 55” (2018) 6-Series 65” (2018) UN55J620DAF 55” (2016)

What you need to know

My goal is to keep things simple in life, but that can be hard to achieve with a home theater. I’m still working on reducing the number of remotes down to one, but I’m getting close with the help of two features you likely didn’t realize existed in your TV: HDMI-CEC and HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel).

Let’s start with HDMI-CEC which goes by several names: Samsung Anynet+, LG SimpLink, and Sony Bravia Sync. You need to enable this feature in the TV settings, as most TVs have it disabled by default. Any CEC-compatible device connected to the TV has the ability to turn on the TV and change TV inputs. You may have noticed this when powering on a Playstation 4 and the TV automatically turns on and switches to the PS4 input. That is CEC in action. HDMI-CEC works with AV receivers (in theory) to change the HDMI input to the active device. Unfortunately, CEC implementation is finicky and requires a lot of testing to get it working properly. I was able to do it though, so don’t give up!

If you have a TV and AV receiver or soundbar that is HDMI ARC compatible, then you can finally put away your AV receiver remote for good. ARC allows the TV to send audio to the soundbar or AV receiver using a single HDMI cable, and subsequently, AV receiver volume is controllable with the TV remote. There are limitations as ARC doesn’t support every audio format, but that is resolved by connecting the device directly to the AV receiver.

As you can tell, there is a lot of automations you can create to cut down to using one remote, but it will come with a lot of restrictions. I recommend trying out HDMI-CEC and ARC with your existing setup, and whatever doesn’t work, we address with workarounds using Home Assistant, Logitech Harmony or new AV gear.

Anyways, back to the business of smart homes and smart TVs. If your TV is 2016 or newer, I have good news for you! Your TV can integrate with Home Assistant to support some very useful universal remote functions and lighting automations. We can do everything a Logitech Harmony remote can do and more, now that we have the ability to detect the TV’s state.

An example of the universal remote control function I created in Home Assistant
An example of the universal remote control function I created in Home Assistant. Buttons light up depending on TV input.

I find it easier using a tablet to navigate through my media center controls. People can use it without much explanation—in the screenshot above, I can already tell the TV and receiver is on and the Playstation 4 is playing by looking at the green highlighted buttons on the UI.

For lighting automations, we can use the TV’s state to determine whether to dim the lights, though it is more accurate to design automations around the media devices themselves (Roku, Xbox One, etc).

If your TV doesn’t have HDMI-CEC, ARC or any integration with Home Assistant, then a universal remote like the Logitech Harmony hub can achieve a similar effect and reduce the number of remotes you need. The main downside is that it cannot detect whether a device is on or off so some devices might get turned off accidentally.

People are going to buy the TV they can want, regardless of my recommendations. So instead of my usual format, I’ll highlight my experiences working with different TV brands and how well they integrate with Home Assistant.

Considerations before buying a smart TV

  • The TV brand you select will limit your streaming media options. Fire TVs do not support Youtube TV (though support was announced in 2019). The quality of Android TV apps is surprisingly bad--did you know the Hulu app on Android TV is extremely buggy and out of date? On the bright side, Roku TVs seems to support every video service.
  • Does the TV support HDMI-CEC and ARC or its successor, eARC? Does it support advanced CEC functions, like directional keys, or play/pause?
  • Casting videos to the TV may only work if the TV is already on.

What you get with a Smart TV

  • Access to the many, many streaming apps out there.
  • Use Home Assistant and a tablet as a stylish universal remote to control the TV.
  • Create lighting automations for the media center based on the TV's state (“if TV is on, turn on TV lighting).

LG WebOS TVs

I was lucky enough to test one of the 2018 LG OLED TVs and was pleasantly surprised to see how mature the WebOS platform has become. The interface is snappy and responsive, the gyroscopic remote controls make it as easy as possible for anyone to pick up a remote and intuitively browse through the TV’s wide selection of apps. All popular video apps are supported and load instantly, and Home Assistant integration is fairly easy to do and fully supports media controls. The only downsides that are the Power On function doesn’t work reliably without a wired network connection, and Google Assistant voice commands only work through the LG remote. Other than that, there is no need to get a Chromecast or Fire TV stick if you have an LG WebOS TV.

