2022’s PERSPECTIVE: Smart TV or streaming box?

As improbable as it seems, I got my first smart TV 11 years ago. At that time, I paid dearly for the privilege, and I did so thinking that I was getting a great value. It was no more than three years later that I bought my first standalone streaming box to replace the then-obsolete features of that smart TV. And so, I vowed that from then on I would not pay for smart TVs, and that standalone streamers were the way to go.

But here we are in 2022, and I have to ask myself if that advice still holds up. After all, certainly the problems with smart TVs must have been solved by now, right? I thought I’d take a look, and offer my advice to anyone who is thinking of a smart TV

Smart TVs: the good

The good thing about smart TVs is that they are pretty much everywhere in every price range. You’re not really paying extra for those smart features at this point. So, if you don’t end up using those features, you’re not wasting money.

Another thing that smart TVs bring easily is a clean, simple experience. If your live TV provider has an app (as Xfinity and Spectrum do) you can dispense with pretty much every black box attached to the TV. That means the whole thing looks clean and works easily with one remote.

Streaming boxes: the good

The good thing about streaming boxes, of course, is that they keep evolving. I say that knowing that neither Roku, nor Apple, nor Amazon have added anything I really care about in years. Still, the apps themselves keep getting updated and new ones are developed all the time.

Streaming boxes (again, with the exception of Apple) have been getting cheaper, too. It’s so easy now to get a 4K-capable streamer for under $50, unless you want the Apple logo.

Smart TVs: the bad

Here’s the fact, sorry to say: the streaming capabilities of your TV will go obsolete before the TV breaks. It’s almost a given. There are a few ways around this, and I’ll explain in a bit. What’s worse is that the more expensive TVs are the ones most likely to suffer this problem.

My 2015 Samsung smart TV still delivers a decent picture and surprisingly good sound. But, ask it to play YouTube content and it will balk. The app store refuses to take a sign-on, and although it is not an HDR TV all the apps think it is, leading to bad picture quality from most of the streaming apps.

This is pretty typical of the smart TV landscape, and it’s why I still have a streaming box attached to my TV.

Streaming boxes: the bad

The big problem with streaming boxes is the clutter. You’re adding another box, another remote, and another power cord. Even if you use a streaming stick, you had better hope the TV provides always-on power over the USB connection. Luckily many new TVs do, but most older TVs don’t.

And, it’s not to say that streaming boxes are immune from obsolescence either. Older Rokus and AppleTVs are all but useless now. The only think that keeps 5-year-old AppleTVs going is the fact that they haven’t changed in 5 years.

So what can you do?

If I were in the market for a mid-priced TV at this point, I’d be looking at the smart TVs from Amazon and TCL. (By the way, neither of these are available at Solid Signal, so I can’t be accused of favoritism.) Amazon’s TVs run a variant of their Fire software, and TCL uses Roku’s operating system. This means they are likely to get updates for a longer time than other smart TVs. I have to say that TCL’s high end TVs hold their own against similarly priced ones, although their low priced TVs don’t perform terribly well. But for such a low price you probably don’t care.

At some point, streaming hardware will become so mature that it stops being a problem. Until then, you’ll either need to use a TV with an OS you think will hold up, or stay with a streaming box. Either way, shop at Solid Signal for the accessories you need. (I had to plug them a little, right?)

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.