EDITORIAL: Maybe I don’t want a Smart TV

Longtime readers of The Solid Signal Blog will see that over time, my thinking about Smart TVs has evolved. I was a big fan of the technology in 2011, even investing my own money to get a Samsung app-enabled TV with DIRECTV’s RVU technology built in. Since then, I’ve come around to thinking that my next TV doesn’t need smart features, and here’s how I got there.

My 2011 TV was pretty good for several months, well into 2012. Samsung issued updates almost too frequently, and there was plenty of new content. As their 2012 models rolled around, though, the 2011 model got less and less love and began to fall behind. There was supposed to be an upgrade kit to take my TV to 2012 levels but it never happened. Slowly, the apps I had began to experience performance problems. Netflix started getting weird when I watched TV shows with multiple episodes. MLB.TV had streaming problems. Even the RVU client which seemed so neat didn’t feel like a solid performer after the new user interface was installed.

Samsung never really addressed these problems; by now it was 2013 and there was another generation of TVs out there. I contemplated getting a new smart TV, because I really like using Netflix on the TV. (who doesn’t?) In the end, I got a small streaming box for under $100 and I ended up being surprised… the cheap little box was much faster than a smart TV, and its bluetooth and app-enabled remote meant I could hide it and forget it was even there. Because Samsung doesn’t reprocess the video through its apps the way it does from external sources, the video even looked cleaner and sharper.

Which brings us to the central problem with smart TVs. Most of us will contemplate a TV purchase every 7 years or so, and the average TV will last 15 years or so. In the meantime, we’ll look at new mobile devices every 18 months, because the technology is less expensive and it really does evolve every year. So with that smart TV you’re stuck with its technology long after it’s obsolete, and the promised upgrade kits never come.

I’m seriously considering a 4K purchase in the next 12 months if the prices stabilize to where I can get a 60-70″ model for under $2,000. (That doesn’t seem so far off already.) I don’t really think 4K will take off, but as with 3D I’d hate to be left in the cold. It may have smart technology, and I may use it in the short term while it’s new, but this time I’ll be prepared to toss it when it gets old in a few months. By then, the $99 streamers should be just as good.