The Problems

Despite turning off all power-saving settings on the TV, casting videos from phone to TV doesn’t work if the TV is powered off. Streaming media devices like Chromecast and Roku are always-on and can power on the TV when a video is being casted, so it is a shame that the latest LG WebOS TVs don’t have a capable standby feature.

Google Assistant integration exists, but only works on the LG remote. You can’t use a Google Home speaker to control your LG TV, which is dumb.

Installation and Smart Home Integration

The process to pair the TV to Home Assistant using the LG WebOS component is lengthy–there are some several configuration settings on the TV to enable, as well as entering a passcode (displayed on the TV) in the Home Assistant configurator screen.

If the TV is connected to your wireless network, then the setup gets more complicated. Turning on the TV via wireless requires the Wake On LAN Home Assistant component to be enabled. You need to know the TV’s MAC address, which can be found in your network router’s device list.

Note: wired and wireless interfaces on the TV have separate MAC addresses, so if you switch between ethernet cable and wireless often, make sure to update the MAC address in Home Assistant configuration files.

But once it works, it’s great! I hope you can get it to work, as not everyone can follow instructions.

Google Assistant with an LG TV exists with the LG ThinQ integration, but the implementation was not at all what I expected. All the useful Google Assistant/TV commands are locked to the LG TV remote, meaning you cannot use a Google Home speaker to control the LG TV, besides turning the TV off. If you suddenly have the urge to use the bathroom and need to pause the TV, then you will need to find your LG remote, press the Mic button, and say “pause the TV.” You can’t say this phrase to a Google Home speaker. With the amount of effort to activate Google Assistant on a TV, you may as well just press the physical Play/Pause button on the remote instead. Tom’s Guide gives you a general idea of how Google Assistant works with LG TVs, but remember you cannot speak to a Google Home speaker to control the TV, only the remote.

What was really surprising to me is that Google Assistant and LG TV have a much deeper voice integration with apps like Hulu than Google Assistant and Chromecasts. As I noted in my Voice Assistant recommendations, you can’t say play The Good Place on Hulu using a Google Home speaker and Chromecast, but you can with an LG TV remote and Google Assistant. Searching for shows on Amazon Prime Video doesn’t work at all.

To recap, here is my experience of what I can and cannot do with Google Assistant and an LG TV:

  • Good: Deeper integration with Netflix, Hulu with voice using LG remote only. You can say “play X tv show on Netflix,” though the experience is not consistently good.
  • Not useful: Play/pause, power off with voice control using the TV remote. But you might as well press the Pause button instead.
  • Bad: Lack of media playback (e.g. play/pause) voice control using Google Home
  • Bad: Cannot turn on the TV with voice using LG remote or Google home speaker.
  • Bad: Cannot open Youtube TV app, as Google Assistant confuses request with Youtube app
Home Assistant: Good
Takes several steps to complete setup on HA and the TV. Display currently playing app or HDMI input. Can load a specific app from HA.
Voice: Okay
TV cannot be voice controlled by Google Home speakers, only by TV remote. Features deep app integration not present on Chromecast devices.
SmartThings: N/A
Integration does not exist.
LG TV App: Good
It's an LG remote on your phone! But not much more than that.

TCL 6-Series TVs (2018)

For anyone looking for high quality and affordable smart TVs, I recommend the TCL 6-Series lineup of 4k TVs. I’m not qualified to speak on the TV picture quality (you can read an in-depth review at rtings.com), but the Home Assistant integration with the Roku TV smart platform is the most feature-rich media player integration I’ve used so far. It is unreal that I can purchase the 65” model for $650 during a sale. Only Vizio P and M-Series comes close to matching the TCL 6-Series’ price range and feature set.

I tested the TCL 65R617 model from amazon.com, which includes the enhanced WiFi-based remote for voice control and not having to point the remote at the TV. You can save $50 if you purchase the Best Buy TV model that includes the less functional IR remote. I think it's worth paying the extra $50 so I don't have to point the remote at the TV to change the volume or video.

