TV manufacturers have rushed to improve their latest models with fast HDMI 2.1 ports capable of supporting 4K gaming at 120Hz in glorious HDR. Unfortunately, most of the same models still use outdated 100Mb Ethernet ports. Fortunately, we have a workaround.
Use an Inexpensive USB Ethernet Adapter
In addition to HDMI and component inputs, most modern TVs have USB ports that allow you to connect storage devices. This allows you to play video files from a hard drive or memory stick and in some cases record free-to-air and satellite programming directly to USB.
But these same ports can also be used to add additional functionality to your TV, like gigabit networking with a USB-to-Ethernet adapter. These are the same inexpensive adapters you would use on a laptop or desktop computer if you wanted to easily improve your networking speeds.
One caveat to keep in mind is that the speed of your TV’s USB ports may bottleneck performance too. Some of the best TVs (like LG’s OLED range) are restricted to USB 2.0 speeds (480Mb/sec theoretical maximum), while other manufacturers (like Sony) have made the leap to USB 3.0 (4.8Gb/sec theoretical maximum).
The most important question to ask is whether or not a given USB adapter will work with your TV. Vincent Teoh of HDTV Test has demonstrated in a YouTube video that the Cable Matters USB 3.0 to Ethernet adapter works with the latest LG and Sony models, but it might be worth searching around the web if you happen to own a different brand or want to use a different adapter.
Cable Matters Plug & Play USB to Ethernet Adapter (USB 3.0 to Gigabit Ethernet, Ethernet to USB, Ethernet Adapter for Laptop) Supporting 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet Network in Black
The Cable Matters Ethernet adapter allows you to get gigabit wired networking speeds on compatible models simply by connecting it to a compatible TV's spare USB port.
On the plus side, these adapters have relatively low prices and range from around $10 to $25 on average to find out. If it turns out that the adapter doesn’t work with your TV, you can probably find a use for it elsewhere if you use wired networking at home or work.
Why Bother With Gigabit Ethernet on a TV?
Most new TVs support 5GHz and 2.4GHz wireless networking, but Wi-Fi is notoriously temperamental. Even though 5GHz networks have a theoretical maximum speed of 1300Mb/sec, many confounding variables can affect real-world performance. Ethernet is far more reliable in this regard.
Not everyone can put their wireless router in an optimal position, and not everyone has the money for a mesh router system. In many real-world scenarios, Ethernet is still the best solution in terms of speed and reliability. When most TVs are limited to only 100Mb/sec, this can leave performance on the table.
Not only is internet performance potentially limited, but local streaming performance may be impacted too. If you run a media server for streaming content over the local network, you may run into hurdles with higher bitrate content particularly in 4K and HDR formats.
Most Streaming Boxes Are Gigabit-Ready
Fortunately, this is an issue that mostly only affects TVs directly. By adding a gigabit networking adapter to your TV, you may be able to improve performance in the apps that run natively on that device.
Many streaming boxes like the Apple TV 4K (but sadly not the Google Chromecast Ultra) have gigabit networking built-in. That includes games consoles like the Xbox Series consoles and PlayStation 5.
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