If you’re familiar with the Roku interface, then you will feel right at home with TCL TVs. The Roku platform is deeply integrated into the TV–including picture quality, video input and audio settings. All Roku apps are available on the TCL TV including my favorites: Youtube TV, Youtube, Netflix, Prime Video, and Hulu. One downside I found is that the Roku user interface on TCL TVs is noticeably pixellated to the point where I thought there was something wrong with the TV. But do you know what doesn’t make sense? My Roku Streaming Stick+ doesn’t have this problem. I get that TCL can’t put the power of a Roku Streaming Stick+ in each TV, but this is not a good way to show off the TV.

Home Assistant integration is even better with Roku-enabled smart TVs because of the added ability to remotely power the TV and change video source inputs. You have nearly full control of the TV from Home Assistant, which you can create a universal remote control on the Home Assistant dashboard.

An example of a universal remote control dashboard in Home Assistant.

The Problems

I mentioned previously that the Roku user interface is very pixellated, making text and video thumbnails hard to see. Luckily, this doesn’t impact quality of streaming videos. but gives off the impression of a cheap TV.

I was hoping that the Roku remote could control the volume of older control sound bars connected via optical out, but it doesn’t. The remote included with the Amazon Fire TV 4k stick includes an IR transmitter to control TVs and older sound bars without an HDMI ARC connection. Anyone who bought a sound bar in 2016 or later won’t have this problem, but I have two old sound bars and it’s a problem for me!

Installation and Smart Home Integration

The great thing about the Roku component in Home Assistant is that Roku devices and smart TVs are automatically discovered by the Discovery component. Enable the Discovery component, and the TCL TV is automatically added as a media player in Home Assistant. Just make sure both devices are located on the same subnet of your network.

Home Assistant can mimic the functionality of a Roku remote and more–including directional input, media controls (play/pause/fast forward), TV-specific (change input, power, TV volume), and opening certain Roku apps. One user created a Roku Lovelace card to mimic the Roku remote on Home Assistant.

The TV can be powered on and off remotely using Home Assistant, as long as the Fast TV setting is enabled in the Power Settings of the TV.

Commands sent from Home Assistant are instantly processed by the TV. Media player status (playing, stopped, Home) are also instantaneously updated in Home Assistant, though the component cannot differentiate between a video that is playing or paused–it always sees the status as ‘playing.’ It’s not a big deal unless you pause videos often and need the lights to turn on.

Home Assistant: Great
Automatically discovered in HA. Full media player and universal remote controls.
Voice: Okay
Google Assistant and Alexa are limited to opening apps, media playback controls, powering on TV or changing volume.
Roku App: Great
Standard remote control on the Roku app.
Roku App: Great
You can browse through movies and TV shows with the app, and listen to TV audio through phone’s headphone jack.

The Competition

Sony Bravia TVs

I briefly tested the Sony Bravia XBR XBR-55X900F, which has Android TV, Google Assistant, and Chromecast Built-in. You would think that with all these Google parts inside, it should be some kind of sentient mega TV, but it isn’t. Chromecast works as expected, but Google Assistant doesn’t work unless the TV is on. That means I can’t turn on the TV with my voice unless I have another Google Home speaker nearby. Android TV is still a slow, dull user interface, but it’s not bad enough to the point where you need to buy another media streaming device.

Installation and Smart Home Integration

Home Assistant treats the Bravia TV as two separate entities: a Chromecast and Android TV media player. Using the Bravia TV component is easy to connect to Home Assistant. Powering on, changing inputs, and reporting power state works, though it takes a few seconds to update state.

The TV has Chromecast Built-In, which is detected automatically in Home Assistant using the Discovery component. It works just like the Chromecast I tested.

Vizio P-Series and E-Series TVs (2015)

I just happened to buy a Vizio TV one year before they launched their line of Smartcast TVs with Chromecast Built-In, along with other cool features. My 2015 smart TV isn't very useful today: it supports 4K but not HDR, it doesn't integrate with Home Assistant, and very few streaming apps are supported. I stopped using Vizio's TV apps since they were sluggish.

Samsung UN55J620DAF (2016)

I was shocked to find a brand new smart TV purchased from Costco doesn't even support basic features like HDMI-CEC or ARC. It just goes to show you that you need to do research before purchasing any low to mid-range TV, even from Samsung. I definitely needed HDMI-CEC on this TV and had to purchase a Logitech Harmony remote to make up for it.


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